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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

More NATO Is Better

NATO enlargement is not taking place in response to a new Russian threat. It is motivated by the imperative of creating an integrated Europe -- one that includes, not excludes, Russia. The purpose of enlargement is to give Central and Eastern Europe, a region whose future stability is key to the future of Europe as a whole, the same kind of security that has become commonplace in Western Europe. Russia, no less than the rest of us, needs stability and prosperity in the center of Europe.

I recognize that many Russian leaders express opposition to NATO enlargement. Yet the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that Russia claims to oppose bears little resemblance to the alliance we are actually building. NATO's conventional and nuclear forces have been dramatically reduced. We have no plan, no need and no intention to station nuclear weapons on the territory of new members. NATO's actions over the past six years reveal an alliance focused on building cooperation, not confrontation; an alliance working shoulder-to-shoulder with Russia -- as it is in Bosnia -- not trying to isolate it.

We recognize that Europe cannot finally be whole and free until a democratic Russia is fully part of Europe. Now we hope that Russians will recognize that their suspicions about NATO and its enlargement are misplaced. After all, if Russia wishes to be part of an undivided Europe, then it cannot look at countries like Poland or Estonia or Ukraine as a buffer zone that separates Russia from Europe.

It is a mistake to think that the fate of Russian democracy is somehow at stake in the enlargement debate. Russia's future as a free and prosperous nation will depend upon the ability of its leaders and citizens to build an open society, to defeat crime and corruption, to spark economic growth and spread its benefits. The Russian people know that their future will be written in Moscow, in Perm, in Irkutsk -- and certainly not in Brussels. Poll after poll has shown that few ordinary Russians express concern about an alliance that many of their leaders concede poses no actual military threat to the country.

It would not be in our interest to delay or derail enlargement in response to the claims of some Russians that this constitutes an offensive act. Doing so would only encourage the worst political tendencies in Moscow. It would send a message that confrontation with the West pays off. Waiting to integrate Central and Eastern Europe's new democracies would do nothing to help Russian democracy. It would make it harder, not easier, to create the kind of NATO-Russia relationship we are striving for today.

NATO has proposed defining that partnership in a charter with Russia. The charter would establish clear principles and arrangements for consultation, co-operation and joint action in peacekeeping, defense and arms control, nuclear safety, non-proliferation and emergency relief. It would establish a permanent NATO-Russia joint council. We want Russia and our other partners to participate in NATO's Combined Joint Task Forces, which will allow us to respond to crises together. We want Russian officers to help plan the missions we jointly undertake. As a nation not bound by NATO decisions, Russia would have no veto. But its voice would be sought and heard.

We are also negotiating to update the treaty governing Conventional Forces in Europe, which limits military deployments throughout the continent. We invite the Russians to join us in an agreement that will lower levels of forces and promote stability and transparency on the continent. This can assure Russia that NATO enlargement will not result in any major build-up of NATO forces along its borders. Indeed, it can ensure there is no destabilizing concentration of military equipment anywhere in Europe.

I approach these challenges, and all the challenges we face in Europe over the next few years, with confidence. And why not? For half a century now, Europeans and Americans have worked together to shape events, instead of being shaped by them.

Today's Europe stands in such stark contrast to the Europe I knew as a child after World War II. For those who were not there, it must be hard to imagine the days of Franco, Tito and Stalin, the refugees, the hunger, the constant fear that peace was just an interlude, the Europe Winston Churchill described as "a rubble heap, a charnel house, a breeding ground for pestilence and hate." Thank heaven leaders like Marshall, Monnet, Bevin and Adenauer had the fortitude to make the hard and controversial decisions needed to build the institutions that gave us 50 years of peace and prosperity. Now it's our turn.

President Clinton observed in his state-of-the-union address that a child born today will have almost no memory of the 20th century. Just the same, the children of the transatlantic community who are born today have the chance to grow up knowing a very different Europe. In that new Europe they will know Checkpoint Charlie only as a museum, Yalta as just a provincial city in a sovereign Ukraine, Sarajevo as a peaceful mountain resort in the heart of Europe. The children of the next century will come of age knowing a very different NATO -- one that masses its energies on behalf of integration, rather than massing its forces on the borders of division.

All this is possible if -- and it is not a big if -- we act now to strengthen the arrangements that have served half of Europe so well for so long and to extend them to new partners and allies. Then, having come together, we will be able to concentrate on what we must do together. That is a goal worth every measure of our common effort.

Madeleine Albright is U.S. Secretary of State. This comment is an extract. Copyright, The Economist, London (Feb.15-21).