Washington, 10 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - Opponents of NATO expansion have presented their views to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but with little chance of reversing a swelling tide of support in the United States for enlargement.
An arms control expert and an academic opposed to the idea, argued persuasively Thursday before the Committee that taking Central Europeans into the military alliance will bring no security benefits, cost too much money, weaken NATO and undermine public support in America for NATO.
But the Committee heard first from three supporters of expansion -- all well-known public figures, who made the opposite case.
Senator William Roth (R-Delaware) said "NATO enlargement will eliminate the zone of instability that now exists in Europe," and that it is an act of self-interest for America.
Roth, head of the Senate NATO Observer Group, is a leading supporter of expansion and has worked hard to add more countries to the list of potential new NATO members, including Romania.
He told the Committee that he was leaving for Bucharest Thursday to attend a political meeting on NATO.
"NATO enlargement is an opportunity unprecedented in world history... to shape a strategic landscape that will contribute to peace and stability in Europe," said Roth.
He said the invitation to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to join the alliance will add three democracies that share NATO values and have contributed forces to NATO operations in Bosnia.
Roth argued that "the costs of enlargement are insignificant compared to the costs of remaining static."
Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski said NATO enlargement has global significance and is "central to the vitality of the American-European connection."
Taking a broad perspective, he said NATO expansion is really about the long-term strategic relationship between America and Europe and their ability to work together in promoting international security.
Brzezinski said "the expansion of the Euroatlantic alliance will bring into NATO councils new, solidly democratic and very pro-American nations," concluding that "this will further deepen the American-European kinship while expanding Europe's zone of peace and democracy."
Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Jean Kirkpatrick said that membership in NATO will help Central Europeans preserve and strengthen democracy. She said that should be a central goal and top foreign policy priority for the United States.
On the opposite side, Michael Mandelbaum, a leading academic and writer on foreign affairs, said that membership in the European Union would do more for democracy in Central Europe than NATO can.
He said NATO expansion will not promote democracy or stability in Europe because it will damage relations with Russia, and draw a new divisive line in Europe, creating a gray zone of vulnerable countries between NATO's new eastern border and Russia. Continuing expansion, he said would overextend and greatly weaken the alliance.
Mandelbaum said there is no threat to Central Europeans from Russia and no need to expand NATO, let alone pay thousands of millions of dollars in the process.
Mandelbaum had been an outspoken supporter of NATO expansion in the early 1990s but said he changed his mind after a thorough examination of all its implications.
He challenged the Senate panel also to change its mind, provoking a passionate defense of NATO enlargement from Senator Joseph Biden who among other things said none of the apocalyptic warnings about Russia and gray zones and instability and other dire consequences of NATO expansion have come true.
A recent public opinion poll suggests that Biden's views supporting NATO expansion are shared by most Americans.
The results of the poll, released Tuesday, showed public approval of expansion was more than three to one in favor, with particularly strong support among business and labor leaders. It was conducted by a non-partisan organization called PEW Research of American Political Opinion.
Jonathan Dean, an arms control adviser to the Union of Concerned Scientists, supported Mandelbaum's concerns about costs. He said the expansion costs have been underestimated and the United States will likely have to bear the brunt of them.
He expressed concern at the prospect of continued expansion, saying that if the Baltic states become members of NATO, the alliance will have to greatly increase its forces to make a realistic effort to defend these neighbors of Russia, and station troops further eastward.
The Thursday hearing was the second of six planned hearings by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which will play a key role in the eventual ratification of the accession protocols now being negotiated with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.
At the next hearing, scheduled for October 22, the Committee will inquire into the costs, benefits and burden-sharing of NATO enlargement.