Post opinion: Washington may be making a foreign policy mistake in trying to expand NATO.
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NATO Pledges Not to Put Nuclear Arms in New Member StatesBy William Drozdiak
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 11, 1996; Page A16
NATO promised today that no nuclear weapons would be stationed on the territory of new members, in a move to defuse Russian opposition to the alliance's expansion into former communist countries in Eastern Europe.
The United States and its allies also offered to open talks on a charter setting out a new era of political and military cooperation with Russia. NATO's foreign ministers proposed that a blueprint of the new partnership with Moscow be unveiled at the alliance's Madrid summit in July, when one or more new members will be selected.
The decisions made at the foreign ministers' annual meeting at NATO headquarters reflected what U.S. officials described as the Clinton administration's chief foreign policy priority next year how to expand NATO's domain to the east without jeopardizing a budding friendship with Russia. While the ideas of a charter and a pledge to refrain from deploying nuclear weapons in new member countries have been widely discussed, today's action represented their formal adoption by NATO's policymaking body.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher, making his last trip abroad before his retirement, met tonight with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov in a further attempt to convince Moscow that NATO harbors no aggressive purposes in extending its boundaries to Russia's doorstep.
While 11 formerly communist countries have applied to join NATO, Russian President Boris Yeltsin has shown no signs of relaxing opposition to any eastward projection of the alliance.
A number of Russian officials, however, and Yeltsin himself, during a Moscow meeting with Western leaders last spring, have floated as a compromise the idea of making any new NATO members nuclear-free states.
In his farewell speech to allied ministers, Christopher emphasized the importance of building a new relationship with Russia as NATO approaches the challenges of a new century.
"Russia should play a vital role in every institution and every undertaking of our new Atlantic Community," he said. "It is essential because we can only build a new Europe free of tyranny, division and war if Europe's largest nation is our full partner."
He called for more military liaison exchanges between NATO and Russia at major command levels. In particular, he stressed that the Western alliance "has no intention, no plan and no need to station nuclear weapons on the territory of any new members."
In Washington, President Clinton said at a White House ceremony that the July meeting will help "forge a partnership with Russia" and bring into NATO "aspiring new members from Europe's new democracies."
At a European security conference in Lisbon last week, NATO countries agreed to open new talks with Russia to modernize the treaty limiting nonnuclear forces in Europe so that the bloc-to-bloc arrangements reached with the defunct Warsaw Pact will be replaced with new national ceilings on troops and weapons.
As a successful model of collaboration, Christopher cited the Bosnia peacekeeping mission, where NATO and Russian troops have worked together.
"Russian and NATO soldiers in Bosnia trust each other. Our job is to establish a permanent framework that extends their spirit to other joint endeavors and keeps it thriving long after the last foreign soldier has left Bosnia."
German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel urged that NATO try to build on such cooperation by broadening consultations with Moscow to include new priorities on the global security agenda, such as organized crime, terrorism, drug smuggling and money laundering.
In choosing new members, alliance diplomats said NATO governments would consider "all relevant factors," such as their democratic institutions, the caliber of their armed services, civilian control of the military, and the degree of free speech and fair elections.
Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are mentioned often as the most likely choices, but NATO officials say Slovenia and Romania are making strong pitches. While Secretary General Javier Solana said he thinks "more than one" country will be admitted, many NATO governments are apprehensive about taking in too many candidates because it could overload the alliance and exacerbate the security concerns of the nations left out.
The three small Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are particularly worried about being stranded in a "gray zone" that their governments warn would isolate them within a Russian-dominated security belt only a few years after they regained their independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
For that reason, NATO has proposed upgrading its Partnership for Peace program of military and political exchanges with those countries that do not make the grade in the first wave of expansion.
During their meeting today, NATO ministers took other steps to address challenges confronting the alliance, including the long-delayed reform of its command structure and approving a new mission to replace the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia later this month with a smaller, 30,000-member contingent.
Despite a continuing squabble between the United States and France over who should lead the alliance's Southern Command, the ministers reaffirmed plans to reshape NATO's military structure so European members can assume more responsibility for their own defense.
Washington insists on having an American admiral lead the Southern Command in Naples because of the important role played by the U.S. 6th Fleet in patrolling the eastern Mediterranean. In a key concession, France acknowledged that an American should retain authority over the 6th Fleet but said it still wants a European to fill a senior command post for the region.
On Bosnia, the allies agreed that the new Stabilization Force, which will be only half the size of the current NATO-led force, should concentrate on keeping the peace and play a limited role in civilian reconstruction.
Carl Bildt, the international representative supervising Bosnia's rebuilding plans, warned the NATO ministers that the new force could face a "hot spring" if refugees start returning to their prewar homes in greater numbers and Bosnia's political institutions are not functioning properly.
Bildt also called for more vigorous action to apprehend war criminals, but received little encouragement. NATO countries fearful of reprisals against their soldiers have refused to order their soldiers to pursue indicted war criminals such as Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.
© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company