NATO Agonistes

IF YOU THINK that Bill Clinton's decision to press for the expansion of NATO has nothing to do with day-to-day life here at home, think again. The enlargement of this antiquated Cold War relic is going to cost taxpayers plenty. According to a study by the Congressional Budget Office, the move will cost NATO at least $125 billion, of which the U.S. share is nearly $29 billion. That's almost triple the paltry $10 billion that Clinton has asked for over the next five years to renew our crumbling cities. And CNN reported over the weekend that White House officials now admit privately that the real tab for NATO expansion will be even higher, probably in the hundreds of billions.

The reason for those soaring costs is that a new arms race will be imposed on the penurious countries of Eastern Europe who join. In order to integrate their armed forces with the NATO command, the new member countries will be required to spend a fortune on weapons and communications systems compatible with those currently in use by NATO. Replacing outmoded Soviet-era hardware and expansion of their militaries to bring them up to strength will mean, for example, that Poland will have to spend some one-fifth of its annual budget to become a member, while for Hungary that figure is 30 percent. That's a terrible burden to place around the neck of impoverished peoples struggling to rebuild their economies in the postcommunist era.

The only winners in NATO expansions are, of course, the arms merchants. No wonder, then, that the committee formed to lobby Congress for ratification of the new NATO is headed by a top executive of Lockheed-Martin, a prime military contractor (and, not coincidentally, a huge Clinton campaign contributor) that stands to rake in tens of billions selling its warplanes to the new members.

NATO was originally designed to meet the supposed threat of a Soviet ground invasion of Western Europe, But the Soviet empire is no more, and the Russian army of today is a demoralized shamble--its officers and troops are unpaid, forced to dig cabbages to eat, and its weaponry is decaying and outmoded with no money available to replace it. How can an army that couldn't even beat the backward Chechens be considered a real menace to a Western Europe still armed to its teeth?

There is a far more serious threat to Europe: the dozens of crumbling, Chernobyl-style nuclear reactors on which Eastern Europe depends for its electricity, and the fleets of Russian nuclear-powered submarines--their radioactive piles intact--now rotting untended in the harbors of the ex-Soviet Union. An accident (or terrorist attack) could cause a nuclear firestorm that would poison huge chunks of the continent for generations. None of the countries of the ex-Soviet bloc has the money to restore these reactors to some proximate safety, let alone dismantle them, yet Clinton slights these horrendous dangers and instead proposes a new arms race in conventional weapons.

Even Clinton's own newly appointed ambassador-at-large to the countries of the former Soviet empire, Harvard's Stephen Sestanovich, wrote last December that "it would be hard to think of a policy that more pointlessly re-enacts Cold War battles without really helping us to deal with post-Cold War problems" than NATO expansion.

Expanding the military in countries whose recently born democratic institutions are still flawed and fragile will create an Eastern European powder-keg. Take Hungary, which will share no common border with any NATO member, but which has been bitterly feuding with two of its neighbors, Slovenia and Romania, over the treatment of Hungarian ethnic minorities in those countries, where violent clashes have been a regular occurrence. Significant elements in Hungary's political life talk openly of a Greater Hungary, and nationalism has always been a demagogue's tool to stifle economic discontent. Do we really want to dote Budapest with a puissant military, or be bound by treaty to come to its defense in an armed border dispute with Bucharest? The same question applies to Poland and its festering territorial disputes with its neighbors to the east. Can't happen in modern Europe, you say? Just look at the ex-Yugoslavia.

Even a conservative like George Will opposes NATO expansion, arguing that "enlargement responds to yesterday's problems at the risk of creating tomorrow's, in the form of a provoked and possibly revanchist Russia." Clinton's larger NATO fuels the anti-democratic forces in Russia by giving nationalists an excuse to argue that there is still a real "external threat."

The new NATO treaty Clinton signs this week in Madrid creates the wrong priorities for both the U.S. and for Eastern Europe, profits only the greedy merchants of death, and spawns real political dangers that could lead to shooting wars. It should be resoundingly defeated when it comes before the Senate.

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