Saber-Rattling by Republicans Is Ill-Advised : Instead of expanding NATO eastward, give priority to a conservative plan for Europe.


In determining their November vote, most Americans probably paid little regard to foreign military policy, except perhaps to feel that the Republicans would display a surer grasp of American interests than would the Clinton Administration.

It is still early, but the warning signs are already flashing: The initial pronouncements of senior Republicans on such subjects as Bosnia, NATO and North Korea contain all too much political posturing unrelated to real events on the ground. If this continues, we may be headed back to the dark days of early Clintonism when big talk made do for clear-headed analysis.

This will disturb anyone who hoped that the Republicans would set about restoring America’s reputation and influence.


Leaving aside some of the more reckless statements about an all-out bombing campaign against Serbia and saber-rattling about overturning the nuclear agreement with North Korea, the most serious issue revolves around NATO and the future of European security. The disarray at the meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe earlier this month demonstrates that a dangerous security vacuum exists in Europe. Given that two world wars have started in Europe, it is very much in American interests that new and credible security structures fill that vacuum. This is precisely where Republican realism is most needed--and, alas, where it is most lacking.

Instead of forcing the Administration and the Europeans to make the necessary hard decisions, the Republicans are abetting the game of Washington and European make-believe. If, as some argue, Russia is re-emerging as a potential threat, this is the very worst way to proceed.

To deter aggression, Europe requires what the French call “hard” security--cast-iron guarantees that, in certain circumstances, military forces will be available to honor treaty obligations. Throughout the Cold War, the Soviets knew beyond doubt that the United States would respond massively to any attack on NATO.

Compare this to the situation today. As a response to security jitters in Central Europe, NATO proposes to expand eastward. This means that American GIs would be called on to defend the eastern borders of Poland and Hungary. Not only does this entail new commitments against a potentially resurgent Russia, but, just as likely, it would draw the United States into the murky arena of Central European ethnic rivalries. Just when public opinion strongly rejects foreign entanglements, the American global cop would be given a new precinct to patrol.

If this is to be a “hard” commitment, the implications are enormous: a massive increase in defense spending; a return to Cold War levels of 300,000 American troops in Europe and a reversal in the public sentiment against American casualties in ambiguous causes. Unless these conditions are fulfilled, the new obligations will not be worth the paper they are written on--any more than were British and French pre-World War II guarantees to Czechoslovakia.

This produces a situation in Europe whereby nations think that they enjoy security, but in practical fact do not, which can lead to disastrous miscalculation.


None of this is unknown to experienced Republican foreign-policy experts. Yet instead of insisting that the Administration come clean with the American people, the Republicans are conniving in the pretense that American resources and American lives remain available to sort out Europe’s problems. Aggressors everywhere know that this is not true. And so the European security vacuum remains dangerously unfilled and ominously ready to suck in American combat forces.

The way around this dilemma is to forget talk of NATO expansion and, in its place, work toward a new European security system on a continent-wide basis. The great American achievement after World War II was to re-integrate Germany into the West European family of nations. Today’s challenge lies in developing a system to perform that task for Russia. Unilateral American efforts cannot accomplish this. Instead, the United States should focus on strengthening structures like the CSCE, the West European Union and the Franco-German Eurocorps.

The Republicans are ideally placed to restore American credibility. Their philosophy of limited government and matching resources to objectives puts them in tune with public opinion. This will enable them to re-create the consensus under which U.S. commitments meant what they said.

Honesty in foreign policy may not win many short-term votes, but--dare one say it?--may be good for the national interest.