NATO's Shaky New Triad: The Alliance's Three Prospective Members Haven't Made an Informed Public choice(North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

Article excerpt

THE ALLIANCES THREE PROSPECTIVE MEMBES HAVEN'T MADE AN INFORMED PUBLIC CHOICE.

Ever since the eastward expansion of NATO has been under discussion, there has been an assumption that Central and Eastern European countries have an overwhelming desire to join the alliance and that there is a common understanding of the rationale for membership. NATO and the Clinton Administration are pushing to get the ratification process completed in all sixteen member countries in time for the fiftieth anniversary of NATO, in April 1999. As grand as this event may be, evidence suggests that over the past year the newest prospective members--Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland--have been railroaded into accepting the alliance without fair (or in some cases any) public discussion of the limitations of and alternatives to membership.

Supporters of a larger alliance point out that Hungary held a national referendum on NATO membership last November 16, and that 85 percent of those voting approved it. Hungary is the only country of the three that held a referendum, but the tactics the government used to gain public support had little or no regard for the law. Over the past year, a slick media campaign conducted by the Foreign and Defense ministries there violated the country's media laws and marginalized groups opposed to membership. Former Warsaw Pact propagandists, no doubt with thoughts of a secure livelihood in mind, converted themselves into advocates of NATO without any change of means or methods.

Bias in the Hungarian media coverage of the issue was overwhelming. The views of those who opposed NATO and those who had reservations did not receive coverage commensurate with their numbers (almost 600,000 citizens voted against joining). The Foreign Ministry gave about $28,000 to Europa Studio Communication to produce a six-part "educational film series" on NATO, which was sent free to fifty cable television stations. The ministry also gave about $13,000 to Duna Television, a satellite channel, to treat the subject in such a way as to "satisfy the special communication needs of expatriate Hungarians." The final episode in Duna's program in favor of NATO enlargement, screened two weeks before the referendum, featured Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs, the main sponsor of the show. In all, nine TV programs, fourteen radio programs and editorials, two videos and other film programs, thirteen various events, four educational programs, two research programs, three conferences, two publications, seven article series and five daily newspapers were supported by the Foreign Ministry's NATO communication strategy, which spent more than $600,000 in the effort. All these contributions were designed to emphasize the advantages of joining NATO. The ministry also funded campaigns in mainstream U.S. and Western European papers that supported Hungary's inclusion in the alliance.

As if this were not bad enough, Western arms manufacturers such as Saab/British Aerospace, Boeing/McDonnell Douglas, Dassault Aviation and Lockheed Martin also intervened. NATO enlargement opens a potential Central European arms market estimated to be at least $35 billion. Western military contractors have a vast array of high-tech equipment to sell to former Soviet-bloc nations, who face demands from the Pentagon to increase spending to modernize their outdated Soviet-trained and -equipped militaries (the three prospective members have committed to increasing their military budgets by up to 3 percent of G.D.P.). American officials recognize that the ability of the European countries to equip themselves with high-tech arms is critical to maintaining the strength of the alliance; some also acknowledge that many nations lack the economic and technological capability--or the large-scale military--necessary to purchase highly expensive, specialized materiel. Nevertheless, a high-tech arms race is on between Western companies bidding to sell weapons to aspiring NATO members. …