Unusual Foes to NATO Growth with Senate Vote Late This Week, Toy and Ice Cream Makers Are among Those Objecting to the Expansion

Article excerpt

What do Cherry Garcia ice cream, "Monkees' Greatest Hits" CDs, and G.I. Joe action figures have to do with NATO expansion?

More than one might think. The heads of firms that produce these products - Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, Rhino Records, and Hasbro Inc. - have all joined an unusual alliance that's against adding Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to the Atlantic Alliance.

Whether such last-ditch opposition will make a difference remains to be seen. With a US Senate vote on NATO expansion set for late this week, all signs still point to easy approval of arguably the most fateful foreign policy initiative of the Clinton presidency. Even opponents admit that the administration right now has more than the 66 "yes" votes needed for approval. But an intensified effort by foes has at least guaranteed that the final Senate debate on the subject won't be as listless as seemed likely only a few weeks ago. Business groups, arms control advocates, fiscal conservatives, and think tank wonks have all raised their voices in an effort to make sure senators think hard about the consequences of the NATO expansion ballot. Their main points: NATO expansion could cost much more than predicted, might blur NATO's purpose, and could isolate Russia and revive a cold war mentality on both sides of the new NATO line. "The downside potential if things go wrong is considerable," warns former Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, who during his time in office was one of Washington's most respected national-security experts. The addition of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would mark the first expansion of the organization since Spain was accepted as a member in 1982. The Clinton administration has pushed hard for the move, saying it would ensure stability in the region and help cement the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe into the larger Western world. Under the NATO charter, all of the 16 current NATO members must approve any expansion. That gives the Senate an effective veto power over the move, via its authority to ratify presidential treaties. The full Senate began debating NATO expansion in March. The discussion seemed largely preliminary, however, and majority leader Sen. Trent Lott (R) of Mississippi put off full consideration until after the Easter recess. That's given time for the opposition to organize. Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities (BLSP), an education and lobbying organization headed by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., began a TV and newspaper ad blitz on April 19. "Hey, let's scare the Russians!" ran the ad the group placed in some major US newspapers. "Let's take NATO and expand it toward Russia's very borders. …