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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Loses on NATO

On the surface, the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton seems entitled to claim a policy triumph after the signing of the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and Russia. The president has fulfilled his promise to enlarge the Atlantic alliance without spoiling relations with Moscow.

But the Clinton administration's diplomatic victory came at a major price. A move originally intended to bring new central European democracies into NATO has become what is correctly called "a historic transformation'' of the alliance in the agreement signed by NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov. But is the transformation going so far that we are essentially destroying NATO in order to enlarge it?

Statements from Moscow certainly provide grounds for concern. Not only pro-reform politicians but even Gennady Seleznyov, the Communist speaker of the Russian Duma, have praised the founding act for accommodating Russia. And Moscow's interpretations of the accord go far beyond its official language.

For example, Vladimir Lukin, the Duma Foreign Affairs Committee chairman and a former ambassador to Washington, has said that the founding act amounts to an absolute ban on the stationing of nuclear weapons on the new members' territory. Such an unconditional ban -- rejected by NATO in favor of saying that the alliance doesn't foresee having a need to deploy nuclear weapons in those states -- would essentially relegate new members to permanent second-class status.

More ominously, Russian President Boris Yeltsin has declared that the founding act provides Moscow with a veto over NATO decisions. As the Russian president puts it, "Decisions [in NATO] can be taken only by consensus. If Russia is against some decision, it means this decision will not go through."

The Clinton administration continues to insist that Russia is gaining a voice -- but not a veto -- in NATO deliberations; Clinton dismisses Yeltsin's far-reaching interpretation of the accord as directed at Russian domestic audiences. However, as the accord is a political statement rather than a legally binding treaty, the publicly declared expectations of the Russian president -- and the Russian parliament, to which Yeltsin will submit the agreement -- cannot be treated lightly. They will inevitably create pressure on NATO to be sensitive to Russian concerns or risk precisely the estrangements that the accord was designed to avoid. So, ironically, before any new members have even been invited to join the North Atlantic alliance, Russia has already gained unprecedented input into NATO discussions through the newly created NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council.

NATO will, of course, still be entitled to say "no.'' But looking ahead to the fanfare with which the new NATO-Russia relationship is to be announced in Paris on Tuesday -- with both presidents Clinton and Yeltsin in attendance -- it is safe to predict that from now on Russia will become a heavy presence in NATO deliberations.

From the very beginning, Moscow took the position that NATO enlargement was no problem so long as the alliance changed its name and its character. On the name issue, Clinton courageously prevailed. But on the alliance's character -- as Lukin observed -- Russia got the best possible deal.

This is particularly true as the new relationship with NATO enshrined in the founding act is not the only gift given to Moscow to persuade the Russian leadership to kindly agree to NATO exercising its right -- and the right of the sovereign states of central Europe -- to expand the alliance.

By inviting Russia to participate in additional discussions of the G-7 group of industrial nations, the Clinton administration is giving totally unwarranted status as a major industrial democracy. It is an insult to common sense to treat a collapsed economy run by a corrupt oligarchy as a de facto G-7 member with a major role in deliberations on promoting democracy and assistance to poor nations -- just months after Russia concluded (only after defeat on the battlefield) a war in Chechnya no less brutal than anything seen in Bosnia.

And a greater G-7 role is not the only gift: Among numerous additional sweeteners in the deal, Russia has also been promised membership in the Paris Club of creditor nations, to which Moscow still owes tens of billions of dollars.

Russia today is not a serious threat to the United States. And despite Russia's continuing troubles, semi-authoritarian rule and atrocities in Chechnya, there are good reasons to treat Russia with the attention and respect due to any potential major power.

Nevertheless, while we may not be able to stop Russian corruption, we are not obliged to subsidize it by increasing U.S. aid, as has been proposed by the Clinton administration. And there is a difference between appropriate sensitivity to Russia's legitimate security concerns and giving Moscow influence over NATO decisions far greater than most actual NATO members can hope to enjoy.

Dimitri K. Simes is the president of the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom and is a special correspondent for Newsday, for which he prepared this comment.