Enough Stalling on NATO

Article excerpt

Let us go over this one more time, carefully: The United States won the Cold War. The Soviets lost. We were very polite about it at the time, but these remain the indisputable facts. Astonishingly, there are people here in Washington, in the U.S. Senate no less, who haven't quite absorbed this yet, seven years after the fall of the Soviet Union.

On Tuesday, the very same day the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on the ratification of the NATO membership of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic by a healthy 16-2 margin, a draft letter I have obtained was circulating in the Senate addressed to Majority Leader Trent Lott and Minority Leader Tom Daschle. It calls for a three-month postponement of the Senate floor vote scheduled by Mr. Lott for next week.

The ostensible reason for a delay until after June 1 is the lame excuse that the subject needs more study. "We are uncomfortable voting when so many of the purposes and assumptions of NATO enlargement remain either ambiguous or contradictory," so the letter goes. According to Senate sources, the letter, circulated out of Sen. Bob Smith's office, has won the signatures of Sens. Ted Stevens, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and John Chafee. Sen. Tom Harkin held a news conference announcing his support for a delay yesterday. As many as eight others may have committed to it, with another half dozen or so mulling it over.

Listed in the letter are such issues as cost estimates, NATO's role in Bosnia, the implications of the Baltic Charter (which the Clinton administration signed in January, committing itself to work for NATO membership for the Balts), political and economic integration in Europe, military capabilities and force levels.

Indeed, all of these are important considerations. So important in fact that they have already been studied exhaustively. The Foreign Relations Committee has held 12 hearings on these subjects, beginning last fall. Most recently, the committee heard from Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Secretary of Defense William Cohen last week. More than 50 expert witnesses - for and against - have spoken to the senators. The cost of expanding NATO has been studied by the Pentagon, by the Rand Corporation, by the General Accounting Office, and many many more. If the good senators have not made up their minds by now, will they ever?

The real reason, of course, is to be found elsewhere. Tucked away among the many other concerns in the letter is this: "The ongoing crisis with Iraq has exposed potentially serious disagreements among current NATO partners and with Russia as to the severity of the crisis and the appropriate means to address it. These concerns need to be examined fully before the alliance is enlarged and its potential for internal friction increased. …