Prague, 28 October 1998 (RFE/RL) - Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to U. S. President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981, says NATO should consider Lithuania and Slovenia, and perhaps Slovakia, as prime candidates for its follow-on eastward enlargement.
Brzezinski, a widely regarded American expert on international relations, expressed his views in an article in the latest issue of the U.S. quarterly "The National Interest" and in a subsequent interview with RFE/RL.
Brzezinski's main thesis is that the process of NATO's enlargement, which has until now focused on the accession of only three Central European countries -- the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland -- should continue because it is vitally important to Europe's security and it promotes reconciliation between various European nations. "European security is the basis for European reconciliation," Brzezinski says in his article.
The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland appear certain to gain full NATO membership in 1999, either before or at the time of the Alliance's 50th anniversary in April. All 16 NATO members have already approved the accession of these three countries.
At last year's NATO summit in Madrid, the Alliance's leaders accepted that the expansion should continue further, but they were not specific.
Brzezinski says the time has come to open a debate on who should be considered as the next candidates, and when the further expansion should take place.
Brzezinski agrees that the expansion process should be limited, depending both on the demonstrated readiness for membership of potential candidates and on the need to preserve the cohesion of the Alliance. But he says it must continue because it both reflects Western and European security interests, and has already been approved.
Brzezinski anticipates external opposition to continuing NATO enlargement, particularly from Russia which has already unilaterally drawn a "red line" along the old Soviet borders as the acceptable limit of any NATO eastward enlargement. But he says that "no qualified European state can be excluded by Moscow's decision."
Brzezinski says that NATO should announce further expansion at its 50th anniversary summit. He says the Alliance should consider Lithuania and Slovenia to be the next in line. He says this choice would "enhance the Alliance's geographical cohesion" and make it clear that no "democratic state of Europe can be arbitrarily blackballed by a non-member from participating in the Alliance."
Asked by RFE/RL whether Slovakia -- which has recently elected a new government and promises to expand democracy -- could also qualify as a candidate for the next round of expansion, Brzezinski said it would make "a logical candidate" but only under specific conditions.
"I think that if Slovakia is stable politically, if its commitment to democracy becomes credible ... if it is the judgment of NATO experts that it has taken the necessary steps for being considered ... and if the Slovak people desire ... NATO membership, then I think Slovakia would make a very logical candidate," Brzezinski said.
Brzezinski insists that decisions on expansion have been made --and will be made in the futur e-- by NATO leaders alone. But he emphasizes that the process itself should be conducted in such a way as not to create new sources of international tension and conflict, particularly with Russia.
Asked by RFE/RL how such tension can be avoided if and when Moscow opposes a decision on Lithuania's candidacy, Brzezinski said that the enhancement of Lithuania's security is likely to promote reconciliation between Moscow and Vilnius.
"I would think that as a NATO member Lithuania would help consolidate stability in that part of the world.... We know from experience that the enhancement of security is the basis for reconciliation," he said.
It has been argued at times that Russia could use its military base in Kaliningrad, a region detached from Russia's mainland and bordering Poland and Lithuania, to stir tension in relations with NATO. But Lithuania has said that its relations with Russia are good and cooperation with Kaliningrad is expanding.