March 14, 1997 | Executive Memorandum on Russia
On March 19, U.S. President Bill Clinton will meet with Russian President Boris Yeltsin for a summit in Helsinki, Finland. This meeting comes on the heels of a major reorganization of Yeltsin's cabinet. Although it remains to be seen how the reshuffling of the Yeltsin cabinet will affect Russia domestically, one thing is clear: The dominant item on the agenda at the Helsinki summit -- for both Clinton and Yeltsin -- will be the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Russia is trying to derail enlargement, or at least to force the Western alliance to make wide-ranging concessions in return for its acquiescence.
Russia's posturing should be rejected, politely but firmly, by President Clinton. Clinton should tell Yeltsin that the decision to add new members to NATO is firm and that Russia cannot expect any concessions that would weaken the integrity of NATO or give Russia a tacit veto over its decisions.
The Case for NATO Enlargement
The candidate members of NATO -- Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic -- are sovereign and independent states which are entitled to join alliances as their people see fit. These countries have cultural, political, and historical roots firmly planted in the soil of Western Europe and the Euro-Atlantic sphere. They have experienced two terrible world wars in this century that involved Russia and Germany. All three countries have been invaded and occupied by the Soviet Union, and both Poland and Hungary witnessed czarist occupations in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is understandable that the people of these countries want membership in NATO as a security umbrella and as insurance against similar conflagrations.
NATO Enlargement Not a Threat to Russia
NATO is a defensive alliance of Western democracies that harbor no hostile intentions toward Russia. Poland, the Czech Republic, and other prospective members of NATO have no evil designs on Russia; they merely seek the prosperity and stability they think NATO membership can provide. If history is any guide, Poland and other Central and Eastern European countries have more to fear from Russia than Russia does from them. In this respect, it is important to remember that the military budgets of all NATO members are considerably less than that of Russia, if counted as a portion of their gross national products.
Unreasonable Russian Demands
Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has become a weak regional power in need of Western assistance. NATO remains the only military alliance capable of power projection in the region, as the Bosnian peacekeeping mission has shown. The Russian government is making unfair demands on its neighbors both by trying to block Poland, the Czech Republic, and other countries from joining NATO and by threatening economic sanctions against the Baltic states for alleged mistreatment of the Russian-speaking people living within their borders.
This behavior is reminiscent of efforts by the Romanov Empire and the Soviet Union to carve out spheres of influence and assure that Russian security concerns prevailed over those of neighboring countries. Moreover, Russia is responsible for pursuing a number of other policies that conflict directly with U.S. interests. These include supplying two nuclear reactors to Iran; selling modern nuclear weapons technology, military aircraft, and warships to China; opposing development of theater missile defense by the U.S.; stalling ratification of the START II strategic nuclear weapons treaty; pressuring Azerbaijan on Russian control of the Caspian Sea; and being ineffective in its efforts to control organized crime and corruption.
Clinton's Agenda at Helsinki
In return for continued U.S. and multilateral economic aid and future foreign investment, Russia must recognize the legitimate security interests of its neighbors and of the United States.
In Helsinki, President Clinton should:
President Clinton faces a tough challenge in Helsinki. He must move ahead with NATO enlargement while providing Russia with enough incentives to continue its integration into the world, including the West. To do this, Clinton must be firm on moving ahead with NATO enlargement. The more the Clinton Administration has equivocated on the issue, the more demanding the Russians have become. It is time to break this cycle. It is time to tell Yeltsin that enlargement will take place soon and without concessions that would be debilitating to the Atlantic Alliance.