Russia Hopes to Join NATO
Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin, in a letter that surprised the inaugural session of a new grouping of former East-West enemies, declared Friday that Russia hopes to join NATO as part of a “long-term political aim.”
The Russian leader informed the meeting of the new North Atlantic Cooperation Council, a group of foreign ministers from East and West nations, that he fully supports efforts “to create a new system of security from Vancouver to Vladivostok.”
His statement was presented to the first meeting of ministers from the 16 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the six former Warsaw Pact adversaries and the three Baltic republics.
The proposal for Russia to join NATO was cautiously received on what Western officials emphasized was an epic day.
“When I took office as secretary general of the alliance,” said NATO’s Manfred Woerner, “I could not receive the ambassadors of any Central or Eastern countries in our headquarters; 3 1/2 years later, here we are, sitting around the same table.
“If ever history witnessed a profound turnaround,” he said, “this is such a unique moment, a moment not only of high symbolic, but also of eminent practical value. Europe will not be the same after our meeting today.”
Woerner added that “what yesterday seemed only a bold vision--a Europe, whole and free--today is becoming reality.”
Secretary of State James A. Baker III said the session of the cooperation council, created at the Rome NATO summit, is “a commitment to strengthen and expand the Euro-Atlantic community--to deepen it, to widen it. For 40 years, we stood apart from one another as two opposing blocs. Now, history has given us the opportunity to erase those blocs, to join together in a common circle built on shared universal and democratic values.”
In his message to the group, delivered by the Soviet ambassador to Belgium, Yeltsin also said that Russia and the new members of the Commonwealth of Independent States “guaranteed” their adherence to all arms control and other commitments made by the “former U.S.S.R.”
In responding to the Yeltsin suggestion that NATO’s former chief antagonist be eventually admitted to the Western Alliance, Woerner declared: “Nothing is excluded. We will take it into account. There is time enough to develop the relationship.”
But other Western ministers were cautious.
“If you do it for Russia, you also have to do it for the other republics,” Belgian Foreign Minister Mark Eyskens said. “For NATO, there is a danger of dilution.”
Canadian Foreign Minister Barbara McDougall said of Russia’s admission to NATO, “It’s not something for the immediate future,” a sentiment echoed by British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, who added: “It’s a long way off. It won’t be on the actual agenda for a bit of time to come.”
In Rome, Yeltsin said his country’s membership in NATO is a “hypothetical thesis” that could occur only after “much vaster and much more radical” strategic arms reductions.
Yeltsin’s raising the question of Russian membership in NATO was Moscow’s first such exploratory move. It followed similar membership inquiries by the Soviet Union’s former East European satellites. They have been informed that, for the moment, a “liaison” role with NATO is as much as the alliance can offer.
Meantime, several of the former East Bloc nations, notably Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, expressed concern Friday that ethnic warfare in Yugoslavia, and possibly along their eastern borders, could threaten their security.
But the cooperation council’s declaration, issued at the meeting’s end, reminded potential aggressors that European security is “indivisible and the security of each of our states is inextricably linked” to that of all European countries and the United States.
The move to bring former Warsaw Pact countries into a closer relationship with NATO began at the London summit in the summer of 1990 and was formalized--in terms of ministerial meetings--at last month’s NATO meeting in Rome.
The outbreak of civil war in Yugoslavia and the inability of European countries to do much about it, as well as the dissolution of the Soviet Union, has caused widespread concern. But some of the East Europeans here expressed satisfaction with their new NATO connection.
Asked if he feared a “security vacuum” in Central and Eastern Europe, and whether Friday’s meeting did anything to allay it, Polish Foreign Minister Krzysztof Skubiszewski declared: “This is an important step forward in increasing our sense of security over crises that might arise in Central Europe,” adding that the new identity with NATO might have a “constraining effect” on anyone instigating such a crisis.
He noted, “I don’t think NATO’s inability to stop a civil war in Yugoslavia militates against its contribution to our security.”
And Czechoslovakia’s Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier quipped: “I don’t feel more secure at 12 today than at 8 this morning. We made further steps today. We’re satisfied.”
Estonia’s Foreign Minister Lennart Meri said, “We see the role of the (cooperation council) as a political forum which could remove those barriers which could paralyze the efficiency of NATO in a real crisis.”
Their comments were backed up by Baker’s remark that the council “could play a role in controlling crises in Europe,” an idea that NATO’s Woerner affirmed, saying, “An attack on neighboring countries would create a very serious situation for all our member countries.”
Woerner also backed Baker’s remarks Thursday that it might be not be bad for Russia to retain some kind of nuclear arsenal as a deterrent, perhaps, Woerner said, against a “Third World country.”