NATO and Russia Security charter: U.S. seeks to dampen Russian fears of alliance's eastward expansion.

December 13, 1996

NATO'S OFFER to negotiate a new security charter with Russia in tandem with the alliance's expansion into Eastern Europe illuminates some of the contradictions in Western strategy. It is not only Russia that fears Europe will again be divided, this time substantially closer to its own borders. Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, notably absent from the NATO invitation list, are concerned that such a division would leave them under Russian domination.

So too with Ukraine, which is promised "a distinctive relationship" with NATO that, presumably, would be different from "the special relationship" with Russia that has been dangled by Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Neither relationship has been defined. But a key question remains: If Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are to be added to NATO, what repercussions will there be for the sovereignty of the Baltic nations, Ukraine and some other states once within the Soviet sphere?

Mr. Christopher says NATO expansion will actually promote the "integration" of Europe. The Russians remain not only skeptical but hostile. Yet in light of the West's determination to plow ahead, they have decided to be "pragmatic" by seeking as specific and substantive a charter as they can.

Germany favors using the proposed charter as a vehicle that would bring Russia fully into alliance security arrangements not only in Europe but globally. It is dealing with matters right on its doorstep, not least its new alliance partners on the East. The United States takes a far less grandiose view, thus feeding Russian fears that Washington is just fobbing off Moscow as it enlarges its military sway.

NATO foreign ministers may have thought they were making a gesture when they assured Moscow this week that nuclear weapons would not be deployed in Eastern Europe. But that was a non-starter anyway, and the Russians knew it. More pertinent is whether there will be forward-basing of NATO air or ground forces, a multi-billion dollar endeavor that the alliance is just beginning to consider.

The bigger question is whether the Clinton administration is grasping the interconnection between nuclear policy and NATO policy. The alliance's eastward expansion feeds nationalist elements in Russia, prompting them to block ratification of START II, the pending strategic arms reduction treaty, and negotiations on a follow-up START III. Yet without these treaties by the nuclear superpowers, there is little prospect for forward movement on nuclear restraint worldwide.

Pub Date: 12/13/96

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