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Western Press Review: The U.S. Senate Vote On NATO

By Joel Blocker and Esther Pan

Prague, 29 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Senate this week resumed its on-again, off-again debate on expanding the NATO alliance to Central Europe. With the critical Senate vote on ratification now due later this week (probably Thursday) and considered likely to approve expansion, U.S. editorialists and commentators have also resumed their debate on NATO enlargement, rehearsing old arguments and making a few new ones on both sides of the issue.

NEW YORK TIMES: The best way to defend Eastern Europe is to bring democracy and prosperity to Russia

The New York Times today, in its 10th editorial on NATO expansion in nine months, again expresses strong opposition to the move. The paper writes: "Pushing NATO eastward may, as its proponents argue, only reinforce democracy and unity in Europe....But with the Senate now moving toward approval, the consequences could be quite different. The military alliance that played such a crucial role in preserving peace in Europe through the hard decades of the Cold War could become the source of instability on that continent." The editorial continues: "The reason enlargement could prove to be a mistake of historic proportions is best explained by comparing the decision before the Senate with the far different course America chose at the end of World War II. America acted then not to isolate Germany and Japan, or to treat them as future threats, but rather to help make them democratic states....Now, in the aftermath of the Cold War, the United States is taking an entirely different approach to the loser of that conflict. Though it has offered financial assistance and friendship to Russia, the Clinton administration has made NATO expansion the centerpiece of its European policy."

The New York Times concludes: "It is delusional to believe that NATO expansion is not at its core an act that Russia will regard as hostile....The best way to defend Eastern Europe is not to erect a new barrier against Russian aggression but to bring democracy and prosperity to Russia so it will not be aggressive."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: NATO expansion remains an idea for which no convincing case has yet been made

Another national U.S. daily, the Los Angeles Times, again warns of what it calls the Senate's "reckless rush on NATO." In its editorial yesterday, the paper said: "Supporters of bringing Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into the 16-member alliance have pressed their case with slogans rather than arguments. President Clinton promises that expansion will make NATO stronger, allow European democracy and prosperity to flourish, and 'bring Europe together in security, not keep it apart in instability.' But examine these soothing assurances and their lack of substance is immediately apparent." The editorial went on: "There is no hint here or anywhere else of what mission would be played by a stronger NATO, the alliance formed nearly half a century ago to curb the expansionism of a now-defunct Soviet Union....And how does moving NATO's border Eastward, so that it abuts Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad in Lithuania, help unite the continent and reduce instability? Might not the opposite result?" Summing up, the Los Angles Times asks: "Is NATO expansion an irredeemably bad idea? No. But it remains an idea for which no convincing case has yet been made. And that makes the action the Senate is about to take a cause for concern, not celebration."

WASHINGTON POST: The American interest in welcoming countries in this gray zone lies in reducing unpredictability and instability

A third major U.S. newspaper, the Washington Post, restates several of its arguments for why "the case for enlargement is strong." In an editorial Sunday (Apr. 26), the paper said: "Stalin divided Europe. His ideology and empire are gone, but the outline of a Soviet, now Russian, buffer zone remains. The democratic countries in this gray zone feel exposed to an eventual restoration of Russian power and to other contingencies yet unshaped. They reasonably aspire to a settled place in NATO. The American interest in welcoming them lies in reducing unpredictability and instability in an arc that has generated the century's major wars."

The Washington Post continued: "No serious person addressing Russia's current weakness can want to build in a historic grievance. Russia's unhappiness with expansion, however, need not disable the project. Part of Russia's necessary post-Cold War evolution requires it to consider the (to it) novel idea that neighbors have a right to a national orientation of their own choosing. Russia needs strategic stability, arms control and the other fruits of a sensible national policy as much as the West does. But the West cannot relieve Moscow of its responsibility to make its own match of politics and policy."

The paper's editorial acknowledged that "these questions are important." But it concluded: "What it comes down to, however, is the strengthening of the new post-Cold War Europe. Right now there are two kinds of democracies in Europe, one sheltered by NATO in the West, the other exposed to strategic mischance in the East. The Cold War was fought essentially to erase the difference between the two parts of a continent whose kinship and culture make it a central, continuing concern of American foreign policy. The addition of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic serves an American interest and obligation of the first order."

SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE: NATO should be either substantially restructured ... or it should be abandoned

Writing for the Scripps Howard news service today, economic analyst Antonin Rusek poses three central questions that he says NATO must answer to justify its existence: "Who is the threat? What is the threat? How does the alliance cope with identified threats?" In his commentary, Rusek argues that the threat in "NATO's former main theater of operations --northeastern and East-Central Europe -- has essentially vanished. With its resource endowment fitted more to the 19th rather than 21st century, the area is of declining importance."

The real menace now, he says, "is to deny the U.S. and the West an access to energy resources --either directly or indirectly, by setting the energy crescent (from the Persian Gulf to Central Asia) afire." He identifies "today's greatest individuals and groups, rather vaguely connected to an established political order, seeking goals --economic, political, social-- which are hostile to our perception of civilization. Many of their activities are criminal, such as the use of terrorism, biological agents, disruption of global electronic and information networks. Their goal is to destroy the source of strength of present civilizations: its wealth based on a global economy."

Rusek concludes: "NATO fails to cope with any of these threats. Its European members refuse to participate in activities outside Northern Europe. Even in vital areas like the Balkans, the United States is left effectively alone....Existing NATO structures, both political and military, are incapable of coping with these challenges. ...In the interest of U.S. national security and taxpayer dollars, NATO should be either substantially restructured to meet present and future challenges, or it should be abandoned."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The inclusion of these three Central European countries would strengthen the European security zone, and therefore enhance U.S. security

Across the Atlantic yesterday, Britain's Financial Times called the Senate vote "one of its most important security decisions since the end of the Cold War." In an editorial, the paper wrote: "All three countries (C, H and P) are eminently qualified for entry on the basis of their democratic systems, their market economies, the civilian control of the military and their desire to assume the burdens as well as the benefits of NATO membership. Denying them accession would leave in disarray the strategy of extending Western Europe's zone of democracy, peace and prosperity Eastwards." The paper continued: "(Denial) would destroy the system of incentives, which includes possible membership in NATO and the European Union, that is already ensuring significant cooperation (among) the fractious countries of Central Europe. It would also signal a further retreat by the U.S. towards isolationism."

The Financial Times editorial concluded: "Most significantly, U.S. security is still tied closely to that of Europe even after the end of the Cold War. The inclusion of these (three Central European) countries would strengthen the European security zone, and therefore enhance U.S. security."