Fifteen years ago, on March 12, 1999, in Independence, Missouri, the first three post-communist countries, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland, joined the Atlantic Alliance. Three years later they were joined by Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
At the time, the idea of NATO enlargement found not only many supporters but quite a few detractors. Some felt the countries of Central and Eastern Europe were not ready, politically and economically, to join and contribute to the allied operations. Some were concerned about the costs of enlargement at a time when most member countries started drawing the peace dividend. Most, however, feared antagonizing Russia at a time it was struggling on its way to democracy and market economy.