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NATO Enlargement May Cost Less

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 1997 – The cost of NATO enlargement may not be as high as originally estimated, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told legislators Oct. 21.

Cohen, testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the total cost for bringing Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO will be less than the $27 billion to $35 billion range previously announced. The U.S. share was originally set at $2 billion.

DoD, it turns out, had based its cost estimate on four nations entering the alliance "just to be on the safe side," Cohen said. "Well, now we have only three." Cohen had no firm numbers, saying NATO planners will finish a cost study in December. He will present the study conclusions in January or February 1998.

Many committee senators expressed concern about the cost of NATO expansion. The Senate must ratify any changes in the North Atlantic Treaty.

Cohen said the Soviet Union pumped substantial resources into their former republics and Warsaw Pact allies. "We found, for example, ... that the East Germans were far more prepared to go to war on a much quicker basis than we in the West had anticipated," he said, adding the three countries slated for NATO admission are also better prepared than was first thought.

He said Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are not waiting for NATO admission before modernizing their forces, and this, too, will cut down on entry costs for the rest of the alliance. "We're finding the Czech Republic has already taken its own money and spent its resources on digitizing their communications system," he said.

The interoperability problems between the three nations and NATO also may be less complicated than originally thought. Cohen said defense planners originally thought F-16s could not operate on Hungarian airfields. However, a Dutch F-16 squadron used Hungarian facilities with few problems. This indicates NATO and the countries may be able to spend less on infrastructure changes.

Finally, NATO will change the priority of some programs to shift funds to help the three new nations enter the alliance.

"But whatever the costs for enlargement, I think we also have to calculate what are the costs for failing to enlarge," he said. "What are the costs if we were to reject these three countries from coming in?

"President Eisenhower said, 'A soldier's pack is not as heavy as a prisoner's chains.' And that is something these three countries have endured for too many decades," Cohen said. "They have had to carry around the weight of prisoners' chains. They now have an opportunity to join the most successful military institution in the history of the world and to secure their security, and to promote their prosperity and their stability. That is in our vital interest, and we ought to ratify for those reasons alone."

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