Former Warsaw Pact countries offered limited role in NATO CLINTON IN EUROPE

January 11, 1994|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Staff Writer Contributing writer Paul Martin helped with this article.

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The leaders of the NATO yesterday extended the offer of a limited partnership to the former Warsaw Pact nations -- including Russia itself -- in a historic move that begins to shift the Western alliance's very reason for existence.

"It is the beginning of a new era," said Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher after the signing of documents creating the "Partnership for Peace," which ultimately will expand NATO. "By its action today, NATO almost instantaneously became relevant in the post-Cold War world."

At the signing ceremony, Manfred Woerner, the NATO secretary-general, explained the intent of this new partnership by saying, "Our message to the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe has been equally consistent: We shall not leave you alone. We care about your security."

Angry cloud

But with the horrible war in Bosnia hanging over this summit like an angry cloud, what that concern translates into, and, in fact, what the alliance's very mission is, remain huge question marks.

If, as President Clinton has insisted here, NATO no longer exists simply to resist Russian expansion, and if the alliance lacks the collective will to halt "ethnic cleansing" and other atrocities in the Balkans, then what are benefits of NATO membership? And what is the alliance's central purpose?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's leaders, including Mr. Clinton, appeared to struggle with these questions yesterday, particularly with regard to Bosnia, which generated fierce behind-the-scenes disagreements among the allies.

"It is an open secret that we have done badly in Bosnia," said Prime Minister Tansu Ciller of Turkey, NATO's only Muslim member. "It should be a sad lesson for us all."

"No nation in Europe or elsewhere is the child of a lesser God," she added. "Therefore, the alliance must continue to be engaged in Bosnia. Either we lift the arms embargo [so besieged Muslims may obtain more weapons] or protect the victims."

The original draft of the NATO summit communique to be issued today contained only a cursory and toothless reference to a desire to see United Nations resolutions implemented in that troubled Balkan nation.

According to a highly placed French official here, when France's President Francois Mitterrand saw this, he reacted furiously, insisting that NATO's credibility was at stake and that it must enunciate a stronger position.

Air strikes threatened

The second draft prepared by the NATO working group reaffirmed the allies' determination to help administer "a viable settlement reached in good faith," and threatened to carry out air strikes to prevent the strangulation of Sarajevo and to protect "safe havens" designated by the United Nations.

L "Violations of the cease-fire cannot be tolerated," it said.

But when Mr. Mitterrand met privately with Mr. Clinton before lunch, the French president listed a series of conditions that he thinks should be present before NATO launches air strikes against Serbian gunners who have been pummeling the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo for almost two years.

One of those conditions was that the U.N. secretary-general retain the authority to call for air strikes. A second was to keep in mind the ultimate goal -- not simply relieving the short-term siege of Sarajevo but achieving a lasting settlement in Bosnia.

"Short-sighted solutions would be a grave error," Mr. Mitterrand told Mr. Clinton, according to a French official. "It is necessary to have a strategic view."

The Clinton administration, however, has been hearing such caveats since May when Secretary Christopher was dispatched to Europe, and Mr. Clinton indicated that he is tired of just words. The president said he welcomes the declaration but said that if the allies issue such a statement, "We have to mean it."

"Those of us gathered here must understand that, therefore, if the situation does not improve, the alliance must be prepared to act," the president said in his remarks at the summit.

NATO credibility questioned

"What is at stake is not just the safety of the people of Sarajevo . . . but the credibility of the alliance itself. Therefore, in voting for this language, I expect the North Atlantic Council to take action when necessary."

His comments received support from some leaders, but representatives from other allied nations hinted that if Mr. Clinton were willing to commit ground troops to peacekeeping efforts now being conducted by France, Britain and other allies, they would be more willing to follow U.S. desires for air strikes.

Allied reluctance to use air strikes is based on the fear that U.N. ground forces are not large enough to prevent retaliation from Bosnian Serbs and Croats.

Nevertheless, this summit has basically underscored the tremendous influence wielded by the United States -- and its president -- in the post-Cold War world.

Finessed memberships

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