Demographic, Environmental,
Security Issues Project

NATO Expansion Can Be Stopped
by William D. Hartung

With everyone from Bill Clinton to Jesse Helms supporting NATO enlargement, the conventional wisdom is that the upcoming Senate vote is a done deal. But critics of NATO expansion shouldn't give up yet.

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that support for NATO expansion has dropped from 63% to 49% over the past six months. This public unease is reflected in the Senate, where 11 members are against expansion outright, with two dozen more undecided. This wavering group contains more than enough votes to block NATO enlargement, which needs 67 votes to prevail.

It is somewhat surprising that NATO expansion is still up for grabs, given that both major parties campaigned for a larger NATO during the 1996 elections. When Secretary of State Madeleine Albright won over Jesse Helms last fall by making a series of distasteful concessions on issues like shutting off Russia from any real input in NATO councils, it seemed as if the opposition had been dealt a fatal blow. And Katharine Seelye of the New York Times has reported that the nation's six largest military contractors spent $51 million on Washington lobbying in the past two years, mostly to push for pet projects like NATO expansion. These lobbying funds are in addition to the $32.3 million in campaign contributions made by weapons merchants from 1991 to 1997, a figure that outstrips even the tobacco lobby.

In the face of this pro-NATO onslaught, the most eloquent voice on the other side has been Virginia Republican John Warner, who argues that the addition of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to NATO will create an "iron ring" pointed at Russia. Warner has posed the fundamental question: "What is the rush to expand the alliance? Wouldn't it be more important to national security interests of the United States to deal with the Russians first on issues such as further reductions of nuclear weapons?"

If the NATO juggernaut is to be slowed down, Senator Warner needs reinforcements. One source of opposition should come from progressive Senators like Edward Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachusetts, Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, and Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois who are currently on record in support of NATO expansion. These Senators need to be turned around now, perhaps by pointing out that in supporting the current version of the NATO expansion protocols they will be swallowing a large part of Jesse Helms's foreign policy agenda. Undecided members like Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Tom Harkin of Iowa --who has done excellent work debunking the administration's laughable cost estimates on NATO expansion --also need to be pushed into the "no" column.

Senators need to know that voting for NATO expansion could have serious political consequences down the road, once the public understands the full risks and costs involved. Activists in New Hampshire and Iowa are already planning to "bird dog" candidates about their votes on NATO, and an anti-NATO expansion petition has already been signed by 23 members of the New Hampshire State Legislature. Meanwhile, the California-based Mainstream Media Project is sponsoring a series of radio "town meetings" in which Senators will be invited to go on the air with both opponents and advocates of NATO expansion.

The biggest political land mine in the NATO expansion debate is the cost issue. A February 1998 poll conducted by the University of Maryland found that 60% of respondents were opposed to spending taxpayer dollars to build up the military forces of new NATO members. Yet the U.S. government is already doing just that: in the past three years alone, the federal government has committed over $1.2 billion in grants, low-interest loans, and other subsidies to help countries prepare for NATO membership. Once the public puts these two facts together, there could be a sharp backlash against any Senator who votes for a blank check to expand NATO. The safest votes on NATO expansion are either to vote no outright or to push for a delay until all the issues have been fully debated.

The Nation, May 4, 1998

William D. Hartung is a Senior Research Fellow at the World Policy Institute at the New School and the author of the Institute's new report, "Welfare for Weapons Dealers 1998: The Hidden Costs of NATO Expansion." His full report can be accessed on the home page of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project of the Federation of American Scientists, at www.fas.org/asmp