Cohen Presents Case for NATO Expansion
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 11, 1997 America cannot be at peace if Europe is at war, and to prevent war in Europe, America must stay engaged on the Continent, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen recently told the American Legion.
Addressing the Legionnaires at their annual meeting Sept. 4 in Orlando, Fla., he thanked them for supporting NATO expansion. He called the addition of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to the North Atlantic Alliance a serious step.
"[Adding the countries] means committing our most precious resources, the lives of our men and women, to defend these new nations of Europe," he said.
He said Americans should debate the proposal, but also said he is confident adding these countries makes sense from both alliance and American points of view.
Cohen said critics contend making NATO larger will weaken the alliance. "I would argue to the contrary," he said. "A larger NATO means a wider allegiance to our values. And those of you who have served shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies in the world wars know the power of military alliances in defeating a common enemy."
Critics also contend Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland are not ready for NATO membership. He assured the veterans these countries want to contribute to the security of Europe. Cohen said the countries have already demonstrated their readiness to aid NATO through their involvement in Bosnia and in the Partnership for Peace program. He pointed to the countries spending money to upgrade their military forces to NATO standards.
"These nations are building stable democracies with free societies and free markets and modern militaries under civilian leadership," Cohen said. "They are making a remarkable recovery from decades of domination, and now they want to return to their rightful places as equal partners in the European family of free nations. We need them, and they need us."
Some critics say enlarging NATO will create a new Iron Curtain -- albeit farther east -- and needlessly antagonize Russia, Cohen said. He said that far from dividing Europe, the prospect of inclusion in NATO has encouraged nations to settle longstanding border disputes and other controversies.
"Old rivals have settled their historic disputes, and they have struck these new accords and arrangements," Cohen said. "Poland and Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, Hungary and Romania, Italy and Slovenia, Germany and the Czech Republic -- they all healed border disputes and other kinds of controversies that in the past have erupted into war and resulted in American troops being sent to Europe to fight and die."
Cohen mentioned the charters NATO has signed with Russia and Ukraine as evidence the alliance is being inclusive and avoiding a division in Europe. U.S. and Russian peacekeepers working together in Bosnia, U.S.-Russian observation flights over each other's territory and training exercises on each other's territory also work to keep Russia included, he said.
"Finally, those who oppose NATO enlargement claim it is going to cost too much," he said. "This argument ignores the fact that alliances save money because they promote cooperation, interoperability and they reduce redundancy. Simply put, it costs America less to defend our interests in Europe if Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are in alliance with us."
Cohen estimated the U.S. cost of NATO expansion over the next decade will be less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the Defense Department budget. "The costs of enlarging NATO are meager when weighed against the cost of rejection, which will be measured not just in dollars, but potentially in lives if we fail to expand this circle of security and risk setting the stage for future European instability or aggression."
Cohen said not expanding NATO will squander an opportunity that comes only once a generation. "We can listen to the voices of the 1920s that led America to retreat from Europe and allowed the seeds of war to take root," he said. "Or we can heed the voices of [General of the Army] George Marshall and his colleagues, our World War II veterans and the succeeding postwar generations that rejected isolationism and have reaped the fruits of peace and freedom."