NATO Expansion

Dear Strobe:

       I thought we had agreed in our initial exchange that NATO has important and legitimate functions other than deterring aggression from the outside. NATO, of course, should be preserved because its other functions are important: It ensures that no European power can again attempt to dominate the continent and also provides the legal basis for an American military presence in Europe. As the British foreign secretary said when NATO was founded, it had three goals: to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down. The second two are still valid, even if NATO is not needed for the first, and that is why it would have been unwise to allow NATO to disappear with the end of the Cold War. But it was the threat of aggression from the Soviet Union which gave rise to NATO in the first place, and security threats are normally the primary reason countries enter military alliances. Therefore, the absence of the sort of threat NATO was designed to defend us from is relevant to the question of whether it should take in new members. Will doing so really improve our security and that of our allies?
       I am convinced that the greatest immediate threat to our security is from the leakage of weapons of mass destruction–or fissile materials, or the know-how to make these weapons–from former Soviet stockpiles. I can think of no persuasive reason to believe that bringing new members into NATO helps us deal with this problem. In fact, this policy makes it more difficult to deal with it, because it inhibits direct cooperation with Russian authorities to keep these dangerous materials under control and encourages increased Russian reliance on weapons of mass destruction. We are doing some things to bolster the security of Russian stocks of weapons and fissile material but not nearly enough. Expanding NATO actually undermines our ability to defend ourselves against the most obvious threat to our citizens and our territory. Platitudes should not be allowed to obscure that basic fact.
       I did not say, by the way, that the Poles, Czechs, and Hungarians are not willing “to help us meet the long-term threats that do exist.” It is wonderful that they are contributing to peacekeeping in the Balkans and cooperating in many other ways. But NATO membership is not required for that sort of cooperation. Countries like Finland, Sweden, Austria, and Ireland have always helped us in peacekeeping missions without thinking that they required NATO membership to do so. What I said is that the publics in the candidate countries are not willing to approve major increases in defense spending simply to bring their armed forces up to NATO standards. If your intelligence people are telling you something different, you’d better check on where they are getting their information. It wouldn’t be the first time they were wrong. We are not talking about things like a 15-percent increase in a given budget; some senior Department of Defense officials have said publicly that the Czech Republic would need to spend as much as 2.5 percent of its GNP to meet NATO standards. That is more than a 100-percent increase over the slightly more than 1 percent of its GNP the Czech Republic spends now. Such estimates may or may not be accurate, but the current administration figures (trimmed repeatedly as the Senate vote nears) are not credible to most analysts outside the government who have studied the problem of integrating Eastern European armed forces into the unified NATO command. The idea that without NATO these countries would engage in an arms race among themselves strikes me as utter fantasy. If their governments are so irresponsible, they certainly don’t belong in NATO. But, of course, their governments aren’t so stupid, and whatever security arrangements they might make with their neighbors would not affect us in the slightest.
       As for the Russian reaction, I do not argue that NATO expansion is the sole reason for the Duma’s position on START II or Russian policy on Iraq. But it is certainly one of the reasons these problems have been difficult to solve, and if NATO expansion continues to include the Baltic states, things will get much worse. I maintain pretty wide contacts among Russians in and out of politics and cannot find a single one who believes otherwise. Those who are most determined to bolster democracy and free enterprise in their country are certain that their task is going to be much harder, and I believe they are right. Of course, if Russia were one of the candidates, many Russians would feel differently. Expansion of NATO to include Russia and the countries in between would make a lot of sense, but the creeping expansion espoused by the administration makes that practically impossible, since it creates greater polarization of attitudes as the line moves east. And, by the way, nobody is asking us to “turn our backs” on Eastern Europe. Countries don’t have to be in NATO for us to have close, friendly, and productive relations–or even to guarantee their security if we choose to do so. To argue otherwise is to make a fetish of a particular instrument, which may or not be appropriate for the task at hand.
       What you meant when you referred to the possibility of the “old Iron Curtain” remaining “forever” as NATO’s “permanent eastern frontier” is difficult for me to grasp. The old Iron Curtain is not NATO’s eastern frontier. (Remember? The Iron Curtain ran right through the city of Berlin and closed off Germany’s eastern Laender, all of which are now included in NATO.) Furthermore, nobody, to the best of my knowledge, has proposed that the current border of NATO necessarily be a permanent one. As I testified in the Senate two years ago, I personally would support expanding NATO under one of two broad conditions: 1) when we have developed a security structure for Europe–including Russia–in which a larger NATO has a place; or 2) when and if any of the countries bordering on NATO to the east are subjected to a military threat to their security.
       As I mentioned in my previous letter, in 1989 and 1990 we encouraged the Soviets to leave Eastern Europe, to allow Germany to be unified, and to allow a unified Germany to stay in NATO, with a clear understanding (though not a legal obligation) that NATO’s jurisdiction would not be moved further eastward. (Gorbachev said at one point, “If you do that, you’ll have to take us too!”) These were the conditions under which the division of Europe was ended and the Iron Curtain disappeared. It is really disingenuous to claim that moving NATO eastward erases a line when the line in question no longer exists. When I saw Gorbachev a few months ago, his first words were, “What are they doing? They are tearing down everything we built!” What we built, in his view and mine, was the potential for a united Europe. The administration is betraying that hope and not, as you suggest, fulfilling it, for the hope was not just to make Western Europe larger but to keep the continent whole and free.
       The question we are debating is not whether NATO should be static (of course it needs to change), and not whether we want Eastern and central Europe to be part of European structures (of course we do), and not whether military cooperation would be useful (the Partnership for Peace permits as much cooperation as we and they desire), and not whether Russia should have a veto over NATO’s decisions (of course it shouldn’t). These are straw men. What we are debating is whether it is a good idea, under current conditions, to begin taking new members into NATO with an open-ended commitment to take even more. That is what I consider a bad idea, and your letter, which avoids addressing most of my specific objections, fails to disabuse me of the impression that the administration is following its current course largely for domestic political reasons and not as part of a coherent strategy to build a more secure world for our children and grandchildren.

So that’s why I remain,
Yours truly unconvinced,