NATO Expansion `No Easy Sell,' Lawmaker Says Senate Must Approve Plan, despite Concerns about Moving East toward Russia

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BEFORE NATO can take a single step to the east, the U.S. Senate will have to render a salute.

The reason: NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization - and the key word is "treaty." The Constitution lets the president enter into treaties, "provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur."

So far, the expansion of NATO into Central Europe has just been talk, generating little debate in Congress. But now that the Russians have agreed, if only grudgingly, the issue goes to the Senate, which can dig in as tenaciously as Russian infantry. "This is no easy sell," says Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind. Indeed, one complaint has been the lack of deliberation on the issue. That complaint should fade as the Senate takes up the matter. Here, in summary form, are some of the arguing points. The Negatives * A Russian backlash. Critics say that pushing NATO eastward will only push the Russians' backs farther into the wall. Many Russians still see NATO as the enemy. (As preposterous as it may seem to us, many Cold War Russians thought NATO - prodded by a revanchist Germany - had aggressive eyes on Mother Russia.) In the '90s, the Russians have suffered the loss of great-power status - a blow to the national pysche. To the east, they face a China on the upswing. To their south, they face Islamic unrest. And now, to the west, N ATO wants to edge closer, nuclear weapons and all. The critics say NATO will reinforce Russian hard-liners and frustrate Russian reformers. What's more, they say, the Russians will back out of arms-control talks in a huff and maybe even retreat into Cold War militarism. * Removal of Europe's buffer zone. NATO's writ now stops at the German border. That leaves a buffer zone in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic - the very countries expected to sign up for NATO. The Russians grow vexed at the thought of losing this space between themselves and Germany, which twice in this century has marched its gray legions into Russia. After the Cold War, the Russians pulled their soldiers out of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. They think it's hardly cricket now for NATO to move its soldiers in. * Misplacement of forces. Few people expect the Russians to march on the Poles, Czechs and Hungarians. The people who really need protection live next door to Russia, in Ukraine and the Baltic states. These critics ask: Why isn't NATO going where it's needed? (The answer: Because the Russians would go berserk. Although today's wretched Russia resembles a Third World country, it's a Third World country with nuclear missiles.) * The expense of expansion. The Czechs, Poles and Hungarians built their armies around Soviet weapons and tactics. So did the Iraqis, and look where it got them. The new NATO members would have to scrap the Soviet gear and modernize with Western arms. The cost: somewhere near $30 billion. In an age when NATO countries are shrinking arms budgets, that's a lot. The United States thinks it can kick in only $2 billion, with Europe picking up the rest. The Europeans are understandably cool. * A dilution of unity and purpose. Critics say NATO succeeded because it was a tightly knit group of common-minded democracies. But in Central Europe, democracy is a dream, not a tradition. The critics worry that NATO could water itself down into just another international organization that talks a lot. * A loss of credibility. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty makes NATO one for all, all for one. Members must treat an attack on one as an attack on all. …