Washington, 5 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - As the U.S. Congress prepares to debate approval for U.S. participation in an enlarged NATO alliance, President Bill Clinton's Administration renewed its public campaign to win public support for alliance expansion.
"In the final analysis, we can't afford not to enlarge, because it would squander an opportunity that comes only once in a generation," Defense Secretary William Cohen said Thursday.
Cohen went before an audicence that can be expected to endorse the concept. He spoke to the annual convention of the American Legion, one of the two biggest private organizations of military service veterans in the country.
"Those of you who have served shoulder to shoulder with our allies in world wars know the power of military alliances in defeating a common enemy," Cohen said. "And those of you who served during the 50 winters of the Cold War have seen the power of alliances to deter aggression."
In July, NATO invited the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to become full members of the alliance. A number of other central and eastern European nations, including Romania, Slovenia and the Baltic republics, are also eager to join. The legislatures of NATO's 16 members must ratify the amendments to the alliance treaty that will enable expansion. In the U.S., approval of foreign treaties is the responsibility of the U.S. Senate. Two-thirds of its 100 members must agree.
The Senate just returned from its summer holiday recess this week and it plans to adjourn for the year in mid-November. Debate could begin in a few weeks but it is more likely the issue will not be raised until January.
The Senate seems so far to favor enlargement, but questions have been raised about what expansion means and how much it will cost the U.S. taxpayer. The Defense Department has estimated that expansion will cost the U.S. between $150 million and $200 million a year through the year 2009. Other estimates have put the cost of modernizing the new members' armies and bringing them up to NATO standards much higher.
Cohen says the argument that NATO enlargement will cost too much "ignores the fact that alliances save money because they promote cooperation, interoperability, and they reduce redundancy."
"It costs America less to defend our interests in Europe if Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are in alliance with us, just as it costs them less to defend their interests by joining hands in the alliance itself," Cohen said. "And we estimate that the cost to the United States each year over the next decade will be less than one-tenth of one percent of our defense budget." The projected defense budget for the financial year starting October 1 is $244 billion.
Cohen says the costs of enlarging NATO are meager when weighed against the cost of rejection. He says the costs of rejection "will be measured not just in dollars but potentially in lives if we fail to expand this circle of security, and risk setting the stage for future European instability or aggression."
Enlarging NATO, says Cohen, will create a safer Europe and a stronger and more secure America because, "a larger NATO means a wider allegiance to our values."
"The Poles, the Hungarians, the Czechs, they are a vital and vigorous and dynamic people. They share our ideals. They are making a remarkable recovery from decades of domination. And now they want to return to their rightful place as equal partners in the European family of free nations. We need them, and they need us," says Cohen.
Cohen says the nations that want to join NATO are building stable democracies with free societies and free markets and modern militaries that are serving under civilian leadership.
"History demonstrates that stability and security attract investment, and investment generates prosperity, and prosperity strengthens stability and security and democracy. And so it's a virtuous cycle that is changing this face of Europe and much of the world; and enlarging NATO simply expands this virtuous cycle. "