U.S. Proposes NATO Partnerships For Former Warsaw Pact NationsBy Steve Vogel
Special to The Washington Post
The United States proposed Wednesday that the NATO alliance offer limited military "partnerships" to virtually any European nation that is interested, including Russia and other former Warsaw Pact nations.
While extending neither security guarantees nor NATO membership to East European countries clamoring to join, the proposal, if adopted, would represent a dramatically different relationship among former Cold War adversaries.
Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, meeting with other NATO defense ministers at this Baltic coast resort, described the partnership proposal as a first step towards possible -- but not automatic -- NATO membership for the old Soviet Bloc states. "It's a brand new world out there," Aspin told reporters.
Under the proposal presented to the allies by Aspin today, partner nations would not be entitled to the automatic security provisions of the NATO treaty-in which an attack on one alliance member is considered an attack on all. However, Aspin said, NATO would consult with a partner country in the event its territorial integrity is threatened, and the alliance conceivably could take military action to protect that nation, Aspin said. Partner states also would participate in such joint NATO operations as peace keeping and peace making, crisis management and search and rescue missions.
The U.S. proposal appears to represent an effort to balance competing concerns over long-term peace and security in post-Cold War Europe -- while at the same time fending off for now aggressive membership entreaties from several East European countries.
Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are urgently seeking entry to NATO, and some members of the 16-nation alliance, particularly Germany, have been supportive, arguing that their inclusion is crucial to East European stability. But there are also fears that expanding NATO at a time when it is redefining its role on a continent in political transition could end up destabilizing the alliance itself-not to mention alarming Russia by extending NATO to its doorstep.
The Kremlin has opposed NATO membership for any former Warsaw Pact countries if Russia, too, is not allowed to join. Under the new proposal, U.S. officials said, Russia would be welcomed as a NATO partner, but they said eventual Russian NATO membership was highly unlikely. One official described the partnership plan as a way of establishing closer ties with Russia -- but not too close.
Aspin said NATO partnership would be open to about 25 countries, so long as they could demonstrate civilian control of the military and make their defense budgets public. Candidates include all the former Warsaw Pact countries and Soviet republics, as well as four traditional neutrals-Sweden, Austria, Finland and Switzerland.
The plan has the backing of NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner, and initial allied reaction has been favorable, particularly from Britain and Germany, according to members of the U.S. delegation here. "We didn't get any attacks at all," said a U.S. official.
No procedure or timetable has been established for considering when and which NATO partners would be allowed full membership in the alliance, but Aspin said that the partnership program would be a required first step for any nation seeking to join.
Aspin said the partnership network would have the advantage of putting added manpower at NATO's disposal as member nations are cutting combat forces in the absence of a Soviet threat, yet at the same time are taking on a more general peace-keeping role. "What we're trying to do is build added capability," Aspin said. He said the proposal could be formally adopted at a meeting of NATO heads of state set for January. <\!s>