NATO EXPANSION TALKS
March 20, 1997
The Clinton-Yeltsin summit is focusing on Eastern European nations joining Nato. Russia wants troops and nuclear weapons banned in new members states. Can Clinton promise this? Robert Zoellick, former State Department Counsellor to President Bush, and Sam Nunn, former Georgia Senator, debate the issue with Margaret Warner.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed at the height of the Cold War in 1949; its aim, to protect Western Europe from Soviet expansion. In addition to the United States and Canada, NATO is composed of 14 of Western Europe's largest countries, from Iceland in the West to Turkey in the Southeast. To counter NATO the Soviet Union created the Warsaw Pact, along with its Central European satellites: Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Except for East Germany, which no longer exists, all the former Soviet satellites now want to join NATO.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
February 7, 1997:
Vice-President Al Gore's National Security Advisor Al Fuerth discusses NATO expansion.
February 7, 1997:
Two Russian experts discuss how America's former Cold War enemy views NATO expansion.
December 11, 1996:
Richard Holbrooke and Paul Nitze of the School Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University debate the pros and cons of NATO expansion.
November 15, 1996:
In a Newsmaker interview, Defense Secretary William Perry talks about the future role of NATO.
July 8, 1996:
Poland's President Kwasniewski comes to the NewsHour and explains why he is pushing for Polish NATO membership.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Russian and European affairs.
But Russian President Boris Yeltsin has vigorously and repeatedly objected to expanding the alliance. Expansion, he said, would threaten Russia's security, harm U.S.-Russian relations, and create new divisions in Europe. In Finland, a spokesman for the Russian government said Yeltsin would defend Moscow's interests as never before. But on his arrival in Helsinki this morning Yeltsin struck a more moderate tone.
BORIS YELTSIN, Russian President: (speaking through interpreter) Difficult and serious talks between myself and Bill Clinton lie ahead. The most important thing is that we have to remember that our decisions do not only concern us but concern Europe and the whole world. We must work to keep the partnership between Russia and the United States on track.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Earlier this week in Washington President Clinton's national security team said Russia has nothing to fear from an expanded NATO.
SAMUEL R. BERGER, National Security Advisor: NATO no longer is directed towards Russia. There's a new NATO. It's changed in its force structure. It's adapted dramatically. It's changed in its mission in many respects. And it's no longer the NATO that is a threat to Russia that was just during the Cold War.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, Secretary of State: The Cold War is over. Russia is not our enemy. Russia is our friend, and we want to work with Russia cooperatively to create a new structure.
CHARLES KRAUSE: That new structure is at least partly contained in the new charter between Russia and the alliance which Clinton hopes to work out with Yeltsin during the summit. Among the issues still to be negotiated is Yeltsin's demand that NATO pledge to never locate nuclear weapons, nor station American or Western European troops in any of the new NATO countries. Before leaving for the summit yesterday Clinton sought to reassure Russia.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We're adapting NATO to take on new missions, enlarging NATO to take on new members, strengthening NATO's partnership with non-members, and seeking to build a robust partnership between NATO and Russia, a relationship that makes Russia a true partner of the alliance.
CHARLES KRAUSE: President Clinton and Yeltsin met for a phot op and dinner this evening. Their bilateral talks will take place tomorrow. But whatever happens at the summit administration officials have said that with or without Russia's approval NATO will announce which new countries it will invite to join the alliance at a NATO summit scheduled for Madrid in July. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic are expected to be among the first new members.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, two American perspectives on expanding NATO and to Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: Since the President and other NATO leaders seem determined to proceed with NATO expansion this year, debate in this country is shifting to how best to go about it. We get two perspectives on that issue from two former government officials who've had extensive dealings with the Russians and NATO governments: former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, who chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee from 1987 to 1995, and Robert Zoellick, former State Department counselor and Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs during the Bush administration. Senator Nunn, first to you, before we talk about what to do about Russia's concerns, tell us briefly, do you think NATO expansion is a good idea this year?
SAM NUNN, Former Democratic Senator: Margaret, I'll start with the question, what are the greatest threats to the United States? Clearly, the No. 1 threat in the United States today is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, whether chemical or biological or nuclear. Then my question would be: Does NATO expansion help in the fight against proliferation these weapons getting to third world rogue countries or terrorist groups? And my answer to that is, no, it makes the cooperation that we have underway with Russia more difficult, perhaps not impossible, but more difficult.
The second question I ask is about nuclear threats. Does NATO expansion help us in terms of easing the nuclear trigger, which Russia still has thousands and thousands of nuclear weapons, or is it harmful? And I think the answer to that is it makes it more difficult because it puts enormous pressure on the Russian military. They're extremely weak, conventionally now. They're not threat to the countries we're taking in, but their reaction is likely to be a reliance, a heavy reliance on nuclear weapons. So the answer that I have to both of those key questions relating to the threat is that it makes it--NATO expansion makes our security problems more difficult.
The third question is the question of Russia, itself. The greatest change we've had in the threat to the United States has been the break-up of the Soviet empire, the break-up of the Warsaw Pact, and the movement towards the democracy and market reform in Russia. That has a long way to go. But the question I ask, is NATO expansion going to make democracy and market reform more likely in Russia or less likely? I think it makes it more difficult because it puts pressure on our friends, the democrats in Russia, and it gives a great political issue to the demagogues there and the people on the extreme left and the extreme right.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Bob Zoellick, make the case for it. I know you're a supporter.
ROBERT ZOELLICK, Former State Department Counselor: Well, I frequently agree with Sen. Nunn but not on this one. And I think there are three counter-points. The first is that this is one of those important times of history where after an end of one era and the beginning of another we have to get the structure right. And after working for the freedom of the people of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary for 45 years, this would be an unfortunate time to leave them in the lurch. And these countries are still going through some difficult times. Not long ago we learned that a Polish prime minister just had ties with Russian intelligence.
So there's a key part of our bringing them into the western community. Second, the relations with one another. One of the wonderful aspects of NATO enlargement has been that a lot of these countries in Eastern Europe have started to resolve their disputes so that they can come into NATO just like for 40 years the French and the Germans and others resolved it. So we see, for example, the Romanians and the Hungarians ending a dispute, the Czechs and the Germans. It's another part of civility.
And the third and last one is Russia because frankly we don't know what direction Russia will still go. The Russians killed thousands of people in Chechnya. They're still trying to shake down the Estonians. They tried to put a couple of divisions in Georgia. And if you're sitting in Poland or in Prague or in Hungary these days, you want some reassurance. And frankly, it's not very believable to me that NATO is a serious threat to Russia. And the Russians know that.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let's turn now--given the fact that the President is determined to go ahead and other NATO leaders seem to be--Senator Nunn back to you. Turning to the first issue or the first demand that the Russians seem to be making has to do with whether we would promise never to station any NATO, foreign NATO troops in any of these countries or deploy nuclear weapons there. What is your view of how far, if at all, the West or NATO should go on that front?
SAM NUNN: I think it's difficult to go very far if we're still going to think of NATO as a military alliance. My disagreement with my good friend, Bob, is not whether these countries need to be part of the West; they do. But the right instrument for that is the instrument of trade in economic integration with the European community. We're using a military instrument for psychological and political purposes, and there will be military repercussions.
I'm hopeful that President Yeltsin and President Clinton will make progress towards some agreement, but that does not change the military equation if the Russians are moving tactical air and infrastructure and other instruments of quick strike capability toward our nuclear deterrent and making it more vulnerable, we would react in a way of adjusting our nuclear policy, and they will do the same thing, in my view.
MARGARET WARNER: But what are you saying on this issue about whether we should give the Russians any assurances about our own plans of what we're going to do in these new countries?
SAM NUNN: Well, Margaret, what bothers me is that we have the political leaders basically again using a military tool here by treating it as a political tool. We've heard over and over again that we're not going to put nuclear weapons in those countries. I happen to agree with that. We don't need to now, but I don't think we can make a permanent pledge in that regard. We've said we aren't going to station our troops close to their borders.
I agree that we don't need to do that now, because there's no threat. But in the future we have to reserve the right to do that because that connects the whole nuclear deterrent. So the answer is we can go too far in making these assurances; otherwise, the NATO military guarantee will mean nothing to the countries we're taking in.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with that? Can we give any assurances in that regard?
ROBERT ZOELLICK: Well, sure. I think it is an important piece of this whole effort, and the President is trying to do this just this very week, is to try to show the Russians that NATO is not a threat to them, and that there's a place for Russia in the Euro Atlantic community. Now, there's different elements of that. Some of them can be trade. Some of them you'll see in the G-7 context, but on the issues particularly that you mentioned NATO said in December that at this point unilaterally it saw no need and no purpose to have nuclear weapons in those countries.
And I think that's right. In terms of troops, I think we have to be careful. I think again unilaterally one can say we don't see the need for large scale station forces, but we want to have some people there because we do want to start to integrate ‘em into our military system. But the key element for anything we do with Russia should be reciprocity. And that's why if we start to deal with bigger issues here, it's important that the Russians do things that show they're willing to cooperate and become part of this system.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now staying with you, Bob Zoellick, for a moment, both sides have been talking about this charter. We saw it referred to in the piece. And Secretary of State Albright has said we want to give the Russians a voice but not a veto over NATO decisions. What does that mean in practical terms? What would this or should this charter say?
ROBERT ZOELLICK: Well, that's a question that a lot of people are asking, including a lot of people in the Senate, because they're a little concerned about if the administration goes too far on that. As you know, NATO is not an organization where you stand up and vote. So the whole concept of a veto is a little bit of an awkward one in this context.
But what I think they're trying to say is that on issues of proliferation, on issues of security of nuclear materials, on issues of peacekeeping, as in Bosnia, if the Russians want to agree and cooperate with us, then we should try to create mechanisms with NATO to do that. Where it gets a little bit more dangerous is if they try to create a general mechanism so that Russia has an extra seat at the table. And the reason that worries people is they don't want to make the Poles, the Czechs, and the Hungarians, and others second class citizens, and create an implicit damper on any discussion. And that's the part they have to be careful about.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with his analysis, Senator?
SAM NUNN: Bob and I are not far apart on that, that question. If President Clinton goes too far in assuring President Yeltsin, then he could run into real problems back here in terms of getting the votes he needs to move forward with this treaty amendment. If President Clinton does not give Yeltsin some cover, then President Yeltsin is going to be in difficulty back home. That's why this move at this time is extremely hard to handle because President Yeltsin, himself, is under great pressure economically to continue to cooperate with the West.
And that means he is probably going to have to make some agreement, but that will give his opponents, the Communists and the extremists in Russia, a real lever over the movement toward market reform and the movement toward democracy. That's why when there is no military threat, using a military tool for what is a psychological and political problem and, in effect, letting the West Europeans off the hook where they can basically not have tomatoes sold into their markets, we're giving a nuclear guarantee instead of opening the market for tomatoes. That's a pretty serious kind of trade-off in my view.
ROBERT ZOELLICK: Just one other thought on this. I think what's very important to recognize is that insofar as we have polling data on the Russian public, they're not all that agitated on this, and I think one of the important messages that we have to convey and that the President is going to have to convey is Russia needs to get really serious about what its real security interests are.
Gen. Lebed was in town not long ago, and I had a chance to talk to him, and he's a senior military officer that was a former commander of Russian forces and a number of important areas, and he said, look, I'm not worried about NATO; you're not the threat; the threat that he fears is to his East in China, or to his South. Now, in the long run, the Chinese--the Russians should be trying to work with us on that. And that's the sort of thing that we should be offering the Russians, is to develop a partnership for the real threats and get beyond the psychological thing frankly left over by some of the old Soviets on their side.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, well, thank you both, gentlemen, very much.