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Flags from NATO's seven new members are raised Friday during a ceremony at NATO's Allied Air Forces North headquarters on Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
Flags from NATO's seven new members are raised Friday during a ceremony at NATO's Allied Air Forces North headquarters on Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Marni McEntee / S&S)
Flags from NATO's seven new members are raised Friday during a ceremony at NATO's Allied Air Forces North headquarters on Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
Flags from NATO's seven new members are raised Friday during a ceremony at NATO's Allied Air Forces North headquarters on Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Marni McEntee / S&S)
Gen. Robert H. Fogelsong, commander of NATO's Allied Air Forces North, speaks Friday before the flags of NATO's seven new members are raised at Air North headquarters on Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
Gen. Robert H. Fogelsong, commander of NATO's Allied Air Forces North, speaks Friday before the flags of NATO's seven new members are raised at Air North headquarters on Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Marni McEntee / S&S)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Allied Air Forces North Commander Gen. Robert H. Foglesong recognized Friday the alliance’s new role as air defenders of NATO’s seven new members.

In a ceremony Friday at Ramstein Air Base, Foglesong welcomed Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. A representative of each country raised the nation’s flags outside the Air North headquarters.

The ascension marks the biggest expansion in the alliance’s 55-year-history, bringing NATO membership to 26 countries. A flag-raising ceremony also took place at NATO headquarters in Belgium on Friday, according to news reports.

Gen. James L. Jones, NATO supreme allied commander Europe, delegated airspace defense authority for Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia to Foglesong. Airspace defense authority for Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia was delegated to Lt. Gen. Glen W. Moorhead III, commander of Allied Air Forces South, a NATO press release said.

“Welcome aboard. You’re part of the team now,” said Foglesong, who also commands U.S. Air Forces in Europe. “We will now be better able to reach out and accomplish those tasks and missions that have been asked us by General Jones.”

The seven new members officially became part of NATO on March 29.

With that membership comes the responsibility for all alliance members to collectively defend each other. The new members, however, “lack sufficient national air forces” to police the airspace alone, the NATO release said.

Jones has directed that routine alliance air policing be expanded to include the new members’ airspace. The policing is crucial for states such as Lithuania, which lost its fighter jets when it broke from the Soviet Union in 1991, according to The Associated Press. Other former Soviet Union members are in a similar fix.

“This gives a feeling to us that we are safer than ever before,” Estonian Air Force Lt. Col. Roman Timofejev said after Friday’s ceremony at Ramstein. “It’s like an umbrella because we are so small a nation we cannot defend ourselves in a crisis. Now we can rely on other nations.”

Estonia has a population of about 1.4 million people. Its military is 3,000 members strong, Timofejev said.

“We might not be able to contribute big units or big money but we will still have our hand in offering fresh ideas from the outside,” Timofejev said.

Slovakian air force Maj. Augustin Klus said the country’s ascension into NATO also will provide the stability it needs to become more economically powerful.

Klus said Slovakia, which has a population of about 5.5 million people, already contributes troops to the military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, as do five other of the newest members. Slovakia has 25,000 military members.

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