Policy Toward Central Europe

Published February 1, 1994

Then there is the question of NATO. The negative U.S. response to the Visegrad Group’s application for immediate NATO membership (which would not unreasonably be interpreted in Moscow as having given Russia a veto over NATO policy) is strategically mistaken: precisely because it has strengthened the hand of those forces within Russia whose neo-imperial ambitions are distracting attention from the imperatives of Russian economic reform while exacerbating the dangers of destabilization in east central Europe. But immediate incorporation of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and possibly Slovakia into the alliance does not now seem in the cards: Britain and France are squeamish, and American public opinion has not been alerted to the possibility of such a major innovation in our foreign policy.

Thus the immediate question is how to make the Administration’s “Partnerships for Peace” (PFP) policy real—that is, how does PFP become a major first step, not a temporizing alternative, to NATO reconstruction? PFP could contribute to real peace in Europe if the criteria for any country’s incorporation into a reconstructed NATO were articulated in such a way that they would, in themselves, be a prod toward reform in Russia as well as an effective response to Russian neo-imperialist tendencies. Our goal, in sum, should be a reconstruction of NATO that would (1) stem neo-imperialist tendencies within the Russian body politic while avoiding a policy of encircling or isolating Russia, and (2) meet Russian security concerns while resisting the traditional Russian tendency to achieve security by subjugating its neighbors.

Any effective NATO-based “partnership for peace” would, therefore, have to offer all the countries of the old Warsaw Pact the prospect of eventual full membership in the alliance. The conditions for membership that they would have to meet over a period of time would include the following:

  • a stable transition to democracy and a free economy;
  • demonstrated respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries, including no interference in their internal affairs;
  • respect for the human rights of ethnic minorities;
  • rejection of a division of Europe into spheres of influence;
  • full adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty;
  • full implementation of any present or future NATO agreements on arms and troop reductions; and
  • acceptance of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe as a mechanism for the prevention and settlement of conflicts.

Countries that met these criteria for “partnership” would be eligible for full membership in a reconstructed NATO; countries that failed to meet any of these conditions would not. New NATO members would be incorporated as they made their adherence to and implementation of these criteria plain. This would result in a gradual expansion of NATO’s membership, but in such a way that it would be clear that the alliance was not aimed offensively against any nation. That point could be reinforced by indisputably defensive troop deployments within any new configuration.

In such an arrangement, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary would be candidates for full membership in relatively short order. And their incorporation into NATO would, under these publicly declared and publicly accepted criteria, serve as a stimulus to progress by others, including Russia, on the reform agenda. Indeed, this kind of “new NATO” would pose precisely the right choice for the present and future leaders of Russia, by clarifying the real-world security benefits of a successful democratic and market transition and a rejection of hegemonic ambitions.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

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