Washington, 11 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Washington's efforts to reassure those East European countries likely to be left outside of NATO after its first round of expansion have heightened rather than reduced insecurity throughout the region.
Ever more alliance leaders are acknowledging this uncomfortable reality: For example, one senior but unnamed U.S. official said this week, "The problem was never defining how to enlarge NATO, but what to do with the countries left out of it."
So far, however, no one has come up with an answer that satisfies all concerned. Some political leaders have even used this fact to argue against any expansion at all. But most NATO countries remain committed to the inclusion of at least some new members, and consequently as the time for a decision on enlargement approaches, they are increasingly focusing on what to do with those left out.
The United States government has taken the lead in this effort and has suggested three steps to try to provide stability if not security for those countries, such as the Baltic states, who are unlikely to be included in the first round of alliance expansion.
The United States has called for strengthening the Partnership for Peace Program.
It has urged the European Union to move quickly to admit those East European countries such as Estonia who are qualified for membership.
It has urged that these countries recognize geography and work to establish better relations with Russia.
None of these proposals has met with the enthusiastic support of those East European countries. Instead, each has led at least some officials in these states to conclude that NATO and Moscow have already in effect agreed to a division of this region into two spheres of influence. That conclusion has left many countries there feeling more, not less insecure.
While virtually all the countries now participating in the Partnership for Peace see it as a useful organization and many would like to see it enhanced, no country in the region sees it as providing anything more than a waiting room for NATO expansion.
After all, the Partnership program while expanding contacts and providing training opportunities of all kinds, was never intended to provide these countries with a security guarantee. And that is precisely what all of them want.
East European reactions to the American suggestion that the European Union admit one or more of these states have followed a similar pattern. On the one hand, even those who want to join the EU understand that it is not a security organization and cannot by itself protect them from an external threat.
And on the other, they understand that the EU, unlike NATO, does not count among its members the United States, the country to whom virtually all these East European countries look as the only effective counterweight to the possible reemergence of a powerful Russia that might threaten them.
Moreover, American urgings that these countries come to terms with Russia have tended to backfire. They have led many in the region to conclude that the West has somehow sold them out.
Such feelings will only be exacerbated by recent American suggestions that Russia and NATO should renegotiate the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty as part of their proposed joint charter. After all, many East Europeans were alarmed when the West agreed to earlier Russian demands for CFE revisions which allow Moscow to project power closer to their borders.
Consequently, the East European search for security will continue, but as one American official commented this week, for those who will not be included in the alliance during the first round, "we have no easy answers."