NATO Expansion

NATO Expansion

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
March 4 1998 3:30 AM

NATO Expansion

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Dear Jack,

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       You ask skeptically, what is the threat? You say that none of the countries now being considered for membership faces an external threat. That's certainly true. But neither does the United States, nor France, nor Italy, nor any other NATO ally. If a country had to face an immediate threat in order to justify membership in NATO, we'd retire the alliance tomorrow. Or, more to the point, we'd have put it out of business when the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact ceased to exist. That would be shortsighted in the extreme. During the Cold War, NATO deterred the old threat. Now that the Cold War is over, it can, by its very existence, help deter new ones from arising.
       You also question whether the Poles, Czechs, and Hungarians are ready and willing to help us meet the long-term threats that do exist. Recent events show us they will. As we were building the coalition for a potential strike against Iraq, these three countries did not hesitate to say they would stand with us, politically and militarily. They have had more troops in Bosnia than some of our current allies.
       The Czechs recently approved a more than 15-percent real increase in their defense budget. Since then, support for NATO membership among the Czech public has gone up, not down. The Poles and Hungarians have taken similar steps, and public support in those countries is overwhelming, too.
       That doesn't mean, however, that membership in NATO will be a burden to the economies of these countries. On the contrary, the sense of security that comes with membership in the alliance and being part of NATO's unified command structure will remove incentives for expensive and destabilizing competition among the central European states. If NATO had not decided to enlarge, the central European states would have scrambled to jury rig their own security arrangements, no doubt often at one another's expense--and to the detriment of peace on the continent as a whole.
       You suggest that what these countries really need is membership in the European Union. They certainly do. But that is not a substitute for membership in NATO. The alliance has a vital role to play in creating the conditions in which EU governments and international investors can be confident about the long-term, deep-seated security of the region. In fact, many European leaders have said that NATO's enlargement has spurred the EU to enlarge more quickly.
       You also raise concerns about Russia. You say that enlargement has inflicted perceptible damage to our relations, especially in the field of arms control. I disagree. Russia is a year ahead of schedule in slicing up nuclear weapons under the START I treaty. We've agreed on the outlines of a START III treaty that would cut strategic arsenals to 80 percent below their Cold War peaks once START II enters into force. And Russia has joined us in banning nuclear testing and in ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention.
       Sure, the delay in START II ratification is a problem, and so are some of Russia's policies on Iraq and Iran. But it is simply wrong to suggest that every time Russia does something we don't like, it is to penalize us for adding new countries to NATO. Many of the challenges in our current relationship with Russia--including parliamentary opposition to START II ratification--existed before NATO announced its intention to expand. We would still have those problems if NATO suddenly decided not to take in new members after all.
       Of course enlargement has become a target of convenience for Russian fears and resentments rooted in uncertainties over Russia's post-Soviet identity and role in the world. The question is, how should we react? Should we say to 200 million people living in a dozen countries in central Europe that they must set aside forever their legitimate desire to be part of NATO because of Russia's anachronistic suspicions? Would it be good for our relationship with Russia if we sought to purchase the cooperation we seek by turning our backs on countries that are now among our closest friends in Europe? Would that encourage the emergence of a modern, democratic Russia that defines its interests in a new and constructive way?
       I don't think so. I think it would send a message to Russia that central Europe is still somehow different from the rest of Europe; that it is still possible for Russia to define and assert its interests at the expense of its neighbors.
       Jack, you mention the historic opportunity we had to build a new Europe when Germany was reunified and Soviet troops went home in 1989. In your own government career, you contributed substantially to making sure that we took advantage of that opportunity. I believe that our administration would have betrayed that opportunity if we had let the old Iron Curtain remain forever as NATO's permanent eastern frontier. Europe would now be entering a new century divided in a way that would be intolerable for its east and dangerous for its west.
       We must not let that happen. If the Senate says yes to a larger NATO, it won't.

With best regards,
Strobe