In response to:

Why NATO Should Grow from the August 10, 1995 issue

To the Editors:

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott’s defense of the Clinton administration’s determination to expand NATO to the east [“Why NATO Should Grow,” NYR, August 10] is disingenuous. It rehearses at length various rationales for this policy, all of which have been discredited by the critics to whom he refers so cursorily. At the same time, he ignores the substance of the alternative policies recommended by Senator Sam Nunn in his speech of June 22nd, which Talbott relegates to a scant mention in a footnote; by former Ambassador to the USSR Jack F. Matlock in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 3; in the article by Professor Michael Mandelbaum, published in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, and in an article by Ambassador Jonathan Dean, published in the June, 1995, issue of Arms Control Today, the monthly journal of the Arms Control Association.

One of those alternative policies has been on Talbott’s desk since early May, in the form of a draft of the article by Dean, with the endorsement of a group of retired senior State Department officials, now numbering eighteen, prominent among them former Deputy Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Navy, and Ambassador at Large Paul H. Nitze, whom Talbott, in an earlier incarnation, eulogized in The Master of the Game: Paul Nitze and the Nuclear Peace, one of the books cited to identify him in The New York Review. Other leading signatories of the letter to Secretary Christopher endorsing this alternative policy are former Under Secretary of State U. Alexis Johnson, former Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany Martin J. Hillenbrand, and Ambassador Matlock. Johnson and Matlock also served as ambassadors to Czechoslovakia and Hillenbrand as ambassador to Hungary, and among their co-signatories are two former ambassadors to Poland and former ambassadors to Bulgaria, the German Democratic Republic, and Romania, as well as two former Directors of Policy Planning for the State Department, a post also held by Nitze early in his career. A copy of this letter is appended. (At a news conference in Washington organized by the Arms Control Association on May 17, former Ambassador to the USSR Arthur A. Hartman, Matlock’s predecessor, also declared his opposition to NATO expansion.)

The common elements of the alternative policy endorsed by these critics are simple: accelerate full membership of the European Union and its nascent defense arm, Western European Union (WEU), for the East-Central European states now in the process of qualifying to join those bodies, while maintaining NATO’s “Partnership for Peace,” to which those states, together with Russia, Ukraine, and the Baltic States, all belong. WEU is at a formative stage and is not viewed as a threat by the Russians, while NATO will always remain in their eyes what it was designed to be: a military alliance directed against the Soviet Union and now, by inheritance, against Russia.

As their gruesome misadventures in Chechnya demonstrate, the Russian armed forces are today barely capable of mastering this New Jersey-sized territory with a population of less than a million people. They pose no threat to any state to the west, nor is there any evidence of an imperialistic surge among the Russian people. Even Zhirinovsky, bowing to the weight of Russian public opinion, finally withdrew his support for the operation in Chechnya.

The “new threats” that Talbott says “may arise” could come from only one direction: the east, and the only state that could mount them would be Russia. Talbott makes soothing statements about why the Russians need not fear NATO enlargement and the Baltic States and Ukraine need not fear falling into a “strategic limbo.” He writes:

It would be far better to encourage the Central Europeans, the Russians, and the peoples of the other former Soviet states all to see NATO’s enlargement as a process that can help to promote better domestic and international behavior, even as it may serve as a hedge against the worst.

But NATO expansion could not be limited to political and psychological consequences. Talbott writes that the expanded North Atlantic alliance would also have military goals. Thus, the armies of the new member-states, long neglected by governments incapable of financing their modernization, would have to be brought up to NATO standards at the cost of billions of dollars that should rather be spent on economic development. The taxpayers of present alliance member-states, including those of the US, would be expected to bear the lion’s share of this burden, since the new members can hardly afford the soaring costs of modern weapons systems. Once this process begins, the only mission that could be prescribed for the modernized forces would be that of combatting Russia. Talbott is silent on these consequences of expansion.

Other proponents of NATO expansion, such as Henry Kissinger, would try to palliate its impact on Russian public opinion by refraining from moving troops and nuclear weapons from the existing NATO member-states onto the territory of the prospective new ones. Even so, far from “diminishing the current level of mistrust between Russia and its neighbors,” as Talbott suggests, expansion would inevitably be followed by demands by the new members that NATO take the next logical step and define the casus foederis: what “early-warning indicators” would cause the alliance to move Western troops and nuclear weapons onto Polish, Czech, Hungarian, and/or Slovak soil and what contingencies might lead the organization to mobilize for the defense of the new territory. Discussions on these subjects could not be conducted without parliamentary involvement and intense media attention.

On the Russian side, expansion could be expected to trigger two developments. First, any Russian government would be concerned to assure that the initial expansion was not the first step on the way to subsequent “evolutionary enlargements” that would include the Baltic States and Ukraine. Talbott writes about the “prospect of being admitted to NATO” for “the nations of Central Europe and the former Soviet Union” (emphasis supplied), indicating that expansion is not viewed as restricted to the four Visegrad states—the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia—and other East-Central European states, but could be extended to the Baltic States, Ukraine, and Belarus.

Presumably, Russian diplomacy toward the “near abroad” would therefore be motivated to turn from the relatively benign present attitude to one of trying at a minimum to embrace Ukraine and Belarus within a tighter alliance than the loose Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) structure of today. As President Kuchma of Ukraine has said, NATO expansion would place Ukraine “in the front lines” between an expanded NATO and Russia, and the same would be true of the Baltic States and Belarus.

Secondly, confronted by the eastward movement of NATO, a militarily and economically weak Russia that is unable, as it now is, to recruit and equip massive conventional forces, would presumably have to rely heavily on nuclear-armed missilery. The delicate web of East-West and US-Russian arms-control agreements, much of which deals with this category of weapon, is already showing signs of strain. NATO expansion into the Visegrad area and Russian fears that it might only be the first in a series could cause that web to fray and shrivel away.

In view of their history, the desires of the Czechs, Hungarians, Poles, and Slovaks for a Western security connection are fully understandable. In the absence of a military threat from Russia or significant support among Russians for territorial expansion to the west, it is difficult to understand the administration’s failure to consider the preferability of intensifying its support for the membership of the Visegrad states in the European Union and WEU and postponing a decision about NATO membership for them until and unless that should become an evident need.

In addition to the problems NATO expansion would pose for East-West and US-Russian relations, the administration seems to have given no thought to the possibility that the NATO guarantee could be invoked in disputes involving the prospective new members with their neighbors. There are significant minorities of Poles in Lithuania and of Hungarians in Slovakia and Romania, smaller numbers of Poles in Belarus and Ukraine, of Ukrainians in Poland and Slovakia, and of Germans scattered throughout the area. The present governments are not inclined to exploit the problems inherent in these situations. We may hope their successors never will. In view of the Bosnian debacle, however, the hypothetical possibility of quarrels among these states over the status of minorities should at least be considered before US forces are committed by treaty to the defense of an area where they might arise. The problem of the relationships among Romania, Moldova, and the Transdniestrian region presumably belongs to the second or third wave of “evolutionary expansion,” and need not concern us here.

“Why NATO Should Grow” leaves the big questions untouched and fobs readers off with a bare acknowledgment that “along with the opportunities I have described, there are pitfalls and risks…and…unless it is handled with skill and foresight, the process of expanding NATO could create new tensions and divisions” (p. 30). The administration’s failure to address these, of which Talbott’s article is a striking example, reinforces Theodore Sorensen’s judgment: “It is hard to imagine a more provocative decision taken with less consultation and consideration for the consequences” (The Washington Post, July 2, 1995, p. C4).

In 1988, concluding his study of Paul Nitze’s years of effort to negotiate a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the US and the Soviet Union, Talbott wrote:

Regardless of the follies and failures, the fights and frustrations that had marked its tenure—regardless of what did or did not happen in the short time left—the Reagan Administration would leave its successor the essence of a START treaty. Regardless of how difficult the outstanding differences continued to be, the provisions already agreed on would, as Nitze said…, “reduce the Soviet threat to our retaliatory forces” and thereby buttress the edifice of deterrence on which he had been working for most of his long career. An important legacy was in place….

In 1995, Secretary Talbott steps forward as the designated advocate of a policy that if it were implemented, would threaten to destroy that legacy and to become, in the words of Jonathan Dean, “the worst mistake in US policy toward Europe since the end of World War II.”

R.T. Davies
Ambassador to Poland, 1973–1978
Silver Spring, Maryland

The letter in support of Jonathan Dean’s article follows:

May 3, 1995

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We are a group of retired Foreign Service, State Department, and Department of Defense officers who served during the Cold War. We are concerned by the potential consequences of the administration’s policy of promising to extend NATO membership to the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. In our view, this policy risks endangering the long-term viability of NATO, significantly exacerbating the instability that now exists in the zone that lies between Germany and Russia, and convincing most Russians that the United States and the West are attempting to isolate, encircle, and subordinate them, rather than integrating them into a new European system of collective security.

At the same time, we are conscious of the desirability of taking reasonable steps to allay the fears of the Czechs, Hungarians, and Poles, who, understandably after their long domination by the Soviet Union, are anxious to find security in some close Western connection. We have not noted in the published criticism of possible NATO expansion a recognition of these desires, which must be given serious consideration.

One of our former colleagues, Ambassador Jonathan Dean, a longtime policy-maker and practitioner in the field of European security, proposes changing current American policy on this issue through inclusion of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland in the Western European Union, the defense arm of the European Union, instead of in NATO; NATO-Russian security assurances for the belt of states from the Baltic to Albania, and Russian membership in an Advisory Committee on European Security. While all of us do not endorse every word of his paper, we are impressed by his arguments and believe they should be considered in developing an alternative to the NATO expansion policy.

John A. Armitage, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, Department of State, 1973–1978
Robert R. Bowie, Counselor, Department of State, 1966–1968
William I. Cargo, Ambassador to Nepal, 1973–1976
William A. Crawford, Ambassador to Romania, 1961–1965
Richard T. Davies, Ambassador to Poland, 1973–1978
Martin J. Hillenbrand, Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, 1972–1976
U. Alexis Johnson, Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, 1961–1964 and 1965–1966
Ambassador to Japan, 1966–1969
James F. Leonard, Jr., Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, 1977–1979
Jack F. Matlock, Jr., Ambassador to the USSR, 1987–1991
Paul H. Nitze, Secretary of the Navy, 1963–1967; Deputy Secretary of Defense, 1967–1969; Special Advisor to the President and the Secretary of State on Arms Control Matters, 1985–1989
Herbert S. Okun, Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, 1985–1989
James K. Penfield, Ambassador to Iceland, 1961–1967
Jack R. Perry, Ambassador to Bulgaria, 1979–1981
John D. Scanlan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, 1981–1982
William E. Schaufele, Jr., Ambassador to Poland, 1978–1980
Galen L. Stone, Ambassador to Cyprus, 1978–1981
Emory C. Swank, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, 1969–1970; Ambassador to Cambodia, 1970–1973
Philip H. Trezise, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, 1969–1971

This Issue

September 21, 1995