Washington, 26 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - In the 1940s, America's desire for a peaceful, democratic Europe found expression in the Marshall Plan. In the 1990s, NATO enlargement pursues a similar aim.
In one of her first public appearances as U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright in January recalled the spirit and relevance of the Marshall Plan in a statement about the need for economic and political stability in Central Europe.
She said again recently that NATO expansion will continue the process of integration begun after World War II and lead finally to the creation of an undivided, democratic and free Europe.
Asked why they want to join NATO, most Central European leaders will say security is only a part of it.
From President Lennart Meri of Estonia to President Milan Kucan of Slovenia and Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, the message is the same -- becoming a member of NATO means a sense of belonging to Europe, a sharing of cultural, spiritual and democratic values.
As Havel put it on a visit to the U.S. in mid-May "the NATO alliance is an instrument of democracy intended to defend mutually held and created political and spiritual values."
Thus at the end of World War II, the Marshall Plan laid the economic and political foundation for Europe's integration. At the end of the Cold War, NATO expansion is to build on this process and help complete it.
Albright's words about the relevance of the Marshall Plan do not mean only that it was the beginning. In the United States, the Marshall Plan remains in several ways a lesson, a model and a link to the process of NATO expansion.
Historians point out that in the 1940s, the Marshall Plan marked the beginning of America's commitment to remain permanently involved in European affairs without the imperative of an immediate crisis.
In the 1990s, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the United States reaffirmed its commitment to remain in Europe through NATO and said the alliance would adapt its mission, modernize and expand to fit the new circumstances.
In 1947, the United States was just as keen not to isolate the Soviet Union from European recovery as it is now not to leave Russia outside an integrating Europe. The Marshall Plan was all-inclusive, offered to any country that would fulfill its criteria of self-help.
Equally, the NATO Partnership for Peace program to enhance military cooperation was offered to all the former communist countries, including Russia.
And U.S. officials stress at every opportunity that no one who meets the criteria will be excluded from actual NATO membership and that this applies to Russia too.
Similar invitations were extended 50 years ago, but on the assumption by the United States that the Soviet Union would never join the Marshall Plan.
George Kennan, author of the U.S. policy of containing communism and one of the few surviving American statesmen of the day, recalls that his boss, Secretary of State George Marshall, asked for assurances that the Soviet Union would not participate before issuing the blanket invitation.
Kennan says he told Marshall that the demands of a multilateral program would prove too much for the Soviet system. Charles Bohlen, later U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, was more explicit: "We gambled that the Soviets could not come in," he said.
But initially at least, Moscow showed some interest, dispatching Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov to a meeting in Paris on June 27 with his British and French counterparts to discuss the U.S. offer.
Molotov came with a delegation of 100 officials but left on July 2, when he did not get the terms he wanted. The "Big Three Paris Conference" thus ended with a complete Soviet rejection of the Marshall Plan, as Kennan and Bohlen had predicted.
In a sign of changing times 50 years later, Russia has accepted a U.S. and NATO offer of a special relationship to complement NATO expansion. But U.S. officials have maintained steadfastly that with or without Russia, NATO enlargement would proceed.
The West Europeans also decided to proceed without the Soviet Union and met at a new Paris conference on July 12, 1947 to work out an overall recovery program presented to the United States that September. Initially, they asked Washington for more than twice the funding that was eventually agreed to.
The Marshall Plan was a multilateral effort, and not a set of bilateral dealings between the United States and individual countries of Europe. That was one of Molotov's goals at the Paris conference but he failed to change the multinational character of the Marshall Plan program.
The United States has proceeded in a similar manner of consultation and partnership with the Europeans on NATO expansion.
Albright is consulting next week in Portugal with other foreign ministers of NATO member states to advance their decision on which Central European countries will be invited at a July summit in Madrid to join NATO in the first round of expansion.
Then the focus shifts to domestic political arenas for legislative approval and a close look at costs.
The Marshall Plan was vastly more expensive than current estimates of NATO expansion. In today's dollars, America paid more than $88 billion for Europe's recovery compared to $2 billion, the current estimated U.S. share of NATO enlargement costs over a ten-year period.
But there are significant similarities in the political frame of president Harry Truman's day and that of president Bill Clinton.
In 1947, as in 1997, a democratic U.S. president faced a republican Congress that was skeptical about the need for foreign aid, and likely to approve it only if enough legislators could be convinced that Americans also would benefit.
Then as now the Administration decided on a two-pronged effort -- to develop close consultations on the issue with Congress and to launch an information campaign to educate the public about foreign policy needs.
One of the first things Albright did as Secretary of State was to meet with key legislators and exchange views, among other things, on NATO expansion. Since then, she and other top officials have travelled around America, giving speeches and numerous television interviews on the subject.
A special office was established in April in the State Department to liaise with Congress and handle issues concerning NATO expansion. Albright has said frequently that "the U.S. supports NATO enlargement because it is the right thing to do."
In 1947, with polls showing little public support for the Marshall Plan and legislators intent on cutting the budget, Truman's administration said "it was the right thing to do." National commissions were established and cabinet members travelled the country to tell Americans about the European Recovery Plan.
Truman formally presented the State Department's recovery proposal to Congress on December 19, 1947. It took months of congressional hearings and heated debates before the program was approved the following April as legislation called the Economic Cooperation Act.
Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-Michigan) was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading supporter of the proposed legislation against isolationists led by Senator Robert Taft (R-Ohio).
At one point in the Senate debate, Taft argued that the Marshall Plan would help socialism. Then he said he would support it but only with sharply reduced funding. Vandenberg snapped back "when a man is drowning 20 feetaway, it's a mistake to throw him a 15-foot rope" -- and he won the day.
Charles Kindleberger, who worked on the Marshall Plan at the State Department and attended the key congressional debates, writes in a memoir that one requirement U.S. legislators felt to be of paramount importance was that European countries be self-supporting at the end of the four-year program.
In the current intensifying public debate in the United States over NATO expansion, a recurring theme is that new members must be able to fulfil all membership obligations and responsibilities and pay their share of costs associated with membership.
Senator Joseph Biden (D-Delaware), an outspoken supporter of NATO expansion, put it this way earlier this month in a report on NATO to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "The failure of our current and future allies to pull their weight would surely cause support for NATO in the United States to wane."
He said that "no foreign policy, no matter how well formulated, can be sustained without the informed consent of the American people," and "therefore, a national debate should be launched to explore the costs, obligations and benefits to the United States of NATO enlargement."
That is the way the Marshall Plan came to pass half a century ago. U.S. officials hope its successful outcome will continue to be a shining inspiration for the process of NATO expansion -- the long delayed, second chapter of America's grand plan to unify Europe in democracy and peace.