Munich, 26 June 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Germany's federal parliament will discuss tomorrow whether the expansion of NATO should cover only Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in the first round or should also include Romania and Slovenia.
Political experts in Bonn said the debate is unlikely to produce a concrete recommendation for Chancellor Helmut Kohl to take to the NATO summit meeting in Madrid next month. But it should provide a rare public discussion on the rationale for offering immediate admission to some Central European countries while postponing it for others.
A Bonn foreign office spokesman said this week the German government assumes that the first round will be limited to three because of the refusal of the United States to accept others.
"The United States is the most powerful member of the alliance," one official said. "The security guarantees in the NATO Treaty depend largely on American nuclear power. In practice, it is not possible to find a solution against the will of the West's leading power."
The official said the Government itself had no strong views on the number to be included in the first round. "The Government can live with three, four or five new members," he said. "There are good arguments for all these solutions." In the internal Government discussions, Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel is said to have supported the addition of Slovenia as a stable, post-Yugoslav state. Defense Minister Volker Ruehe is said to be satisfied with only three new members in the first round but has argued for a second round in the near future.
Experts said Germany's main opposition party, the SPD, is expected to urge the inclusion of Romania and Slovenia for political and security reasons.
Government officials said America's strong views on expansion were reiterated at last weekend's G-7 summit meeting in Denver, which was also attended by Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
"President Clinton made it extremely clear he would not ask the Senate to approve the admission of more than three countries at this time," a German foreign office spokesman said. He also quoted U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as having told Kinkel: "Three and no more. That is our last word".
According to German officials both Clinton and Albright argued that there was a better chance of the U.S. Congress ratifying three new members, if only for financial reasons. They argued that the addition of Slovenia and Romania at this time could lead to severe resistance in Congress.
The inclusion of new members must be ratified by the parliaments of all 16 NATO members, including the U.S. Congress. In the U.S. some members of Congress have already criticized the cost of introducing new countries.
There are many estimates of what these costs could be. A 31-page report submitted to the U.S. Congress in February this year estimated that including just three new members -- Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland -- would cost up to $35 billion over the next 12 years. It estimated that the U.S. contribution would be about $200 million a year. The report anticipated that the three new NATO members would cover about 35 per cent of enlargement costs themselves, the U.S. would pay 15 per cent and the other current members of NATO would contribute 50 per cent.
Some other American estimates have been considerably higher. On the other hand, some European countries have produced lower estimates.
Both Romania and Slovenia continue to argue strongly in favor of admission to NATO in the first round. Romania, in particular, has made membership a national cause. Last week Romanian television carried an extensive program on the whole issue with commentators arguing strongly for Romania's inclusion.
But critics say some sections of Romania's public apparently have false ideas about what membership would mean. A foreign diplomat in Bucharest said some Romanians apparently believe that membership will allow them visa-free travel to western Europe. "This is simply not true," he said. "One only needs to look at Turkey. It has been a member of NATO for a long time but its people do not have easy entry to west European countries."
The strongest support for Romania and Slovenia comes from France. German diplomats say that at the Denver summit French President Jacques Chirac continued to insist on their inclusion and made clear he would continue to press their case in Madrid. Eight other members of NATO have also indicated varying degrees of support for the inclusion of Romania and Slovenia. They are Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, Belgium, Turkey and Canada.