In the coming months, the American people will greatly influence the future fate of the more than 60 million people in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The issue at hand: should we allow these countries to join NATO? It is on the behalf of these 60 million Europeans that I address this issue, as well as on the behalf of additional 12 million of Americans of Polish, Hungarian, and Czech ancestry.
The historical St. Wenceslas Square in Prague
It is the nature of human existence that we assume a certain degree of stability and continuity in our everyday lives. We expect that the next week will be about the same as the previous one, or perhaps a little better.
But we know that "things happen" unexpectedly, overnight: one day Man leaves our planet and walks on the moon; in one day, the Great Wall of China or the Berlin Wall crumble, and the world is never the same again.
None of the Western governments were prepared for the 1989 European Revolution and the ensuing disintegration of the former Soviet Union. Those of us who had experienced first hand the oppression and evil of one or the other of the communist regimes simply could not believe the rapid changes which took place in those countries within a matter of days.
These are the words of the Czech President Havel, recalling the experience of the people in Prague in those early days: "The previous circumstances in our lives could be compared to a shroud of thick, impenetrable and stifling fog hanging over our whole lives. All of a sudden, with incredible speed, the fog we used to take as something virtually irremovable dispersed. Suddenly we saw an amazingly colorful landscape that had until then remained unseen. The first moments after such a radical change were marked by a universal feeling of joy. We were amazed at the beauty of the world which had until then been hidden from us, surprised at how dazzlingly bright the light of freedom was. But soon the amazement and elation passed away and we all found that the world which the fog had for so long concealed from us contained a great deal of surprising phenomena, new interrelationships, new problems and new tasks. An urgent need to build a whole new world became obvious."
But how do we go about actually doing it?
Among the various layers forming our identity, the affiliation to our nation plays a role of great importance. Problems arise if there is extreme nationalism or religious fundamentalism. There is only one principle which can create the proper conditions for the balanced exercise of human identity: the civic principle, as it has gradually developed in the democratic world, envisaging a "civil society". Such a society does not suppress individual's rights as long as this does not jeopardize the self-realization of others. But this is possible only in an environment that has embraced a cerstain set of universally binding rules of coexistence in a state ruled by law, and based on respect for human rights.
Building such a civil society means reconstructing in a natural way human or social consciousness -- "a revolution of brains and hearts."
Our civilization is truly a global civilization. However, it is marked by an intensified desire of its various cultures to preserve something of their unique individuality. Therefore, the best alternative for the future development of this civilization lies in the enhancement of larger economic groupings and in cooperation among them. For this to succeed, it is necessary that the individual groupings draw a clear picture of what they are. As long as one sphere of our civilization regards other spheres as its adversaries, enemies or rivals, nothing good will come of it.
This leads to the subject of NATO. The enlargement of NATO is in our national interest, but it is not without costs and risks.
We all know that Europe's fate and America's future are joined. Twice in half a century, Americans fought in Europe. Taking wise steps now to strengthen our common security will help build a future without the mistakes and divisions of the past. In a recent address to the cadets of the US West Point Academy, President Clinton had this to say about NATO: "Some say we no longer need NATO because there is no powerful threat to our security now. I say there is no powerful threat partly because NATO is there. And enlargement will help make it stronger ".
The dangers we face would be clear if NATO were to go back on its committment to take in new members:
1) NATO would be stuck in the past, facing irrelevance, even dissolution
2) Confidence would crumble in central Europe, leading to increased tensions in the region.
3) The worst elements in Russian would gain encouragement, and they would seek new confrontations with the West.
4) There would be no chance of building a constructive partnership between Russian and NATO. For this to happen, two fundamental conditions must be met:
a) We must not isolate Russia.
b) Russia must not isolate itself.
It means that many Russians must abandon their misplaced suspicions about NATO and the West. And we in the West must appreciate the remarkable change that Russia has made since it rejected communism.
We should take in new members to NATO for these reasons:
1) It will strengthen the Alliance in meeting the security challenges of the 21st century
2) It will help secure the historic gains of democracy in Europe
3) It will encourage prospective members to resolve their differences peacefully
4) Along with the Partnership for Peace, it will erase the artificial borders in Europe
The U.S. Secretary Madelaine Allbright said these words in a recent speech: "The European Union is expanding to central and eastern Europe. But NATO is playing the central role in bringing Europe together, just as it did half a century ago. Today, we would not leave a democratic country out in the cold because it was once, against the will of its people, part of the Warsaw Pact. The only valid question today is: which democratic nations in Europe are willing and able to contribute to common security?"
We must not be blinded by the old thinking from the Cold War. We must begin to think in entirely new terms. To align themselves with NATO, Europe's new democracies are ending disputes with their neighbors, reaching to old adversaries, fixing problems which could lead to future Bosnias. These nations have already shown that they can contribute.
When he signed the NATO Treaty in 1949, President Truman said that if NATO had simply existed in 1914 or 1939, it would have prevented the world wars that tore the world apart. The experiences of the past 50 years support that view. For instance, NATO helped to reconcile age-old adversaries like France and Germany, reduce tensions between Greece and Turkey, etc.
NATO during its first 50 years provided: security to shattered economies, and helped former adversaries to reconcile. But across half of Europe, its benefits were denied by the cruel and artificial division imposed by Stalin. The challenge today is to finish the post-war reconstruction project -- to expand the area of the world in which American interests and values will thrive.
Today's Europe owes America at least as much as America owes Europe. In the post-war history, we can point to two principal examples which illustrate the vital leadership role of the United States:
a) MARSHALL PLAN in 1947 for economic reconstruction of Europe
b) NATO in 1955 -- only 10 years after WW II, Germany was offered full membership in NATO, even though the events of that great conflict were still in fresh memory.
George MARSHALL's concept was to promote the spread of liberty, to strengthen democratic institutions, and to create conditions for economic development and prosperity in the post-war Europe.
Now we need again in Europe this openness and courage.
The establishment of NATO was also motivated by a more general idea of defending the common way of life, of common values. This ideal of collective defence of recognized values is of great importance in our present world events.
The present situation makes Europe face new challenges, and risks to European security continue to exist. Therefore, NATO continues to be the cornerstone of this security and stability in the whole Trans-Atlantic area. In the future, NATO must preserve and strengthen the links between the non-memebers in Eastern Europe and the Alliance.
After democracy has won the Cold War, it should go on now to win the peace as well. But time is working agains us: unless democrats take timely action to establish a new and meaningful order, others -- the nationalists, the populists, the dictators and the die-hard communists -- will proceed to build an order of their own.
One of the most important ways to achieve long-term stability is to promote and expand the European Union. And connected to it is the question of enlargement of NATO.
These are the conslusions of the Report to Congress On the Enlargement of NATO:
1) NATO enlarement contributes to the goal of a peacuful, undivided and democratic Europe
2) Enlargement will yield benefits for the United States, NATO and Europe
3) NATO enlargement carries costs
4) Costs to the US will be modest. US share of direct enlargement costs would average about $ 150 - 200 million annually during the 10 years following the formal accession in 1999. (The estimated costs for the new members are estimated to be about
$ 800 million - $ 1 billion EACH annually)
5) There are greater costs and risks to NOT enlarging NATO on the current schedule
6) The US and NATO are committed to constructive relations with Russia.
The wider world order can work and make sense only when it is a natural order, growing out of an authentic and freely manifested will of nations. The best working democratic defense structure today is NATO. This alliance connects Europe and North America, two continets that share common spiritual traditions, common values and a common political culture. For a long time, NATO was foremost an instrument used for defense of the free world against possible expansion of Soviet communism westward.
One reason for Russia's past oppositon to NATO enlargement: a certain hesitation in the Western aproach to this issue. Many in Russia have interpreted it as a recognition of some sort of remnant of the Iron Curtain, a reluctance to enter territory once under their domination. Russia's disapproval is encouraged by Western hesitation. These are unconscious remnants of Cold War thinking. The new situation and challenges are different:
The West poses no threat to Russsia.
Rusia poses no threat to the West.
Russia, a huge Euro-Asian power has the right to maintain its own identity and to create its own regional links. Both Western and Russian policies toward each other should be based on the concept of good partnership between them. A truly authentic and friendly coexistence between Russia and the increasingly integrated Europe is possible only if both partners know and respect each other's identity, look for values which bring them together, and seek to deepen their relationship on this basis.
In her recent speech at an event in New York honoring the German President Roman Herzog and the Czech President Vaclav Havel for their efforts to settle the historical wrongs committed by these two countries against each other and to go forward as friends and trustworthy partners, Secretary Allbright had these words of caution for all of us: "Today, the greatest danger to America is NOT some foreign enemy:
-it is the possiblity that we will ignore the example of the post-war generation,
-that we will succumb to the temptation of isolation,
-that we will neglect the military and diplomatic resources that keep us strong,
-that we will forget the fundamental lesson of this century: problems abroad, if left unattended, will all too often come home to America.
A decade or two from now we will be known as the neo-isolationists who allowed tyranny and lawlessness to rise again or as the generation that solidified the global triumph of democratic principles.
We will be known as the neo-protectionists whose lack of vision produced financial chaos or as the generation that laid the groundwork for rising prosperity around the world.
We will be known as the world-class ditherers who stood by while the seeds of renewed global conflict were sown or as the generation that took strong measures to build strong alliances, deter aggression and keep the peace.
Ultimately, this is a matter of judgment, a question of choice. In making that choice, let us remember that there is not a page of American history of which we are proud that was authored by a chronic complainer or a prophet of despair. We are doers.
We have a responsibility in our time, as others have had in theirs, not to be prisoners of history, but to shape history.
A responsibility to use and defend our freedom and to help others who share our aspirations for libery, peace and the quiet miracle of a normal life."
President Clinton and NATO have stressed their support for admitting the first new members by 1999. Adding new members to NATO requires ratification by US Senate, and also requires both chambers of Congress to aprove funding. But if the security guarantees to be extended to the new members are to be meaningful, they must represent an expression of informed national will. Therefore, it is essential that NATO enlargement proceed with the active participation and support of the American people.
Copyright 1999 Museum of European Art