Washington, 10 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- NATO Secretary General Javier Solana's assertion this week that the Western alliance has been "politically, militarily and structurally" transformed seems certain to disturb those who want to join it, without doing much to reassure those who oppose its expansion.
Writing in the Madrid daily "El Pais" on Monday, Solana provided his most detailed statement yet on where he believes NATO is now and where he sees the alliance going in the future. Much of his argument is now common ground among alliance members. But three of his major assertions seem certain to increase rather than quiet debate about NATO in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Solana argues that the end of the Cold War means that the alliance is no longer defined by the existence of an enemy and is not directed at any particular country. Instead, he suggests, NATO exists to promote its members' common security and stability throughout Europe.
For Russians, this argument fails to overcome what has been Moscow's fundamental objection to NATO since the end of the Cold War: If there is no longer a threat, why does an alliance that was created to meet it still exist? And for East Europeans, Solana's argument suggests that NATO may not provide them with the security they seek against what many of them feel is a still-threatening Russia.
Solana argues that the alliance must develop the special relationship with Russia it began to build with the Implementation Force in Bosnia, that Russia "must find a place within the alliance." Indeed, the NATO secretary general suggests that NATO should in the near future include Russian officers in the supreme allied command on a permanent basis.
Few in Moscow are likely to be reassured by this. While Solana may believe that Russia has a place in the alliance sometime soon, the overwhelming majority of alliance members have voiced skepticism over that possibility.
And many East Europeans, who want into the alliance and for many of whom Solana suggests little more than an expanded Partnership for Peace program, are likely to see the presence of Russian generals at NATO headquarters as calling into question the very reason they are seeking to join the alliance.
Solana explicitly emphasizes that "it is the new NATO, not the old one, which is opening its doors to new members."
At one level, of course, Solana's assertion on this point is nothing more than a simple statement of reality. Obviously, no one can join something that no longer exists. And equally obviously, no one need fear an alliance that no longer exists.
But at a deeper level, Solana's comment seems certain to raise more questions than it answers.
For Moscow, which remains on record as opposing any expansion, Solana's words are likely to appear to be little more than window dressing to cover what many in Moscow fear: The expansion of Western military power into a region that most Russians view as part of their sphere of influence, or at least one in which Moscow's views should be taken into account.
For East Europeans, on the other hand, Solana's words are likely to be even more disturbing. After all, they are seeking alliance membership precisely because they fear that Russia may threaten them in the future, and look to Europe and especially to the United States to counter that threat.
Many East Europeans are thus likely to read Solana's argument as an indication that the West is now more concerned about its relationship with Russia than it is about guaranteeing their security.
Such readings of Solana's article are unlikely to reduce either Russian opposition to the alliance or East European interest in joining it. But they almost certainly will increase the level of uncertainty about the future in both places and thus in the new Europe as well.