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NATO: Analysis From Washington -- Do Partners Make Allies?

Washington, 27 August 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Ever more former Soviet bloc countries are participating in NATO's Partnership for Peace program -- as in the exercise in the United States that ends this week -- but mounting evidence suggests that they are doing so for different reasons.

Some, such as the Poles, who expect to be taken into NATO soon, see their participation as a means of demonstrating their readiness for alliance membership and even bringing their militaries into line with Western requirements.

Others, such as the Baltic states, who fear that they will be passed over in the first round, see participation in Partnership for Peace activities as a substitute for membership or as an occasion for demonstrating that they too should be taken in.

And still a third group, such as the Central Asians, who do not seek entry into the alliance any time soon, see this as a chance to learn and to increase their own security via increased contacts with the West.

Because these differences are so fundamental, some in the region and in the West are beginning to ask whether the Partnership for Peace program should be restructured to reflect that fundamental reality.

One idea circulating in the West is that the current Partnership for Peace program could be divided into two or more tiers, one for countries likely to join NATO at some future point and others for those who are unlikely ever to be members of the alliance.

Such an idea has obvious attractions:

Countries named to the first group would immediately enjoy the proximity of alliance security -- much like that which Sweden enjoyed during the Cold War -- without the West having to act precipitously or in a way that could provoke some unwanted Russian response.

Even the countries named to the second group would gain because the alliance could tailor programs that would meet their specific needs without raising larger and potentially destabilizing security issues.

The West, which is committed to expansion, and Moscow, which still objects to any expansion of the alliance, would gain time to consider what should be done next.

But unfortunately this proposal also has some drawbacks:

Whatever anyone says, such a division in the Partnership for Peace program, just like one between NATO members and non-members, inevitably involves drawing a line in Europe between those countries that can rely on Western-guaranteed security and those that can't.

The current geopolitical competition over the question of who will be included in NATO and who will not won't be ended as some might hope, but would be simply translated into the new question of who would be in the first group.

This arrangement would not make many people in the region happy. Those included in the second tier would inevitably see themselves as second-class citizens in the emerging security order. And even those in the first tier might feel that the West was using this modification to avoid providing them with the iron-clad guarantees of full membership.

But it is a testament to the continuing importance of NATO as a guarantor of security for the countries of the former Soviet bloc, to the fears of these countries about their future fates, and to the diversity of their interests and goals that such proposals are being made and discussed.

More to the point and just as was the case when the West proposed Partnership for Peace, so too now, these latest proposals are likely to take on a life of their own and help to provide the foundations for the new security architecture in Europe.