With the three candidates cheering her on, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright advised the Senate on Monday to move quickly to expand the NATO military alliance eastward toward Russia.
She flatly rejected calls for delay from two former senators and a one-time White House national security adviser.
In a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, a private research group, Albright said delay would harm U.S. national security interests and diminish the likelihood of Central and Eastern European countries cooperating with the United States.
“Some critics have said NATO enlargement would draw a destabilizing dividing line in Europe,” Albright said. “A larger NATO with an open door will not. One round of enlargement with a mandated pause would.”
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is set to take in the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary in April 1999 if the Senate approves. A vote is expected in the next month or two.
Albright said the door would be left open to other countries as well, but she did not say when additional applications would be considered.
In the meantime, a pause has been suggested by former Sens. Howard Baker, R-Tenn., and Sam Nunn, D-Ga.; Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser in the Ford and Bush administrations; and Alton Frye of the Council on Foreign Relations.
They proposed linking NATO admission to the European Union, which is considering taking in the three prospective NATO members and three other European countries. That approach, they said, would underscore the connection between security and economics.
Also, taking in former Soviet allies now causes friction with Russia, making it harder for the United States and Russia to work together on other fronts, Baker, Nunn, Scowcroft and Frye contended.
“A military alliance is not a club, and the administration’s rhetoric and policy risk converting NATO into an organization in which obligations are diluted and action is enfeebled,” they wrote recently.
But Albright said Senate approval of NATO expansion “will be a vote for continued American engagement in Europe. It will be a signal that America will defend its values, protect its interests, stand by its allies and keep its word.”
In a seminar on NATO, the Polish, Czech and Hungarian foreign ministers were enthusiastic about their countries joining the alliance which was formed initially to contain the Soviet Union.
Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek said NATO enlargement would demonstrate that communism has been defeated and freedom has been established in Central Europe.
“All nations in the region should be grateful to the United States” for helping bring this about, he said.