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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Won't Make Eastern Europe Stable

As U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright proceeds on her nine-nation round the world tour, two separate and powerful perceptions are beginning to distort her task. One is that the current arguments with Russia about enlarging NATO are missing a very fundamental point. The other is the shock about what old cold warriors are calling "Red Gold," and new ones see as a curious revival of the yellow peril.


The Clinton administration's fund-raising scandal has taken a dramatic new turn, with allegations that the Justice Department is investigating the secret role of the Beijing government in helping to finance President Bill Clinton's re-election.


Citing Justice Department sources based on electronic eavesdropping and the evident involvement of U.S. intelligence, The Washington Post claims that "representatives of the People's Republic of China sought to direct contributions from foreign sources to Democratic National Committee before the 1996 presidential election."


What had been a federal probe into improper political fund-raising has become a far more serious and politically ominous counterintelligence inquiry.


The question now hangs over one of the most delicate relationships in U.S. foreign policy, with Albright's imminent Beijing visit about to be followed by a crucial summit of Vice President Al Gore and Clinton with China's Jiang Zemin this summer.


This fuss will reverberate for months, in congressional hearings as well as FBI and Justice Department inquiries. It threatens to derail the Clinton adminstration's grandiose hopes to cajole China in a cooperative new economic and security system in the Asia-Pacific region.


This disturbance coincides with another difficulty, which threatens the other big foreign policy of the second term, NATO enlargement. Last week, Albright advanced an interesting new argument in her congressional testimony.


"There are only two real alternatives to enlargement. We could replace the alliance with a lowest-common-denominator NATO that includes everyone and imposes obligations on no one. That would devalue and degrade NATO," she said. "Or we could delay enlargement indefinitely, freezing NATO's membership along its old Cold War frontier. That would create not only a permanent injustice, but also a permanent source of tension and insecurity in the heart of Europe."


The real problem about Europe is that enlarging NATO is a poor second to enlarging the European Union, if the goal is to complete the 1940s vision of the Marshall Plan, and erase Munich and Yalta and the Iron Curtain from the guilty memory of the Atlantic alliance.


The current policy choice, enlarging NATO, extends a brittle security to new members. Only the option of enlarging the European Union offers the economic prosperity that will make the security self-sustaining and buttress it with the political support that fragile democracies in Eastern Europe require.


The enlargement of the EU is not in America's power. But without EU membership, the NATO members of East Europe face a fate as grimly impoverished and second-rate as that of Turkey, a NATO member kept out of the real European club. The real 21st century nightmare for Europe would be an enlarged NATO facing a hostile Russia while the border nations remain poor, disgruntled and politically unstable.