Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Walls Falling to Bigger NATO Senate to Vote Next Week on Admitting Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into Europe's Military Alliance

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Walls Falling to Bigger NATO Senate to Vote Next Week on Admitting Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into Europe's Military Alliance

Article excerpt

President Clinton is on the verge of clinching a major foreign-policy victory, one that paves the way for a historic realignment of Europe's geopolitical map.

The Republican-run Senate is expected to approve by a comfortable margin the admission of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the first round of its expansion into formerly communist Eastern Europe.

The vote - slated for next week - will likely ensure ratification by all the16-member alliance's legislatures. The admission of new members will take place next year. With many of his other diplomatic initiatives facing uncertainty, the Senate vote will represent a personal achievement for Clinton as he strives to shape a legacy as an international statesman. NATO expansion is among his most far-reaching foreign-policy initiatives, involving issues ranging from relations with Russia and post-cold-war budgets to putting American lives at risk in new areas of the globe. Since adopting the initiative in 1994, he has invested enormous time, energy, and prestige in building support at home and abroad. Yet the debate that precedes the Senate tally promises to be fierce, reflecting persisting divisions among officials, academics, and others over extending NATO's nuclear and conventional security shields into what was enemy territory for more than four decades. Says an administration official: "We are confident we will have the two-thirds {vote of the Senate} we need to ratify. Nevertheless, I think the debate will be vigorous." Many lawmakers, including some supporters, harbor deep misgivings about the expense of enlarging the United States-led alliance. Some say the White House has deliberately low-balled the cost estimates to ensure Senate approval, an allegation administration officials deny. There are also grave concerns over the impact of NATO expansion on already difficult US-Russia relations. Russia remains deeply upset by the pact's move closer to its borders despite the creation of a special council in which it can voice its views on NATO policies. The Russian parliament has cited NATO expansion in refusing to ratify a 1993 nuclear arms reduction accord with the US. Seventeen senators want the vote delayed, arguing that the Senate needs more time to deliberate the consequences of expansion. Some also want a moratorium on bringing more countries into NATO until the impacts of the admissions of the first new members can be fully assessed. "I am concerned that we not do anything to undermine the effectiveness of this great alliance," asserts Sen. John Warner (R) of Virginia. He plans to propose an amendment requiring a "strategic pause" of up to five years in new NATO admissions. But opponents are unlikely to succeed in delaying the vote or altering the legislation approved by a 16-2 margin by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 3. …

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