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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Washington, DC, October 7, 1997
Released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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NATO Expansion: Beginning the Process of Advice and Consent

Chairman Helms, Senator Biden, members of the committee: It is with a sense of appreciation and anticipation that I come before you to urge support for the admission of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to NATO.

Each of us today is playing our part in the long unfolding story of America's modern partnership with Europe. That story began not in Madrid, when the President and his fellow NATO leaders invited these three new democracies to join our Alliance, nor eight years ago when the Berlin Wall fell, but half a century ago when your predecessors and mine dedicated our nation to the goal of a secure, united Europe.
It was then that we broke with the American aversion to European entanglements, an aversion which served us well in our early days, but poorly when we became a global power. It was then that we sealed a peacetime alliance open not only to the nations which had shared our victory in World War II, but to our former adversaries. It was then that this committee unanimously recommended that the Senate approve the original North Atlantic Treaty.
The history books will long record that day as among the Senate's finest. On that day, the leaders of this body rose above partisanship and they rose to the challenge of a pivotal moment in the history of the world.
Mr. Chairman, I believe you are continuing that tradition today. I thank you for your decision to hold these hearings early, for the bipartisan manner in which you and Senator Biden are conducting them, and for the serious and substantive way in which you have framed our discussion.
I am honored to be part of what you have rightly called the beginning of the process of advice and consent. And I am hopeful that with your support, and after the full national debate to which these hearings will contribute, the Senate will embrace the addition of new members to NATO. It would be fitting if this renewal of our commitment to security in Europe could come early next year, as Congress celebrates the 50th anniversary of its approval of the Marshall Plan.
As I said, and as you can see, I am very conscious of history today. I hope that you and your colleagues will look back as I have on the deliberations of 1949, for they address so many of the questions I know you have now: How much will a new alliance cost and what are its benefits? Will it bind us to go to war? Will it entangle us in far away quarrels?
We should take a moment to remember what was said then about the alliance we are striving to renew and expand today.
Senator Vandenberg, Chairman Helms' extraordinary predecessor, predicted that NATO would become "the greatest war deterrent in history." He was right. American forces have never had to fire a shot to defend a NATO ally.
This Committee, in its report to the Senate on the NATO treaty, predicted that it would "free the minds of men in many nations from a haunting sense of insecurity, and enable them to work and plan with that confidence in the future which is essential to economic recovery and progress." Your predecessors were right. NATO gave our allies time to rebuild their economies. It helped reconcile their ancient animosities. And it made possible an unprecedented era of unity in Western Europe.
President Truman said that the NATO pact "will be a positive, not a negative, influence for peace, and its influence will be felt not only in the area it specifically covers but throughout the world." And he was right, too. NATO gave hope to democratic forces in West Germany that their country would be welcome and secure in our community if they kept making the right choices. Ultimately, it helped bring the former fascist countries into a prosperous and democratic Europe. And it helped free the entire planet from the icy grip of the Cold War.
Thanks in no small part to NATO, we live in a different world. Our Soviet adversary has vanished. Freedom's flag has been unfurled from the Baltics to Bulgaria. The threat of nuclear war has sharply diminished. As I speak to you today, our immediate survival is not at risk.
Indeed, you may ask if the principle of collective defense at NATO's heart is relevant to the challenges of a wider and freer Europe. You may ask why, in this time of relative peace, are we so focused on security?
The answer is, we want the peace to last. We want freedom to endure. And we believe there are still potential threats to our security emanating from European soil.
You have asked me, Mr. Chairman, what these threats are. I want to answer as plainly as I can.
First, there are the dangers of Europe's past. It is easy to forget this, but for centuries virtually every European nation treated virtually every other as a military threat. That pattern was broken only when NATO was born and only in the half of Europe NATO covered. With NATO, Europe's armies prepared to fight beside their neighbors, not against them; each member's security came to depend on cooperation with others, not competition.
That is one reason why NATO remains essential, even though the Cold War is over. It is also one reason why we need a larger NATO, so that the other half of Europe is finally embedded in the same cooperative structure of military planning and preparation.
A second set of dangers lies in Europe's present. Because of conflict in the Balkans and the former Soviet Union, Europe has already buried more victims of war since the Berlin Wall fell than in all the years of the Cold War. It is sobering to recall that this violence has its roots in the same problems of shattered states and hatred among ethnic groups that tyrants exploited to start this century's great wars.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, and most important, we must consider the dangers of Europe's future. By this I mean direct threats against the soil of NATO members that a collective defense pact is designed to meet. Some are visible on Europe's horizon, such as the threat posed by rogue states with dangerous weapons that might have Europe within their range and in their sights. Others may not seem apparent today, in part because the existence of NATO has helped to deter them. But they are not unthinkable.
Within this category lie questions about the future of Russia. We have an interest in seeing Russian democracy endure. We are doing all we can with our Russian partners to see that it does. And we have many reasons to be optimistic. At the same time, one should not dismiss the possibility that Russia could return to the patterns of its past. By engaging Russia and enlarging NATO, we give Russia every incentive to deepen its commitment to democracy and peaceful relations with neighbors, while closing the avenue to more destructive alternatives.
We do not know what other dangers may arise 10, 20, or even 50 years from now. We do know enough from history and human experience to believe that a grave threat, if allowed to arise, would arise. We know that whatever the future may hold, it will be in our interest to have a vigorous and larger alliance with those European democracies that share our values and our determination to defend them.
We recognize NATO expansion involves a solemn expansion of American responsibilities in Europe. It does not bind us to respond to every violent incident by going to war. But it does oblige us to consider an armed attack against one ally an attack against all and to respond with such action as we deem necessary, including the use of force, to restore the security of the North Atlantic area.
As Americans, we take our commitments seriously and we do not extend them lightly. Mr. Chairman, you and I do not agree on everything, but we certainly agree that any major extension of American commitments must serve America's strategic interests.
Let me explain why welcoming the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland into NATO meets that test.
First, a larger NATO will make us safer by expanding the area in Europe where wars simply do not happen. This is the productive paradox at NATO's heart: By imposing a price on aggression, it deters aggression. By making clear that we will fight, if necessary, to defend our allies, it makes it less likely our troops will ever be called upon to do so.
Now, you may say that no part of Europe faces any immediate threat of armed attack today. That is true. And I would say that the purpose of NATO enlargement is to keep it that way. Senator Vandenberg said it in 1949: "[NATO] is not built to stop a war after it starts, although its potentialities in this regard are infinite. It is built to stop wars before they start."
It is also fair to ask if it is in our vital interest to prevent conflict in central Europe. There are those who imply it is not. I'm sure you have even heard a few people trot out what I call the "consonant cluster clause," the myth that in times of crisis Americans will make no sacrifice to defend a distant city with an unpronounceable name, that we will protect the freedom of Strasbourg but not Szczecin, Barcelona, but not Brno.
Let us not deceive ourselves. The United States is a European power. We have an interest not only in the lands west of the Oder river, but in the fate of the 200 million people who live in the nations between the Baltic and Black Seas. We waged the Cold War in part because these nations were held captive. We fought World War II in part because these nations had been invaded.
Now that these nations are free, we want them to succeed and we want them to be safe, whether they are large or small. For if there were a major threat to the security of their region, if we were to wake up one morning to the sight of cities being shelled and borders being overrun, I am certain that we would choose to act, enlargement or no enlargement. Expanding NATO now is simply the surest way to prevent that kind of threat from arising, and thus the need to make that kind of choice.
Mr. Chairman, the second reason why enlargement passes the test of national interest is that it will make NATO stronger and more cohesive. The Poles, Hungarians and Czechs are passionately committed to NATO and its principles of shared responsibility. Experience has taught them to believe in a strong American leadership role in Europe. Their forces have risked their lives alongside ours from the Gulf War to Bosnia. Just last month, Czech soldiers joined our British allies in securing a police station from heavily armed Bosnian Serb extremists.
Mr. Chairman, I know you have expressed concern that enlargement could dilute NATO by adding too many members and by involving the alliance in too many missions. Let me assure you that we invited only the strongest candidates to join the Alliance. And nothing about enlargement will change NATO's core mission, which is and will remain the collective defense of NATO soil.
At the same time, it is important to remember that NATO has always served a political function as well. It binds our allies to us just as it binds us to our allies. So when you consider the candidacy of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, Mr. Chairman, I ask you to consider this:
When peace is threatened somewhere in the world and we decide it is in our interest to act, here are three nations we have been able to count on to be with us. In the fight against terror and nuclear proliferation, here are three nations we have been able to count on. In our effort to reform the UN, here are three nations we have been able to count on. When we speak out for human rights around the world, here are three nations we will always be able to count on.
Here are three nations that know what it means to lose their freedom and who will do what it takes to defend it. Here are three democracies that are ready to do their dependable part in the common enterprise of our alliance of democracies.
Mr. Chairman, the third reason why a larger NATO serves our interests is that the very promise of it gives the nations of central and eastern Europe an incentive to solve their own problems. To align themselves with NATO, aspiring countries have strengthened their democratic institutions. They have made sure that soldiers serve civilians, not the other way around. They have signed 10 major accords that taken together resolve virtually every old ethnic and border dispute in the region, exactly the kind of disputes that might have led to future Bosnias. In fact, the three states we have invited to join NATO have resolved every outstanding dispute of this type.
I have been a student of central European history and I have lived some of it myself. When I see Romanians and Hungarians building a genuine friendship after centuries of enmity, when I see Poles, Ukrainians and Lithuanians forming joint military units after years of suspicion, when I see Czechs and Germans overcoming decades of mistrust, when I see central Europeans confident enough to improve their political and economic ties with Russia, I know something remarkable is happening.
NATO is doing for Europe's east precisely what it did -- precisely what this Committee predicted it would do -- for Europe's west after World War II. It is helping to vanquish old hatreds, to promote integration and to create a secure environment for economic prosperity. This is another reminder that the contingencies we do not want our troops to face, such as ethnic conflict, border skirmishes, and social unrest are far more easily avoided with NATO enlargement than without it.
In short, a larger NATO will make America safer, NATO stronger, and Europe more peaceful and united. That is the strategic rationale. But I would be disingenuous if I did not tell you that I see a moral imperative as well. For this is a policy that should appeal to our hearts as well as to our heads, to our sense of what is right as well as to our sense of what is smart.
NATO defines a community of interest among the free nations of North America and Europe that both preceded and outlasted the Cold War. America has long stood for the proposition that this Atlantic community should not be artificially divided and that its nations should be free to shape their destiny. We have long argued that the nations of central and eastern Europe belong to the same democratic family as our allies in western Europe.
We often call them "former communist countries," and that is true in the same sense that America is a "former British colony." Yes, the Czechs, Poles, and Hungarians were on the other side of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. But we were surely on the same side in the ways that truly count.
As Americans, we should be heartened today that so many of Europe's new democracies wish to join the institutions Americans did so much to build. They are our friends and we should be proud to welcome them home.
We should also think about what would happen if we were to turn them away. That would mean freezing NATO at its Cold War membership and preserving the old Iron Curtain as its eastern frontier. It would mean locking out a whole group of otherwise qualified democracies simply because they were once, against their will, members of the Warsaw Pact.
Why would America choose to be allied with Europe's old democracies forever, but its new democracies never? There is no acceptable, objective answer to that question. Instead, it would probably be said that we blocked the aspirations of our would-be allies because Russia objected. And that, in turn, could cause confidence to crumble in central Europe, leading to a search for security by other means, including costly arms buildups and competition among neighbors.
We have chosen a better way. We have chosen to look at the landscape of the new Europe and to ask a simple question: Which of these nations that are so clearly important to our security are ready and able to contribute to our security? The answer to that question is before you today, awaiting your affirmation.
I said at the outset, Mr. Chairman, that there are weighty voices on both sides of this debate. There are legitimate concerns with which we have grappled along the way, and that I expect you to consider fully as well. Let me address a few.
First, we all want to make sure that the costs of a larger NATO are distributed fairly. Last February, at the behest of Congress and before the Alliance had decided which nations to invite to membership, the Administration made a preliminary estimate of America's share. Now that we have settled on three candidates, we are working with our allies to produce a common estimate by the December meeting of the North Atlantic Council. At this point, the numbers we agree upon as 16 allies are needed prior to any further calculations made in Washington.
I know you are holding separate hearings in which my Pentagon colleagues will go into this question in detail. But I will say this: I am convinced that the cost of expansion is real but affordable. I am certain our prospective allies are willing and able to pay their share, because in the long run it will be cheaper for them to upgrade their forces within the alliance than outside it. As Secretary of State, I will insist that our old allies share this burden fairly. That is what NATO is all about.
I know there are serious people who estimate that a larger NATO will cost far more than we have anticipated. The key fact about our estimate is that it is premised on the current, favorable security environment in Europe. Obviously, if a grave threat were to arise, the cost of enlargement would rise. But then so would the cost of our entire defense budget.
In any case, there are budgetary constraints in all 16 NATO democracies that will prevent costs from ballooning. That is why the main focus of our discussion, Mr. Chairman, and in our consultations with our allies, needs to be on defining the level of military capability we want our old and new allies to have in this favorable environment, and then making sure that they commit to that level. We should spend no more than we must, but no less than we need to keep NATO strong.
Another common concern about NATO enlargement is that it might damage our cooperation with a democratic Russia. Russian opposition to NATO enlargement is real. But we should see it for what it is: a product of old misperceptions about NATO and old ways of thinking about its former satellites in central Europe. Instead of changing our policies to accommodate Russia's outdated fears, we need to encourage Russia's more modern aspirations.
This means that we should remain Russia's most steadfast champion whenever it seeks to define its greatness by joining rule-based international institutions, opening its markets and participating constructively in world affairs. It means we should welcome Russia's decision to build a close partnership with NATO, as we did in the NATO-Russia Founding Act.
But when some Russian leaders suggest that a larger NATO is a threat, we owe it candor to say that is false -- and to base our policies on what we know to be true. When they imply that central Europe is special, that its nations still are not free to choose their security arrangements, we owe it to candor to say that times have changed, and that no nation can assert its greatness at the expense of its neighbors. We do no favor to Russian democrats and modernizers to suggest otherwise.
I believe our approach is sound and producing results. Over the past year, against the backdrop of NATO enlargement, reformers have made remarkable gains in the Russian government. We have agreed to pursue deeper arms reductions. Our troops have built a solid working relationship on the ground in Bosnia. Russia was our partner at the Summit of the Eight in Denver and it has joined the Paris Club of major international lenders.
What is more, last week in New York we signed documents that should pave the way for the Russian Duma to ratify the START II treaty. While this prospect is still by no means certain, it would become far less so if we gave the Duma any reason to think it could hold up NATO enlargement by holding up START II.
As you know Mr. Chairman, last week, NATO and Russia held the first ministerial meeting of their Permanent Joint Council. This council gives us an invaluable mechanism for building trust between NATO and Russia through dialogue and transparency.
I know that some are concerned NATO's new relationship with Russia will actually go too far. You have asked me for an affirmation, Mr. Chairman, that the North Atlantic Council remains NATO's supreme decision making body. Let me say it clearly: It does and it will. The NATO-Russia Founding Act gives Russia no opportunity to dilute, delay or block NATO decisions. NATO's allies will always meet to agree on every item on their agenda before meeting with Russia. And the relationship between NATO and Russia will grow in importance only to the extent Russia uses it constructively.
The Founding Act also does not limit NATO's ultimate authority to deploy troops or nuclear weapons in order to meet its commitments to new and old members. All it does is to restate unilaterally existing NATO policy: that in the current and foreseeable security environment, we have no plan, no need, and no intention to station nuclear weapons in the new member countries, nor do we contemplate permanently stationing substantial combat forces. The only binding limits on conventional forces in Europe will be set as we adapt the CFE treaty, with central European countries and all the other signatories at the table, and we will proceed on the principle of reciprocity.
Another important concern is that enlargement may create a new dividing line in Europe between a larger NATO and the countries that will not join in the first round. We have taken a range of steps to ensure this does not happen.
President Clinton has pledged that the first new members will not be the last. NATO leaders will consider the next steps in the process of enlargement before the end of the decade. We have strengthened NATO's Partnership for Peace program. We have created a new Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, through which NATO and its democratic partners throughout Europe will shape the missions we undertake together. We have made it clear that the distinction between the nations NATO invited to join in Madrid and those it did not is based purely on objective factors -- unlike the arbitrary line that would divide Europe if NATO stood still.
Among the countries that still aspire to membership, there is enthusiastic support for the process NATO has begun. Had you seen the crowds that cheered the President in Romania in July, had you been with me when I spoke to the leaders of Lithuania and Slovenia, you would have sensed how eager these nations are to redouble their efforts.
They understand a simple fact: With enlargement, no new democracy is permanently excluded; without enlargement, every new democracy would be permanently excluded. The most important thing the Senate can do to reassure them now is to get the ball rolling by ratifying the admission of the first three candidates.
Mr. Chairman, a final concern I wish to address has to do with Bosnia. Some have suggested that our debate on NATO enlargement simply cannot be separated from our actions and decisions in that troubled country. I agree with them. Both enlargement and our mission in Bosnia are aimed at building a stable undivided Europe. Both involve NATO and its new partners to the east.
It was our experience in Bosnia that proved the fundamental premise of our enlargement strategy: there are still threats to peace and security in Europe that only NATO can meet. It was in Bosnia that our prospective allies proved they are ready to take responsibility for the security of others. It was in Bosnia that we proved NATO and Russian troops can work together.
We cannot know today if our mission in Bosnia will achieve all its goals, for that ultimately depends on the choices the Bosnian people will make. But we can say that whatever may happen, NATO's part in achieving the military goals of our mission has been a resounding success. Whatever may happen, our interest in a larger, stronger NATO will endure long after the last foreign soldier has left Bosnia.
We can also say that NATO will remain the most powerful instrument we have for building effective military coalitions such as SFOR. At the same time, Bosnia does not by itself define the future of a larger NATO. NATO's fundamental purpose is collective defense against aggression. Its most important aim, if I can paraphrase Arthur Vandenberg, is to prevent wars before they start so it does not have to keep the peace after they stop.
These are some of the principal concerns I wanted to address today; I know you have many more questions and I look forward to answering them all.
This discussion is just beginning. I am glad that it will also involve other committees of the Senate, the NATO Observers' Group and the House of Representatives. Most important, I am glad it will involve the people of the United States. For the commitment a larger NATO entails will only be meaningful if the American people understand and accept it.
When these three new democracies join NATO in 1999, as I trust they will, it will be a victory for us all, Mr. Chairman. And on that day, we will be standing on the shoulders of many.
We will be thankful to all those who waged the Cold War on behalf of freedom, to all those on both sides of the Iron Curtain who believed that the goal of containment was to bring about the day when the enlargement of our democratic community would be possible.
We will be grateful to all those who championed the idea of a larger NATO -- not just President Clinton, or President Havel, or President Walesa, but members of Congress from both parties who voted for resolutions urging the admission of these three nations. We will owe a debt to the Republican members who made NATO enlargement part of their Contract with America.
Today, all of our allies and future allies are watching you for one simple reason. The American Constitution is unique in the power it grants to the legislative branch over foreign policy, especially over treaties. In this matter, Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, you and the American people you represent are truly in the driver's seat.
That is as it should be. In fact, I enjoy going to Europe and telling our allies: "This is what we want to do, but ultimately, it will be up to our Senate and our people to decide." I say that with pride because it tells them something about America's faith in the democratic process.
But I have to tell you that I say it with confidence as well. I believe that when the time comes for the Senate to decide, Mr. Chairman, you and I and the American people will stand together. For I know that the policy we ask you to embrace is a policy that the Administration and Congress shaped together, and I am certain that it advances the fundamental interests of the United States.
Thank you very much.

[End of Document]

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