Albright takes on Russia and NATO Expanding alliance: The effort to overcome Moscow's adamant opposition.

February 21, 1997

SECRETARY OF STATE Madeleine Albright took the lead away from fellow visiting NATO foreign ministers Klaus Kinkel of Germany and Lamberto Dini of Italy in offering Russia rewards for tolerating the expansion of NATO with its former satellites.

Two processes were at work. One was Ms. Albright's assuming leadership of Western diplomacy, after a forceful presentation at the NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels. The second was the effort to transform Russia's vehement objection into a bargaining tactic over the compensation to be paid. Moscow's ultimate acquiescence to the unification of Germany stands as precedent.

In meeting Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin and Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Ms. Albright brought two inducements from Brussels. One was a proposal, fuzzy in detail, for keeping a joint NATO-Russian brigade at the ready. The other was an offer to lower the ceilings on conventional weapons kept in Europe set in a 1990 treaty between NATO and the now-extinct Warsaw Pact. Russia's military has fallen apart and the Western allies, which enjoy a 3-to-1 advantage in tanks and other categories, are below their ceilings. So the offer might or might not result in real arms reduction.

Two Russian ideas for quid pro quo seem unacceptable. One would be a contract giving Moscow something like veto power over NATO action. Then NATO would no longer be NATO. The other would be full Russian participation in the Group of Seven economic powers, which the Russians now attend as dinner guests and supplicants. For the Group of Seven to maintain its integrity, eligibility would have to be in economic strength and not as a trade-off for diplomatic concessions.

President Clinton made a campaign commitment last year, which Ms. Albright is following up, to expand the alliance, presumably at the Madrid summit in July. The strength of Russia's opposition is not just the possibility of Russian nationalists demagoging the issue. It is that virtually all Russians share their antipathy.

The United States is taking the lead in forcing this decision, and in watering down what it would entail. Central Europe would come under NATO treaty protection, but arms that threaten Russia would go down, not up. Three former Warsaw Pact countries could say they were in NATO as a sign of belonging in Europe. And President Clinton could claim to have kept his promise to enlarge NATO, even if that meant diluting it.

Pub Date: 2/21/97

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