With Cold War Over, U.S. Policy Debate Flared
MICHAEL DOBBS (WASHINGTON POST STAFF WRITER)
(C) 1995 THE WASHINGTON POST (LEGI-SLATE ARTICLE NO. 232980)
First of three articles
If the Clinton administration gets its way, future American presidents
will be obliged by international treaty to consider an attack on Warsaw or
Budapest as a national security threat equivalent to an attack on Washington
or Los Angeles.
The United States would make that pledge if the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization expands eastward, a historic step that some U.S. officials
expect by the turn of the century. In theory, it could cause the United
States to send American troops to defend Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic
and perhaps other new allies against external attack -- from a disgruntled
former Soviet bloc neighbor, or perhaps from a resurgent Russia.
Instead of expiring with the Cold War that it was designed to fight,
NATO may instead undergo a dramatic metamorphosis. With little public debate,
NATO governments have agreed in principle to enlarge the coalition to offer
membership to at least some of the countries on the vast plain between
Germany and Russia, historically an unstable and undemocratic region that has
been the flash point for two world wars.
Over the past year, the U.S. administration has been remarkably
successful in persuading its West European allies to use potential NATO
membership as a tool to help consolidate democracy in former communist
countries. U.S. officials argue that expanding NATO will promote political
stability in central and Eastern Europe and ensure that the United States
remains a power in Europe.
Now comes the hard part: selling the plan to American and West European
publics and legislatures increasingly preoccupied with domestic problems, and
soothing the concerns of a newly assertive Russia whose leaders fear a new
East-West division of Europe directed against them. So far, Russian leaders
have strongly opposed NATO expansion, and hinted it could cause the collapse
of Moscow's fragile attempt to build a cooperative relationship with the
"This is an important psychological and strategic moment. We can either
seize it or not," said Anthony Lake, President Clinton's national security
adviser and one of the administration's earliest proponents of NATO
expansion. "I genuinely believe it will not be necessary to create a new
curtain [dividing Europe]. In the end, I think the Russians will understand
that it is in their interest to accept the inevitability of NATO
"The goal of an expandingNATO is stability in central Europe," said
Assistant Secretary of State Richard C. Holbrooke, a key player in the
bureaucratic infighting over the issue that wracked the administration late
last year. "We must expand the zone of security and stability into this very
unstable region. NATO membership will tie the security establishments of
these countries together, as well as binding these peoples together with a
common set of democratic values and security commitments."
Based on interviews with dozens of American and European officials, this
series of articles will describe how policymakers in NATO's capitals came to
the decision that the alliance should be expanded. Today's article focuses on
the policy debate that has gone on in Washington for the last two years, and
describes how the Clinton administration overcame its initial caution -- and
the Pentagon's continuing skepticism -- about expanding NATO. Thursday's
article explores the views of NATO's European members. A concluding article
on Friday will preview the public debates over NATO expansion that are likely
to precede the admission of new members.
Under article five of the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949, which created
NATO, the United States and its allies agreed that "an armed attack against
one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack
against them all." This broad commitment was understood to mean that the
United States accepted the obligation of defending Germany against a Soviet
tank invasion, or responding in kind to a Soviet missile attack on London or
Paris. Soviet power was the enemy NATO was created to thwart.
Absent the Soviet Union, NATO's purpose is much less clear-cut.
Skeptics question whether it makes sense to commit U.S. soldiers to defend,
say, Hungary, if it were attacked by Romania. The two countries have a long
standing dispute over the rights of the Hungarian minority in Romanian-ruled
When U.S. officials make the case for NATO expansion, they talk about
the need to prevent "new Bosnias" in central and Eastern Europe by
integrating former communist nations with the West as rapidly as possible.
They would like to replicate the Truman administration's success in creating
an overarching security umbrella that encouraged Germans, French and Anglo
Saxons to forget their tribal animosities and devote their energies to
Left unspoken by the administration, but of considerable importance to
the countries lining up to join NATO, is fear of a resurgent Russia. After
nearly half a century of Soviet domination, Poles, Hungarians, Czechs and
others want desperately to be a full-fledged part of the West. Russia, beset
by domestic problems and exhausted by foreign adventures, may not pose much
threat now. But Russia will remain the biggest and best-armed nation in the
central European neighborhood, and all of its neighbors are worried about the
future course of Russia's difficult experiment with democratic government.
Opponents of NATO enlargement argue that it is foolish to extend blanket
defense commitments to a part of the world that the United States has never
regarded as vital to its security. They contend that such a step would be
very expensive, with existing NATO members obliged to bear at least a portion
of the cost of updating the weapon systems belonging to former Warsaw Pact
armies. Finally, opponents contend, the drive for NATO expansion could
produce a political backlash in Russia in favor of ultranationalists deeply
suspicious of Western intentions.
There are still many skeptics about NATO expansion in the
administration, particularly in the Defense Department, but they are lying
low. In public, the administration has closed ranks around the "parallel
track" approach, which was endorsed by a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in
December 1994. This consists of taking gradual steps toward expanding the
alliance, while at the same time encouraging Russia to join NATO in
cooperative security arrangements.
Although no target date has been set for enlargement, many U.S.
officials say they expect that the first former Soviet bloc countries will be
admitted to NATO by the turn of the century. Exactly which countries are
eligible will become clear only next year, but Poland, Hungary and the Czech
Republic generally are regarded as being at the head of the queue, because
they have made the most progress toward democracy.
Such an outcome was not at all clear in the fall of 1993, when U.S.
policymakers began to pay serious attention to the problem of European
security after the Cold War. At that time, the administration was deeply
divided on the question of rapid NATO expansion. Many officials, particularly
in the Pentagon, did not want to meddle with the institution that had served
as the cornerstone of American security strategy for nearly half a century.
The military also was opposed to assuming extensive new defense obligations.
In the words of one participant, this was the era of "long meetings and
knockdown, drag-out battles." The Russia experts in the State Department, who
feared alienating Moscow, made common cause with the chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, the Polish-born Gen. John Shalikashvili, who proposed an
amorphous military cooperation program with Soviet bloc countries, to be
known as the "Partnership for Peace," or PFP. One of the advantages of PFP,
from the Pentagon's point of view, was that it did not commit America to
"Shali may have Polish blood running through his veins, but he was one
of the strongest opponents of NATO expansion," said a former State Department
official. "The Joint Chiefs took the view that what these countries needed
was economic assistance, not military assistance."
One of the leading advocates of establishing a clear timetable for NATO
expansion was Undersecretary of State for Security Policy Lynn E. Davis. In
an October 1993 memo to Secretary of State Warren Christopher, she suggested
that NATO offer "associate" membership to Poland, Hungary and the former
Czechoslovakia in "the near future." Davis also argued that NATO should adopt
a "set of criteria" that would permit associate members to become full
The Davis memo provoked a sharp response from Strobe Talbott, the State
Department official in charge of coordinating policy toward the former Soviet
Union. Talbott felt that the Davis proposals would drive Russia into a
corner. He also feared that "fast-track" NATO expansion could jeopardize
negotiations with Ukraine to dismantle hundreds of long-range nuclear-tipped
"Laying down criteria could be quite provocative, and badly timed with
what is going on in Russia," Talbott wrote Christopher in a nine-page NODIS
(No Distribution) memo dated Oct. 17, 1993. "My recommended bottom line is
this: Take the one new idea that seems to be universally accepted, PFP, and
make that the centerpiece of our NATO position."
Because Talbott is a "Friend of Bill" -- his relationship with Clinton
stretches back to university days -- his view carried a lot of weight. At a
White House meeting two days later, the administration formally embraced PFP
as an alternative to the Davis approach.
But the administration began to look more favorably at true NATO
expansion toward the end of 1993, in response to a variety of political
pressures. Foreign policy thinkers such as Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry A.
Kissinger were writing articles, drawing attention to the potentially
destabilizing security vacuum in central Europe. Unhappy that Poland had been
shunted off into the halfway house of PFP, Polish Americans were bombarding
the White House with letters, calling for it to be granted full NATO
membership. On Capitol Hill, Republicans were beginning to use the issue of
NATO expansion as a stick to beat the administration for its allegedly "pro
In December 1993, Polish Foreign Minister Andrzej Olechowski came to
Washington and made an emotional case for full integration into NATO,
pounding his fist on a State Department table to make his point. During White
House brainstorming sessions in the Cabinet Room and the nearby Roosevelt
Room, Clinton expressed worries about the "security limbo" in central Europe,
according to one participant. His advisers recommended that he address the
expansion issue at a NATO summit in January 1994.
To deal with the Russian problem, the administration began to think
about the "parallel track" approach, originally proposed by Brzezinski,
President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser. The Polish-born
Brzezinski was obsessed with how to move toward long-term stability in
central and Eastern Europe after the Cold War. He discussed his ideas in
detail with Lake and other administration officials in late 1993 and early
"From the very beginning, Lake was more sympathetic than other members
of the administration," Brzezinski recalled. "I did not have to do any
proselytizing with Tony."
Lake and his allies persuaded the president to make a specific
reference to the inevitability of NATO expansion at a meeting with central
European leaders in Prague in January 1994, immediately after the NATO
summit, which had endorsed the idea of enlargement in principle. This was the
first time that Clinton used the formula: "The question is no longer whether
NATO will take on new members, but when and how." At first, few people paid
much attention to such rhetoric. As long as "when" and "how" went
unaddressed, the issue could be postponed.
During the spring of 1994, the NATO expansion lobby gained an
influential new ally in Talbott. The evolution in his views coincided with
his nomination in February 1994 to deputy secretary of state. Previously, as
the administration's leading Russia expert, he had tended to look at the
problem through the prism of U.S.-Russia relations. In his new position, he
was obliged to pay much more attention to security problems in the heart of
Some administration insiders attribute Talbott's change of heart partly
to the beating he took during his confirmation hearings, when he was accused
by Republican senators of being "soft" on Russia. They depict him as a man of
finely tuned political instincts who felt a need to protect his friend, the
president, from being outflanked by the Republicans, who were beginning to
push the idea of inviting countries such as Poland to join NATO.
In an interview, Talbott said that he had always been in favor of NATO
expansion, provided it took place gradually. "What I was concerned about [in
October 1993], and am still concerned about now, is not whether NATO should
expand, but how this should be done. In particular, how this can be done in a
way that serves the larger goal of European integration," he said.
A fundamental change in the administration position -- from rhetoric to
action -- occurred during the summer and fall of 1994. During a trip to
Warsaw in July, Clinton agreed with Polish journalists that a "timetable
should be developed" for NATO expansion. He singled out Poland as a leading
candidate for membership, and insisted that no country outside NATO, such as
Russia, would be permitted to have a veto over the process.
The NATO-expansion enthusiasts saw the president's remarks in Warsaw as
a signal to push for concrete steps. The charge was led by Assistant
Secretary of State Holbrooke, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany who was
brought back to Washington in September 1994 at Talbott's initiative to shake
up the European department. Disliked by many career bureaucrats for what one
described as his "unconventional" ways and another termed his "naked
political ambition," Holbrooke quickly made clear that he regarded the
reshaping of Europe's security architecture as the modern-day equivalent of
the 1919 Conference of Versailles, and that he was in charge.
"The first thing you have to do in a bureaucracy is to get hold of the
issue, and that is what we did," said a Holbrooke supporter, adding jokingly:
"If Dick hadn't grabbed it, it could have gone to anyone: DOD, Lynn Davis,
the NSC [National Security Council], or even Chubby Checker."
In an attempt to energize the rest of the administration, Holbrooke
announced the formation of an Interagency Working Group, including
representatives of all the national security bureaucracies. According to
several participants, Holbrooke began the first session by saying that the
president had made a decision to move forward with the NATO expansion
process. When the head of policy planning for the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Wesley
K. Clark, objected that there were still "some issues we need to discuss,"
Holbrooke shot back: "That sounds like insubordination to me. We need to
settle this right now. Either you are on the president's program, or you are
Holbrooke's undiplomatic language shocked the 30 or so generals and
foreign policy thinkers who had gathered in the State Department conference
room. Clark, a former Rhodes scholar from Arkansas and lesser-known "FOB,"
turned deep red.
"I have never been accused of being insubordinate to the president
before," he sputtered indignantly.
Stung by Holbrooke's accusation, the Defense Department prepared a study
on the "Military Consequences of NATO Expansion." Drafted by Clark, the study
said it would take billions of dollars to fully integrate former Warsaw Pact
armies with those of Western Europe. Pentagon officials invited State
Department colleagues to attend a slide show detailing the complexities of
transforming a former Warsaw Pact army into a NATO army. The conference table
was piled high with a four-foot stack of agreements showing unique NATO
standards set for everything from helicopter launching pads to the
circumference of gasoline nozzles.
The Pentagon's main worry was that expansion might weaken an institution
that had kept the peace in Western Europe for nearly half a century. "We have
been continually concerned that we do not end up with a diluted NATO or a
'NATO lite.' We want one serious NATO," said Joseph S. Nye, assistant
secretary of defense for international security affairs.
The final administration position, hammered out over many interagency
meetings during the fall of 1994, contained something for everyone. The
Russia policymakers, still represented by Talbott, insisted on the principle
of the "parallel track" approach. The Europeanists, led by Holbrooke, focused
on the need to fill the "security vacuum" in central Europe.
The Pentagon secured commitments to maintain NATO's military
effectiveness and ensure that any new members would be properly integrated
into the alliance. It was agreed that Partnership for Peace would remain part
of the administration's approach, both as a waiting room for would-be NATO
members and as an alternative to membership for countries like Russia that
are unlikely to admitted into the alliance.
Once the administration had achieved consensus, the policy had to be sold
to the NATO allies and to the Russians. During the final months of 1994, U.S.
officials conducted a flurry of consultations in Europe. Although at the
beginning of 1994 the Europeans had agreed to expansion in principle, they
had yet to agree to the formal launching of the expansion process. The
rench, and to a lesser extent, the Germans, were worried that a timetable
for NATO expansion could antagonize the Russians.
In the end, the American view prevailed. At the end of November, German
Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who had been wavering between the enthusiastic pro
expansion position of his defense minister, Volker Ruehe, and the skepticism
of his foreign minister, Klaus Kinkel, signed onto the "dual track approach"
proposed by Washington. It was officially adopted as alliance policy early
"That is the way things generally work in NATO," said a NATO diplomat.
"America gets what it wants."
Russia proved much more difficult. Also in December, Moscow balked at
joining PFP. During their one-on-one meeting in Moscow in April, President
Boris Yeltsin urged Clinton three times to delay NATO expansion beyond the
year 2000, according to an account provided by a senior U.S. official.
Clinton rejected the appeal, arguing that it was in Russia's interests to
keep America in Europe, and NATO enlargement was the best way to achieve this
Although Clinton was unable to persuade Yeltsin to drop his objections
to NATO expansion, he did succeed in getting him to permit Russia to follow
other East European nations in joining PFP. This step opened the door for the
Russia-NATO security dialogue, which got underway in May.
Some of the original advocates of NATO expansion worry that the emphasis
will now shift to the "parallel track" of developing a new security
relationship with Russia, rather than working out a concrete timetable for
the enlargement of the alliance.
"The trick now is to get the two trains moving forward more or less
together," said Brzezinski. "My concern is that there are too many people
studying the timetable in the Holbrooke train. There is a danger that it
could get stuck in the station, while the Talbott train moves forward."
Correspondent Rick Atkinson in Berlin contributed to this report. NEXT: What
the Europeans think
A tovabbterjesztest a New York-i szekhelyu Magyar Emberi Jogok
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