WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted overwhelmingly last night to expand NATO, born in 1949 as a bulwark against communism in Europe, to include three of its former Warsaw Pact foes: Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The vote was 80-19.
Adding three countries to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization requires the approval of all 16 existing NATO members. Once President Clinton formally ratifies the resolution, the United States would become the fifth country to support the measure, joining Canada, Germany, Denmark and Norway.
Enlarging NATO would redraw Europe's defensive boundaries, pushing the military alliance 400 miles eastward toward Russia. Perhaps most important for the United States, an expanded NATO commits U.S. forces to the defense of Prague, Warsaw and Budapest, as if they were Washington, London or Paris.
Supporters said that expanding NATO will promote U.S. security interests by nurturing new democracies in Europe, providing a hedge against a resurgent Russia, and bolstering the alliance's ranks by 200,000 troops, many trained in specialties like detecting poison gas on the battlefield.
"NATO enlargement will make Europe more stable and America more secure," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat. "It means future generations of Americans will not have to fight or die in Europe."
Both senators from Maryland, Mikulski and Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes, voted for the measure.
Critics contend that expanding the pact will dilute NATO's self-defense mission, antagonize Russia, jeopardize Russian-U.S. arms-control negotiations and draw a new dividing line -- a new Iron Curtain -- across Europe.
"We'll be back on a hair-trigger," said Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat, warning that enlargement would rekindle the Cold War. "We're talking about nuclear war."
Sen. John Ashcroft, a Missouri Republican who opposed NATO expansion, called last night's action "treaty creep."
Expanding NATO has become one of the biggest foreign-policy issues before Congress in decades. It also hands a victory to Clinton, whose administration has lobbied hard over the past year to win entry for the three new members.
The Senate's approval leaves several questions unanswered. How many of the nine other nations seeking NATO membership will be invited to join, and when? How much will expanding NATO cost the United States?
The Pentagon estimates Washington's tab will be $400 million over 10 years. But that counts only contributions toward NATO's "common fund," which pays for maintaining the alliance's headquarters in Belgium and other shared facilities and equipment.
The United States will also continue to subsidize billions of dollars of sophisticated military equipment sold to the fledgling NATO members so they can meet NATO's stringent Western military requirements.
On the Senate floor yesterday, senators dismissed major amendments that would have tacked conditions on to this and any future rounds of expansion.
A proposal to delay consideration of any new members beyond the three under review was rejected 59-41. Of the more than a dozen amendments offered by critics of expansion, the White House feared this one the most.
"What is the threat that would justify the expansion of NATO?" said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat. "Let's pause and try to understand what all this will cost, what exactly is the threat."
Sen. John W. Warner, a Virginia Republican who sponsored the measure, said that pressure to name new candidates will be "unrelenting" when the opportunity arises at NATO's 50th anniversary celebration summit in Washington next spring.
"The bugles will sound, the march will be to bring in other nations," said Warner. "This amendment would avoid the stampede."
But opponents said the measure would send the wrong message to Eastern European countries striving toward democracy.
"They would suppose, and not incorrectly, that the United States is slamming the door shut" on their chances for NATO membership," said Sen. William V. Roth Jr., a Delaware Republican.
The Senate also defeated, by a vote of 80-20, an amendment by Sen. Larry E. Craig, an Idaho Republican, to require Clinton to allow Congress to formally approve the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina before the United States formally ratifies the treaty expansion.
Pub Date: 5/01/98