Rey says NATO should welcome Poles

David Hyland

Four years of having a front row to history allowed former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Nicholas Rey to see the European nation go from “a basketcase to a driving democracy.”
Rey, who is currently on a speaking tour, stopped at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs Thursday to build support for the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO members are considering a proposal to include three of the Soviet Union’s former satellite countries.
“As ambassador to Warsaw, you get the impression that 110 percent of Poles want to get into NATO, want to cement Poland to Western security structures,” said Rey, the American ambassador to Poland from 1993 to 1997.
NATO is the military alliance which includes the United States and Western Europe. The three countries — Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic — were all former members of the defunct Soviet-dominated military alliance, the Warsaw Pact.
During the Cold War, the two alliances faced each as bitter rivals. The collapse of the Soviet Union led to the disintegration of both the Communist governments and the Warsaw Pact.
Despite initial protests over the inclusion of the three countries, Russia eventually conceded after receiving reassurances that would give them a limited voice in NATO affairs.
Preoccupied with its own internal problems, Rey said Russia would benefit from having “a zone of peace and security” outside its borders.
Still, numerous politicians, including Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone, have also expressed concern over the accord, Rey said. Their concerns focus on alienating Russia.
The NATO expansion accord is being criticized on other fronts as well. Rey referred to a recent news account which asserted that allowing former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO was opening the door to spies.
He said that the critical period for NATO expansion is approaching when the accord finally goes before the Senate early this year.
Cindy Bigger, a Humphrey Fellow and one of 16 audience members Thursday, found Rey’s presentation convincing.
“It was very interesting,” Bigger said. “The more people that can learn about any of our foreign policy issues, the better.
“I think his argument was very good in terms of the reasons why NATO should be expanded.”
Patrick Shields, director of External Relations at the Humphrey Institute, helped coordinate the lecture but wouldn’t give his position on the foreign policy matter.
“I wish some of the opponents had been here to ask their questions,” he said. “Debate is an important part of educating the public.”