The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly on April 30 to approve the extension of NATO membership to Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. The Senate also rejected two related amendments. One would have delayed admission of those three countries until they achieved membership in the European Union. Another would have imposed a three-year moratorium on further NATO expansion.
The three former Soviet-bloc countries had been invited to join the Western Alliance in July of last year. All of NATO’s sixteen member states must ratify this first round of expansion. The Senate’s vote last week made the United States the fifth to do so. Canada, Denmark, Germany and Norway have also approved the expansion. On May 1, the governments of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic applauded the Senate vote. A statement issued by NATO headquarters in Brussels did likewise, calling the vote a “very powerful signal of hope and confidence to the new democracies in central and eastern Europe.” (International agencies, April 30; Reuter, The Washington Post, May 1)
The April 30 vote followed four days of intense discussion by U.S. lawmakers, during which opponents of expansion tended to focus on two main arguments: that expansion could prove to be exorbitantly expensive for U.S. taxpayers and that it is likely to poison relations between Russia and the West. On the first score, opponents of expansion disputed the Clinton administration’s current estimate that expansion will cost $1.5 billion over ten years–of which the United States will contribute $440 million. The Pentagon had earlier estimated the cost of expansion as $2.5 billion. Critics say the costs could in fact rise to up to $125 billion over the same ten-year period. (AP, April 27, May 1)
But discussion over the impact that expansion would have on the West’s relations with Russia stood in many regards at the center of last week’s debate. Critics of NATO’s plans charged that expansion would dilute the alliance’s effectiveness while needlessly alienating Russia. Some, such as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, argued that expansion could lead to nuclear war. Former Armed Services Committee chairman Sam Nunn cited concerns that expansion could adversely affect efforts to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons. Other critics suggested that expansion would stoke resentment of the West in Russia while undermining the efforts of Russian reformers. (The Washington Post, April 27, May 1)
Supporters of expansion, including the Clinton administration, have argued that NATO’s expansion will actually strengthen Russia’s security by, among other things, filling the security vacuum in Central Europe. They have also underscored efforts by NATO and the West to build a parallel set of security arrangements with Russia aimed at reassuring Moscow. In an editorial that followed the Senate vote, former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski argued that such efforts must now be redoubled. Moscow, he wrote, must not be left to perceive that NATO’s expansion into Central Europe is intended, either intentionally or unintentionally, to exclude Russia from Europe. (The Washington Post, May 3)
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