Question: The Clinton administration is pressuring Congress to go along with a plan to expand the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance to include Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Is NATO expansion a good idea?
Josette Shiner: NATO expansion is moving ahead with strong bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate. That is good news for American foreign policy. It's even better news for the hope of a "new world order" based on law and respect for human rights.The countries that await admission - Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic - are hungry democracies, just now experiencing the benefits and challenges of freedom, representative government and the noble rule of law. But they are also rightly insecure: They understand (more clearly than perhaps we do) how precious and fragile a thing liberty is.
The objections to NATO expansion run the gamut, from budgetary costs to inflaming nationalist passions in Russia. As to the budgetary concerns: The price of expanding NATO - expected to be around $1 billion a year - will likely be offset by its returns, most experts agree. Concerns about Rus-sian provocation are more serious matters. Those issues must be handled and monitored carefully (but, as Henry Kissinger has explained, not so carefully as to dissolve into cowardice).
But all this, in the end, skirts the larger, more consequential question: What role should the United States be playing in Europe? As the world's one superpower, as the Cold War victor, how should we act? Should we act at all? It is my belief that we should indeed act - in all cases, prudently and energetically. In the tradition, that is, of President Reagan. We should accept our responsibilities (yes, responsibilities) to hungry democracies and, whenever at all possible, include them in our plans to secure an increasingly peaceful and democratic Europe. That means strengthening NATO. And that, in the end, demands expanding it.
Bonnie Erbe: As one who generally supports more internationalism and less isolationism, I cannot bring myself to support NATO expansion for two reasons. It certainly isn't in our interest to expand our military commitments overseas. And it's entirely against the interests of our most important ally: Russia.
My colleague is joined by other supporters of NATO expansion who argue we should be making all the friends we can and rewarding Central European countries for having made the transition from communism to market economies. But what they fail to explore is the extent to which we alienate the one major power we are excluding from NATO membership (Russia) and the costs to our military.
To give Russian President Boris Yeltsin cover to save face, President Clinton last year came up with a bogus plan to give Russia a modicum of power of NATO rules and mem-bership. But in fact, if Russia is no longer the enemy that the Soviet Union and its bloc of satellites used to be, why are we continuing to support an organization that targeted military action against the USSR as its primary raison d'etre? We should be abolishing NATO and forging stronger alliances with Russia, Poland, Turkey and the Middle East - not agreeing (in essence) to subsidize the military training of a few small Central European countries.
What is never mentioned in the NATO debate is the U.S. pledge to new NATO members to send troops to defend them if necessary. Do we want to commit more American troops over a long period to seemingly intractable ethnic conflicts? There are probably few Americans who would answer yes. Yet that's precisely what NATO expansion might deliver, despite all our good intentions.