Washington, 27 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Americans opposed to NATO expansion are stepping up a campaign to win public support for their concerns and writing to President Bill Clinton, asking him to reconsider his NATO policy.
Two senators of Clinton's own Democratic party -- Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota) -- sent a letter to Clinton this week, requesting "comprehensive responses" to more than two pages of questions they raise about the enlargement process.
Another letter was sent to the White House Thursday by more than 40 former senior officials, ambassadors and government experts, asking Clinton to halt the expansion effort.
They called it "a policy error of historic proportions" and urged Clinton to explore other options for European security through the European Union, arms control, and NATO's Partnership for Peace program.
The letters move up a notch a public opinion campaign that until now was conducted mostly on the pages of the daily press and specialized publications with articles and counter articles by supporters and opponents of NATO expansion.
Harkin and Wellstone said in their letter they are not sure that expanding the alliance to Central Europe is a wise or feasible policy and listed a host of concerns about costs, the impact on Russia, the scope of enlargement and the future mission of the new alliance, as well as America's obligations.
The letter said that "before Congress begins its deliberations over the issue, the significant long-term policy implications of NATO expansion, including a major extension of our (U.S.) global security commitments, must be fully addressed."
The U.S. Senate will be required to ratify protocols to the NATO treaty adding new members and both chambers of Congress will have to approve the funds the U.S. plans to contribute to expansion costs.
The administration's request for legislative action is still a year away but both sides say the time is now to mobilize public opinion and influence the process.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other top offiicials never miss an opportunity to speak to the American people about NATO enlargement and how it will benefit the U.S. national interest. It seems to be yielding some results.
This week, the State Department issued statements informing the world that "NATO enlargement continues to attract new support from important segments of the American public," namely the Reserve Officers Association and the National Mayors Conference.
Both groups, representing respectively 100,000 military reservists and more than 1,000 american cities have adopted resolutions supporting NATO expansion.
On the other side of the debate are former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, and others, including the group of 40 plus.
Although they ask Clinton to suspend the NATO expansion effort, no one seriously expects him to reverse policy in midstream.
As Susan Eisenhower, head of a private Washington policy study group, and one of the signers, said at a press conference Thursday, the purpose of the letter is to "encourage the public and our elected officials to ask some hard questions and get the answers they need before the ratification process is set in motion."
The senators in their letter posed questions such as "why the rush to expand NATO when it is widely agreed that Russian conventional forces are weak and will likely be so for many years."
They too asked about the new NATO's mission and "how far into Central and Eastern Europe will the expanded NATO finally reach and how will this affect nations in the region which are not admitted into the alliance?"
Signers of the second letter predicted a dark and dire outcome to these and other aspects of NATO enlargement, saying it will draw "a new line of division in Europe between the ins and the outs of a new NATO, foster instability" and diminish the security of those left out.
Jack Matlock, former ambassador to the Soviet Union said NATO itself will be weakened and distracted from its security purpose.
He said the alliance is still in the process of restructuring and adapting to the post-Cold-War era and not ready yet to accept new members.
He said that decisions on who to admit first have already divided the alliance and will continue to occupy center stage, to the exclusion of more important issues.
Matlock warned that "higher priorities are being undermined by the effort to move eastward at this time," adding that, as he put it "if this process continues...we are going in the next decade to see a NATO that will not be capable of fulfilling the purposes for which it is needed because it will be preoccupied watching its own navel and expanding waistline and debating whether a diet is necessary or permissible or not."
Matlock said the biggest current threat is not a risk of Russian aggression but the risk posed by Russian nuclear weapons. He made the familiar argument that NATO expansion has hardened Russian resistance to disarmament and will delay negotiation and implementation of critical arms control agreements.
Another signer Michael Mandelbaum, a scholar and writer on Russian and Central European affairs, said the cost of expansion and the problem of the Baltic states risks destroying NATO.
He said that fierce Russian opposition will make "extension of NATO membership to the Baltic states absolutely unacceptable to the Western Europeans." Mandelbaum said that if NATO expands, the Balts must be invited in but that he fears "this would crack the alliance as it now exists."
He said also it was unlikely Europeans would actually pay their share of the costs and that the U.S. will be expected to pick up the check.
"There will be a bitter Transatlantic fight about burden-sharing when this becomes clear which will ...undercut American support for NATO," Mandelbaum said.