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Larger NATO Safeguards American Interests

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 2, 1997 – For half a century, Central and Eastern Europe were forbidden lands rarely visited by Americans. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, freedom and democracy swept through the former communist bloc. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and others are now rejoining the Western world, seeking prosperity, stability and security.

NATO, the 16-nation security alliance that has kept peace in Western Europe since the end of World War II, is about to invite candidates from Central and Eastern Europe to join the alliance. To American forces this will mean a commitment to defend new members as they would the old.

"NATO enlargment requires that we extend to new members our alliance's solemn security pledge, to treat an attack against one as an attack against all," President Clinton said May 31 during commencement at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

"In the years ahead," the president told graduates, "it means that you could be asked to put your lives on the line for a new NATO member, just as today you can be called upon to defend the freedom of our allies in Western Europe."

NATO is scheduled to invite candidates to join the 16-nation security alliance at a summit in Madrid in July. America must be prepared to do its part to support NATO enlargement, Clinton said. Over the next decade, NATO expansion will cost the United States about $200 million a year, he said, but the benefit to American security will outweigh the burden.

Europe and America's fates are linked, Clinton said. Twice in the last century, American troops gave their lives in wars that began in Europe, he said.

"Taking wise steps now to strengthen our common security ... will help to build a future without the mistakes and divisions of the past, and will enable us to organize ourselves to meet the new security challenges of the new century," Clinton said. "In this task, NATO should be our sharpest sword and strongest shield."

Enlarging NATO will strengthen the alliance's ability to deal with common conflicts, Clinton said. He cited operations in Bosnia as an example where NATO and non-NATO members are contributing troops to the peacekeeping mission. "The new democracies we invite to join NATO are ready and able to share the burdens of defending freedom in no small measure because they know the cost of losing freedom," he said.

A larger NATO will help secure European democracy, he said. "NATO can do for Europe's East what it did for Europe's West at the end of World War II -- provide a secure climate where freedom, democracy and prosperity can flourish," he said. Membership will give newly emerging democracies "the confidence to stay the course."

Enlarging NATO will also encourage future members to resolve differences peacefully, thereby preventing the need for U.S. troops to serve in conflicts across the Atlantic, Clinton said. NATO helped settle differences between France and Germany, and between Greece and Turkey, he said.

"Already the very prospect of NATO membership has helped to convince countries in Central Europe to settle more than half a dozen border and ethnic disputes, any one of which could have led to future conflicts," Clinton said.

Expanding NATO, along with Partnership for Peace and NATO's new partnership with Russia, will "erase the artificial line in Europe that Stalin drew and bring Europe together in security, not keep it apart in instability," he said.

NATO expansion is aimed at unifying Europe, Clinton said. "NATO's first members should not be its last. NATO's doors will remain open to all those willing and able to shoulder the responsibilities of members, and we must continue to strengthen our partnerships with nonmembers," he said.

The benefits of NATO enlargement outweigh the burden, Clinton said. "Strengthening NATO for the future, locking in democracy's gains in Central Europe, building stability across the Atlantic, uniting Europe, not dividing it -- these gains decisively outweigh the burdens," he said. "The bottom line to me is clear: Expanding NATO will enhance our security. It is the right thing to do."

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