A Leap for NATO

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 13, 1996 | Go to article overview

A Leap for NATO


Five years almost to the day of the end of the Soviet Union, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has finally agreed to accept the membership of countries formerly belonging to its adversary, the Warsaw Pact. If there was ever a "peace dividend" to be gained from victory in the Cold War, it is this: securing the freedom of the people living in the wide swath of Central and Eastern Europe, who found themselves trapped behind the Iron Curtain as World War II ended. In effect, the participants in the NATO meeting in Brussels this week committed themselves to reverse the results of the Yalta Agreement. It is surely about time.

At a time when the debate over NATO enlargement here in the United States has focussed mainly on whether we are truly prepared to expend lives in the defense of Poland, Hungary or Czechoslovakia, the three most likely candidates when NATO meets this summer to name the first group of new members, a few things are worth recalling for perspective.

One is the abysmal record of the West in relation to Eastern and Central Europe as these countries fell into the cold Soviet embrace 50 years ago. The Iron Curtain was defined precisely by the reach of the Red Army in May 1945 (the only country that escaped this embrace was Austria), and citizens of the countries behind Red Army lines were forcibly repatriated in the months after the war, many desperate to remain in the West. Later, uprisings against the Soviet Union's communist client regimes were watched in agony in the West, but with no attempt at assistance: in East Germany in 1953, in Hungary in 1956, in Czechoslovakia in 1968, Poland in 1981. When the Berlin Wall went up in 1962 to halt the flow of Germans seeking freedom, the West chose inaction and watched as East Germany became a barbed-wire prison camp. The least we can do now, when the threat from the east has diminished, is to grant these people the reassurance that should it rise again, they are now part of the West.

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