Washington, 11 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - An impressive array of former U.S. secretaries of state, defense, senators and senior officials have joined a public debate in America with a statement supporting NATO enlargement and warning that it would be a tragic mistake to turn away from the process.
The statement released to the press earlier this week was signed by more than 130 prominent Americans, including two former U.S. vice presidents, eight former secretaries of state, five White House national security advisers, as well as six defense secretaries and a sprinkling of former senators, ambassadors and academics.
U.S. Senator William Roth (R-Delaware), head of the NATO Observer Group that advises the U.S. Senate leadership on expansion issues, has welcomed the move. He called it "a critically important endorsement by a bipartisan group of pre-eminent U.S. experts in foreign policy."
In a press statement, Roth said he hopes that "when a group of this stature speaks, the U.S. Senate is listening."
NATO expansion will have to be ratified by the U.S. Senate with a two-thirds majority of 67 votes and hearings on the issue are expected to begin early next year. U.S. officials have already begun a campaign to influence the senators by appealing directly to the voting public, which at this point seems indifferent and mostly preoccupied with other concerns.
But many legislators in the Republican-led Congress, as well as opposition Democrats, have raised questions, among other things, about the costs of NATO expansion, the need for it in the absence of an external threat, the extent of the U.S. security commitment to new members, and a possible adverse impact on Russia of NATO enlargement.
The signers, all members of a group calling itself the "New Atlantic Initiative," argued in their statement that "admitting Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO will strengthen the alliance, reinforce new democracies , renew the American commitment to Europe and reaffirm American leadership" and that "to turn back now would be a tragic mistake."
At a Washington press conference Tuesday, four of the signers addressed some of the major concerns. They argued eloquently in favor of expanding the alliance in the same cavernous hall where NATO was founded in 1949 -- the Andrew Mellon Auditorium, a place of granite columns and gilded wall decorations, named after a wealthy American industrialist and philanthropist.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jean Kirkpatrick said the case for admitting Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to NATO is the same as the case was for establishing NATO -- "to provide a security shield behind which the free institutions of these geographically vulnerable European democracies can strike deep roots and thrive."
Richard Holbrooke, formerly of the State Department who continues to advise the U.S. President and Secretary of State on Balkan affairs, said Central Europe has been "a cockpit of turmoil and tragedy throughout this century," and that "to say this area is stable today simply because the Soviet threat is over is to misread history."
He said NATO will help anchor stability in the region as it did when Germany joined the alliance in 1955.
Holbrooke dismissed a criticism that expansion will upset or destabilize Russia. He said Russians know the new NATO is not directed against them "even though there is some posturing in the Russian Duma."
Former National Security Adviser Anthony Lake noted that some Russian parliamentarians have been using NATO enlargement as an excuse not to ratify the START II nuclear arms control agreement with the United States. "A lot of their concerns are financial because there are short-term costs" associated with the treaty, Lake said, adding that it will cost Russia less in the long run to agree to arms control.
The panelists point out that Russia through the Founding Act has the opportunity to cooperate with NATO and strengthen its own security.
Paul Wolfowitz, formerly the number two man in the Defense Department, added that Russia faces no threat from Poland but historically does have security problems to the east with China and Japan.
He said the U.S. and NATO can help resolve Russia's legitimate security concerns with those countries and strengthen its position through increasing cooperation with the West.
All four panelists expressed confidence that the U.S. Senate will ratify the NATO expansion amendment next year, and also that the enlargement process will continue eastward to encompass more countries after the initial three.