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NATO expansion must proceed slowly despite risks, Goodby says

It's too late for the United States to step back from enlarging NATO, despite the serious risks involved in expanding the western defense pact into Central Europe, former U.S. Ambassador James Goodby said in a campus lecture on May 8, the 52nd anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.

As a way of counterbalancing some of the negative effects, he urged President Clinton to work harder at selling his vision of "a peaceful, undivided and democratic" Europe that includes Russia.

"President Clinton has said the era of big government is over, but I hope he doesn't mean the era of big ideas is over," said Goodby, who is the Payne Lecturer in the Institute for International Studies this year.

Speaking in the even tones and point-by-point manner of a veteran Cold War diplomat to an audience of about 200 at the Braun Music Center, Goodby warned that "the United States is setting out on a course whose outcome is unforeseeable and where the downside includes the possible renewal of confrontation between Russia and the West and a weakening of the Atlantic alliance."

In response to a question, he said he would have preferred the United States had not agreed in January 1994 to open the alliance to membership of other European countries. During 1993, the Clinton administration had decided that expanding NATO eastward would simply amount to moving the East-West border closer to Russia. The administration promoted instead the Partnership for Peace, a form of associated NATO membership that has permitted 27 non-NATO countries, including Russia, to participate in joint training exercises, defense planning and task forces, such as the one assigned to keep peace in Bosnia. Goodby said the partnership has been more successful in building stability and confidence than its critics imagined it would be. The key difference between it and NATO membership is significant: Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty pledges alliance members to respond militarily to attack on any one of them and the partnership has no similar deterrence provisions.

In 1993, Germany's defense minister and Richard Holbrooke, then the U.S. ambassador to Germany, pushed hard for full NATO membership for Germany's eastern neighbors, and the Clinton administration eventually agreed, Goodby said. Republicans also seemed to support that direction, he said. "I really regret that in 1994 they put that one sentence in but that is the camel's nose under the tent," said Goodby, who is also former ambassador to Finland and who last served the government as Clinton's special representative for nuclear security and dismantlement. Goodby's involvement with NATO dates back to 1957.

The United States has invested too much of its credibility and prestige in the enlargement idea to back down now, he said. "We have succeeded in bringing along a rather ambivalent Great Britain and France, and their governments have staked their survival on that." Maintaining western cohesion, he said, remains the most fundamental goal of U.S. policy in Europe.

Goodby praised NATO's accomplishments since its establishment in 1949. These include both its containment of Soviet power and the "de-nationalizing" of defense policies in Western Europe. A stable peace, he said, is one where countries never even think about going to war with each other, and NATO has been at least partly responsible for such a peace forming between Great Britain, France and Germany. "That's what Clinton has suggested is possible with Russia now."

The president is "not credible," however, Goodby said, because his occasional statements on the subject are not backed up by more specific plans of how the administration hopes to make that vision a reality. Without elaboration, he said, Americans, Europeans and Russians cannot be expected to take the vision seriously.

Goodby said he agrees with Clinton that there is such an opportunity, but it will take at least 20 years of diplomatic investment by the United States. How NATO proceeds with eastern expansion could hinder progress toward the longer term goal. "Interim arrangements should be guided by the rule of doing no harm to the prospects for an undivided and democratic Europe," he said.

The most likely enlargement scenario is for the 16 NATO allies to vote to admit a few new members this year and then pause for at least four or five years before admitting any more, he said. The more likely to enter the treaty are Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary at NATO's July meeting in Madrid. Less likely to get unanimous support are Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. And least likely to be voted in Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Macedonia. That means that Russia will try to compete for influence in the "gray zone," he said.

The scenario is less than ideal for Clinton's successor, who is likely to inherit a "less coherent" NATO, a number of countries still pressing for membership and a Russia without the restraining influence of Yeltsin. Under Yeltsin, Russia has already expressed its unhappiness by slowing down cooperation with the West in arms control agreements and placing more reliance on its nuclear weapons.

The U.S. Senate could decide not to ratify the agreement to add new members, Goodby said, but he thinks a two-thirds majority will support it after a vigorous debate, although probably not before 1998. "I don't think they should kill it, because it would be a disastrous setback" for U.S.-Western Europe relations, he said.

The Republican-led Senate might advocate a more forceful buildup of NATO as an opposition force to Russia. New York Times columnist William Safire is among those influential voices who believe Russian values are too different from those of the West for that nation ever to become part of Europe, and that Russia is too big and strong not to emerge eventually as a military threat to Europe. Goodby said he disagreed with that position and feared it could become "a self-fulfilling prophecy."

"It's better," he said, to "take Clinton seriously and get on with an undivided Europe. It's very difficult to do but I think it is the right way to go."

Goodby's lecture will become part of a book on the role of norms and rules in American diplomacy, which he is writing while at Stanford's Center for International Security and Arms Control. A text of the prepared lecture is available on the World Wide Web at The center's web site is


By Kathleen O'Toole