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Europe: Analysis From Washington--Obstacles To NATO Expansion

Washington, 4 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - Three developments during the last few days underscore the obstacles that the West must overcome if NATO is to expand on schedule.

But the emergence of each of these difficulties simultaneously throws into sharp relief the reasons why the Western defense alliance needs to expand and the dangers ahead for everyone -- including Russia -- if it fails to do so.

The first of these events was the statement by Turkish Foreign Minister Tansu Ciller that Ankara would veto any expansion of the alliance unless the European Union showed a greater willingness to include her country in that economic grouping.

On the one hand, Ciller's remark only highlighted something everyone has known about for a long time but many have preferred to forget: any current member can block expansion even if the other 15 members are for it.

On the other hand, the Turkish foreign minister's statement points to where the real debate about NATO expansion is going to take place -- within each of the current member countries.

There, the debate is likely to take on a very different form than it has today. Countries uncertain about expansion may use the process to extract concessions from those who back it.

And even in countries whose leaders back expansion, ever more people are asking whether their country should have to take on any new burden -- political or economic -- now that the Cold War is over.

In the United States, for example, a country whose government is strongly committed to expansion, ever more columnists and editorial writers have begun to ask "Are you prepared to die for Warsaw?"

From that query to "Are you prepared to die for any current member country other than your own?" is not nearly as far as many would think. And as a result, a failure to push expansion through now would inevitably weaken the ties among current members.

The second development was a statement by British defense minister Michael Portillo in Kyiv on Sunday that NATO hopes to conclude a special NATO-Ukraine accord in the near future and certainly before the July summit scheduled to decide on expansion.

Such an accord between the Western alliance and a former Soviet republic will infuriate Moscow which particularly opposes ties between NATO and former Soviet republics and will certainly view alliance links to Kyiv as undercutting the uniqueness of its own proposed accord with NATO.

But not only Moscow will have a problem with such arrangements. Because they will inevitably be specific to each country, these charters will give some current members additional reasons for demanding special arrangements for themselves.

And that process could also seriously weaken the alliance.

Finally, the third development, also on Sunday, came during French President Jacques Chirac's visit with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Chirac hinted and his aides were explicit that NATO could sign a charter with Moscow before July.

For three reasons, this may be the greatest obstacle of all. First, Yeltsin's meeting with Chirac, following the Russian president's recent session with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, highlights Moscow's belief that it can play one NATO country off against another to achieve its goal.

Second, despite denials all around, the French concession may in fact give Moscow an effective veto over the timing and meaning of expansion, even if not over expansion itself.

That is because many Western countries now committed to expansion are also committed to avoiding a confrontation with Moscow and will thus do what they can to assuage Russian concerns.

And third, Chirac's remarks, like so many others by Western leaders in recent months, teach Moscow an important lesson: There are no real costs and many very likely potential benefits from continuing to oppose what some in both Moscow and the West see as inevitable.

That combination could result in a much weakened alliance for both current members and any new ones. Indeed, if the alliance fails to expand as a result of these pressures, such a failure could become the beginning of the end for a security system that has guaranteed peace in Europe for almost half a century.

While many in Russia might consider the end of NATO a victory for themselves, former Russian foreign minister Andrey Kozyrev pointed out this week that it would not be a victory for democracy and reform in his country.

Writing in the current issue of the American magazine "Newsweek," Kozyrev said that Moscow's current effort to block NATO expansion was "self-defeating."

While Kozyrev may be wrong that Russia has "no means of stopping it," he is almost certainly correct that its effort to do so represents "a last-ditch attempt to derail the unfulfilled transition to democracy" there.