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Eastern Europe: Analysis From Washington--NATO's New Penumbra

Washington, 18 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- American offers of charters, action plans and other arrangements to countries that won't be given NATO membership in the first round are transforming the nature of the alliance for its old members and any potential new ones.

In the last month, the United States has taken the lead in proposing a variety of special arrangements to meet the security concerns of those East European countries who seek to join the Western alliance or who fear the consequences of an eastward expansion of NATO. Some of these grow out of the Partnership for Peace program, but others have more far-reaching implications.

The most significant of these proposals was contained in Secretary of State Warren Christopher's Stuttgart speech earlier this month. At that time, Christopher called for a written charter between the alliance and Moscow, an agreement that he suggested would be signed prior to any invitation of new members in 1997.

Obviously intended to reduce Moscow's concerns about the implications of NATO's eastward expansion, such a charter inevitably gives the Russian government an unprecedented role in the management of European security. And as a result, and regardless of denials to the contrary, it gives Moscow a major voice inside NATO.

Given that NATO was established to forestall Soviet ambitions in Europe and remains attractive to many East Europeans precisely because of their concerns about Russian assertiveness now and in the future, that represents a fundamental, if as yet generally unacknowledged transformation of the alliance.

Yet another of these transforming special arrangements is the U.S. Baltic Action Plan that American officials are now presenting to officials in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Details about this plan are still sketchy, but officials in the region have said that the American plan is intended to reduce their concerns about not being admitted to NATO in the immediate future.

Baltic reaction to this plan has been less than enthusiastic. Press reports from the region suggest that the governments there feel they are being given a kind of consolation prize. Many officials in the region nonetheless appear to believe that they have no option but to try to make the best of it.

And the United States is offering yet a third set of special arrangements to various countries now within the Partnership for Peace. Some Western commentaries have suggested that these will constitute virtually associate membership status for countries like Ukraine, a view that has been echoed in Kyiv as well as other capitals.

On the one hand, such ideas simply are part of the complex negotiations within the alliance as well as between the alliance and its future partners or former opponents. These American proposals appear at least in part to reflect Washington's desire to form a consensus with its NATO allies, in the first instance Germany and France, which have differed with the United States on expansion in the past.

And they reflect Washington's oft-stated desire not to do anything that would appear to threaten Russian security or prompt a harsh Russian response.

But on the other hand, such arrangements inevitably transform the alliance even if no one wants to acknowledge that directly.

Most importantly, they do so directly by allowing the Russians a seat at the Western security table.

They do so indirectly by suggesting that there are degrees of association with NATO, with some countries being full-fledged partners on whose territory NATO troops are or can be stationed and others who are members but without that possibility.

They do so by further blurring the line between membership and non-membership among European states, an arrangement that may undermine the confidence of current members in NATO guarantees without necessarily reassuring those offered these various alternatives.

While some states in the region view such arrangements as giving them the advantages of at least the penumbra or shadow of security that the alliance provides to neighboring countries who are full members, many others already see these arrangements as much less than they need.

As a result, these latest additions to the European security architecture are likely to generate ever more demands that either the old foundations be strengthened or an entirely new building put in its place.