NATO plan skirts Russia’s concerns

Now that Russia has completed an agreement condoning the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the U.S. Senate must consider whether the accord sufficiently addresses concerns about the alliance’s long-term relationship with Moscow. Russian President Boris Yeltsin will meet with President Clinton in Paris later this month to sign the newly crafted arrangement. Their endorsement will virtually guarantee Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic invitations to join NATO in July at the alliance’s summit in Madrid. Final approval of the expansion still awaits support from a two-thirds majority in the Senate. As it stands, however, the terms of the accord do not merit approval.
So far, the United States and its European allies have voiced overwhelming support for NATO expansion. President Clinton predictably hailed the agreement that is symbolic of a new era of European peace, unity and democracy. Hopefully, however, the accord will be subjected to critical evaluation in Senate deliberations. A number of problems with the agreement must not be ignored or they could generate tensions between Russia and the alliance.
One major issue is that the accord unfairly forces Moscow to compromise its resistance to the deployment of NATO forces and military arsenals in Central Europe and the Baltics. NATO insists it has no intention of equipping new members with nuclear weapons, but the agreement leaves that option open if the alliance deems it necessary to deter potential threats. Similarly, NATO also says it will not station permanent troops on expanded domains. Nevertheless, it reserved the right to do so in crisis situations. The fact that NATO is not legally bound to these specifications is certain to arouse future tensions with Moscow as the alliance takes on new members in the coming years.
Russia is also concerned that the expansion will exacerbate the severe economic and political inequalities that divide Central and Eastern Europe. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic don’t have an immediate need for international assistance. In fact, they are already the region’s most economically secure and democratically developed nations, yet they will be the first to be admitted to the alliance. The countries most in need of economic and political bolstering, such as Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine, are eager to join but they haven’t attracted much interest from NATO members. Fears remain in Moscow, moreover, that the expansion will undermine Russia’s own faltering efforts to reform its economy and build a stable political system.
The alliance must continue to redefine its relationship with Moscow. NATO and Russia should work together as partners in confronting mutual threats and challenges posed by a rapidly changing Europe. Both are dealing with local conflicts in the region as well as hostile nationalism. Terrorism and the potential misuse of nuclear weapons are also shared concerns. Only the United States can demand an agreement that grants Moscow a legitimate voice in NATO expansion. The Senate should capitalize on its unique power and require a plan that doesn’t neglect Russia’s unsettled anxieties.