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Daily Camera 
Boulder, Colorado 

June 4, 20000 
 La Stampa

Pro-NATO statements undermine future U.S.-Russian relations Mikhail Gorbachev


The statement recently made in Vilnius, Lithuania, by nine countries of Central and Eastern Europe, declaring their firm intention to join NATO, should give us all food for serious thought. One would have to be very naive to believe that a statement of this kind could be an "independent initiative" by the nine: Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Macedonia, Albania, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. At the very least, it was preceded by consultations with the United States.

This gesture came as the West, and Europe in particular, are showing signs of some self-criticism and realism in rethinking last year's events in Kosovo and throughout Yugoslavia. At the Istanbul meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe last December, the role of that body, which brings together all the European countries, the United States and Canada, was re-emphasized. In Russia, those who favor resuming dialogue with the West are beginning to regain ground in the difficult debate on relations with NATO. The Duma has ratified the START II treaty.

In the United States, authoritative voices have been heard in support of a new approach to collective security in Europe, from the Atlantic to Vladivostok. Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser in the Bush administration, has suggested that a council be created within the OSCE to represent common European interests.

At the same time, the Europeans are considering whether to create their own forces for preventing and responding to conflicts. They are thus ready to assume part of the responsibility for European security, not necessarily through NATO.

So, though the negative consequences of last year's war in Yugoslavia are still being felt and there are signs that the crisis in the southern Balkans could even deepen, the overall context seems more positive. Against this background, the "initiative of the nine" looks like a destabilizing operation and a slap in Russia's face.

It appears that Washington is anxious to prevent any revision of the politico-military doctrine adopted at the NATO summit convened a year ago at the very height of the war. The European allies are given to understand that no amendments to that doctrine should be contemplated.

It also appears that no attention would be given to Russia's repeated and strongly worded warnings against continued enlargement of NATO, particularly if it were to include any Baltic states.

Conspicuously, the statement by the nine countries was made 10 days before President Clinton's visit to Moscow, and followed by Russian President Vladimir Putin's first official trip to Europe. The conclusion seems inescapable that Clinton is trying to put pressure on Putin, to influence both his European policies as well as Europe's policies toward the new Russian leader. Surely it must be clear to all that NATO's expansion on such a scale would drive Putin into a political corner.

There could also be another agenda behind this move. As the U.S. presidential campaign heats up, Clinton and Vice President Al Gore seem ready to give a go-ahead to the multibillion-dollar project of building an anti-missile shield, an idea that Europe is reluctant to support. But European objections would be easy to ignore if Clinton could obtain Putin's agreement to the revision of the 1972 U.S.-Soviet anti-ballistic-missile treaty. And to force him to agree, what could be better than dangling an even more serious threat?

Under this hypothesis, the "initiative of the nine" is a kind of trial balloon or bargaining chip to get Russia to go along with the new U.S. missile defense system. If so, it would be a rather cynical use of the fears that are being deliberately stoked in some parts of Europe. This would also be a dangerous and irresponsible game that has nothing in common with the interests of collective security in Europe.

This lopsided logic takes into account only U.S. interests. Instead of facilitating political and economic integration in the European continent, it creates new barriers there. Ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we have to recognize that we are far from the kind of European-wide political cooperation and collective security envisioned when the Charter of Paris was signed in 1990.

Much time has been lost, but it is not too late to rethink the situation. There is a broad, natural opportunity for security cooperation between Russia and the European Union, and with the United States. After all, without the United States, there can be no security anywhere, in Europe or in the rest of the world.

Developing a workable security arrangement requires honest cooperation among all involved. I would expect Putin to say that to Clinton. I would also expect European leaders, who are preparing to meet with Putin, to give serious thought to the road ahead and to their role in relations with Russia. Above all, they should avoid Washington's mistake of forcing upon Russia, by hook or by crook, economic policies that turn out to be disastrous.

Relations between the United States and Russia need a new agenda. It should include security issues, but it should also reach out to find new avenues of economic cooperation, trade and investment. It should include joint efforts to fight international terrorism and consider important issues of relations with the former Soviet republics, now members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. A positive dialogue on all these issues is long overdue.

June 4, 2000