NATO claims that by bringing Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into the 16-member Organization, the new NATO will “meet the challenges of the 21st century.” But 50 American former Senators, diplomats and officials maintain that NATO expansion would be “a policy error of historic proportions.” George Kennan, the father of the U.S. containment policy on the Soviet Union, says: “Expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era.”

Why is NATO so determined to enlarge? Why is the opposition so strong? Why is the U.S. Senate rushing to judgment on such a controversial step?

I am an opponent of NATO expansion. I see the expansion of a nuclear-armed Alliance up to Russia’s borders as provocative, not an act of leadership for peace. In fact, NATO’s expansion undermines the struggle for peace.

I want to set out my reasons in three main categories: instilling fear in Russia; setting back nuclear disarmament; and undermining the United Nations.

Instilling Fear In Russia

It is claimed that the idea of NATO expansion started with the leaders of Central and Eastern Europe who wanted to look West in confidence rather than East in fear. President Clinton was impressed with this stance and U.S. policy set out reasons for widening the scope of the American-European security connection.

NATO expansion would respond to three strategic challenges: to enhance the relationship between the U.S. and the enlarging democratic Europe; to engage a still evolving Russia in a cooperative relationship with Europe; and to reinforce the habits of democracy and the practice of peace in Central Europe.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright set out the case cogently: “Now the new NATO can do for Europe’s east what the old NATO did for Europe’s west: vanquish old hatreds, promote integration, create a secure environment for prosperity, and deter violence in the regions where two world wars and the Cold War began.”

Russia’s early objections to NATO expansion were met by NATO’s assurances that it wanted a strong, stable and enduring partnership with Russia based on the Founding Act on Mutual Relations. Russia would be consulted; a Russian military representative arrived in Brussels; the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council began meeting at the ministerial level. NATO insisted it was moving away from forward defense planning and reducing its military capability.

But that is not what Russian leaders see. They maintain that, despite Moscow’s disbanding of the Warsaw Pact, deeper reductions in nuclear and conventional forces than in the West, the hasty withdrawal of half a million troops from comfortable barracks in Central Europe to tent camps in Russian fields, the most powerful military Alliance in the world started moving toward Russian borders.

Offered only membership in a limited “Partnership for Peace” rather than full membership in the new NATO, Russia is now having a much harder time achieving the goals of Russian democrats.

Russians are little impressed with Western benign assurances. And their apprehension increases at the prospect of more East and Central European countries joining NATO in the next expansion wave. Worst of all, they fear the entry of the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—Russia’s intimate neighbors—into NATO. A Charter of Partnership has already been signed between the U.S. and the three Baltic nations in which Washington has promised to do everything possible to get them ready to join NATO.

How can the West expect the Russians, a proud people who have suffered the ravages of war throughout the 20th century, to calmly accept such isolation? They see a ganging-up of nations against Russia as a travesty on the end of the Cold War.

Why, Russians ask, cannot the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) be the guarantor of security for the whole of Europe? The OSCE was started a quarter of a century ago to serve as a multilateral forum for dialogue and negotiation between East and West. As a regional arrangement under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, the OSCE was established as a primary instrument for early warning, conflict prevention and crisis management in Europe. In the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, the OSCE was called upon to contribute to managing the historic change in Europe and respond to the new challenges of the post-Cold War period. It was believed that the OSCE would replace NATO as the principal security watchdog in Europe. Russia would like to have NATO subservient to the OSCE. But in NATO’s resurgence, the OSCE is fading.

Why? One reason is because all states in the OSCE have equal status and decisions are made on the basis of consensus. This does not sit well with the lone superpower in the world whose military might exceeds the combined power of most of Europe.

Why should the U.S.— exercising its military might through dominance of an expanding NATO — create such a permanent source of friction with Russia? NATO expansion is a backward step in drawing Russia into the community of nations.

The expansion process should be stopped and alternative actions taken:

  • Open the European Union to all the countries of Europe
  • Develop a cooperative NATO-Russian relationship that implements arms reductions and builds trading relationships
  • Setting Back Nuclear Disarmament
  • The setting back of nuclear disarmament is the most serious consequence of NATO expansion. Global security will suffer. In fact, it is NATO’s insistence that “nuclear forces continue to play an essential role in NATO strategy” that poses such a threat to peace in the 21st century

The nuclear weapons situation in the world is at a critical stage. Nearly a decade after the end of the Cold War, more than 35,000 nuclear weapons remain in the world. No new nuclear negotiations are taking place; the Conference on Disarmament is paralyzed. The Russian Duma, fearing NATO’s expansion, has not ratified START II; START III is immobilized. Some Russian politicians and militarists, concerned about Russia’s crumbling conventional force structure, are once again talking of nuclear weapons as a vital line of defense for Russia. Even if START II were ratified, there would still be at least 17,000 nuclear weapons of all kinds remaining in 2007. More than 8,500 will be in Russia.

Under Gorbachev, Russia started to move down the road to nuclear disarmament, starting with a no-first-use pledge and other unilateral moves. When he came to power, Boris Yeltsin projected a sweeping foreign policy on democracy, a market economy, the slashing of weapons, a pan-European collective defense system and even “a global system for protection of the world community.” “A new world order based on the primacy of international law is coming,” Yeltsin said.

Such talk has ceased as Russia, ever more desperate for hesitant Western financial assistance, became mired in constant economic and political crises. Instead of offering a 1990s Marshall Plan-scale of help to Russia (which would be in the economic and political interests of the West, not least in cleaning up the “loose nukes” peril), the West offers an expanded NATO. Since Russia so desperately needs the new eighth seat at the G7 Economic Summit, its protests, though not its resentments, are weakened.

Despite the indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a new technology race in the quest for more innovative nuclear weapons, led by the U.S., has broken out. Since the U.S. so clearly intends to keep producing better designed nuclear weapons, there is virtually no hope that other nations will forego seeking the technology to allow them to keep up with this race. The world is poised to enter the 21st century in a “cold peace” atmosphere in which the CTBT will go unratified by some of the required states and the NPT may begin to unravel.

The continued retention of nuclear weapons by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council who insist that they are essential to their security and that of their allies, while denying the same right to others, is inherently unstable. This is an essential point made by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) whose unanimous call for the conclusion of nuclear weapons negotiations continues to be rejected by the Western NWS and the bulk of NATO.

NATO’s continued deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe, even at reduced levels, along with a refusal to respect the ICJ and enter into comprehensive negotiations, is in direct violation of the pledge made by the Nuclear Weapons States at the time of the indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995: to pursue with determination “systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goal of eliminating those weapons.”

To lessen fears of the growth of a nuclear-armed Alliance, NATO insists that it has “no plan, no need and no intention” to station nuclear weapons on the territory of new members. That is not the point. Not stationing nuclear weapons in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic does nothing to get them out of Western European countries. Nothing less than the removal of all of NATO’s nuclear weapons from all of Europe will suffice to demonstrate NATO’s sincerity.

Though NATO operates in great secrecy, it is clear that the Alliance has no intention of renouncing nuclear weapons, is determined to maintain a nuclear war-fighting capability, and is prepared to use low-yield nuclear warheads first. It is unacceptable that NATO even refuses to release the Terms of Reference used for its current review of the Strategic Concept.

The expansion of such a nuclear-armed Alliance is not an aid but a challenge to the development of peaceful relations with Russia. A nuclear NATO sets back peace.

Undermining the United Nations

The evolution of a world system is imperative if civilized life is to continue in the coming millennium. The United Nations is the essential centre-piece of that system. Its over-arching purpose is to maintain international peace and security. For this reason, the Security Council is given strong powers to enforce its decisions.

But the UN is undermined by military alliances that threaten force as a standing policy. The long years of East-West animosity during the Cold War virtually immobilized the UN’s efforts to maintain peace. In despair during one of the worst moments of the Cold War, former UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar castigated the nuclear superpowers for their militarism, contrasting it to world poverty of vast proportions—”a deprivation inexplicable in terms either of available resources or the money and ingenuity spent on armaments and war.” He criticized governments for ignoring their own signatures on the UN Charter: “We are perilously near to a new international anarchy.”

Despite the end of the Cold War, the world still spends $800 billion a year on the military, most of this amount is spent by the U.S. and its NATO allies. NATO expansion will send arms expenditures even higher. NATO has already said that new members will have to make a “military contribution.”

Estimates of the cost of NATO expansion vary from $27 billion to several hundred billion dollars over the next decade, though the U.S. Administration, fearful of a taxpayers’ backlash, has been playing down the U.S. share of the bill. Whatever the final cost, the many billions of dollars to be devoted to new military hardware, thus enriching the leading arms merchants of the world, is a direct theft from the fifth of humanity that is poor and marginalized and that needs but modest investment in their economic and social development to stabilize regional conditions. This is the old anarchy writ new.

The UN has shown time and again that promoting disarmament and development at the same time enhances security. In the post-Cold War era, human security does not come from the barrel of a gun but from the quality of life that economic and social development underpins.

Sustainable development needs huge amounts of investment in scientific research, technological development, education and training, infrastructure development and the transfer of technology. Investment in these structural advances is urgently needed to stop carbon dioxide poisoning of the atmosphere and the depletion of the earth’s biological resources such as the forest, wetlands and animal species now under attack. But the goals for sustainable development set out in the 1992 Earth Summit’s major document, Agenda 21, are blocked by political inertia, which countenances continued high military spending.

It is clear, as the Director-General of UNESCO put it, that “we cannot simultaneously pay the price of war and the price of peace.” Budgetary priorities need to be realigned in order to direct financial resources of enhancing life, not producing death. A transformation of political attitudes is needed to build a “culture of peace.” A new political attitude would say No to investment in arms and destruction and Yes to investment in the construction of peace.

A nuclear-armed NATO stronger than the United Nations is an intolerable prospect. Yet the residual militarist mentality in the world continues to sideline the UN and even force it into penury. The lavishness of NATO contrasted to the poverty of the UN mocks the most ardent aspirations of the peoples of the world.

The Role of Civil Society

Put in strategic terms, the risks of NATO expansion far outweigh any possible contribution to security. The issues are complex and need careful examination and extended public debate. A headlong rush into this abyss could indeed be a “fateful error.” The U.S. Senate needs to hear from informed citizens before giving its advice and consent to such an ill-considered policy.

Is it too late to stop NATO expansion? Has the U.S. Administration gone too far to pull back? Could a five-year waiting period be invoked for time for sober reflection? What is so sacred about getting expansion done in time for NATO’s 50th anniversary in 1999?

If NATO expansion is to be stopped by the U.S. Senate, civil society will have to mobilize as never before. The enlightened elements of the public will have to lead the way. Much of government seems mesmerized by the superficial appeal of the politics of an enlarged NATO.

It was once said of King Philip of Spain: “No experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence.” The stakes are too high today for trial-and-error. We must shake the Government and Congress of the United States of the belief that NATO expansion serves the people’s interest. It does not. It serves only the interests of the producers of arms. NATO expansion is folly. We must proclaim this from the roof-tops and help both government and public recover the vision of a de-militarized world.