Let no one accuse Madeleine Albright of diffidence in her new job. Her first venture abroad as secretary of state is taking her to nine countries in 10 days, and her date book is filled not with courtesy calls but discussions of the issues that are most likely to demand her time in the months and years ahead. Western Europe and Russia, China, Japan and South Korea are on the itinerary, with each stop a challenge. More than a mettle-testing trip, this journey could be of prime importance in setting the tone of U.S. relations with key nations, allied and otherwise, in a time of transition.
No meeting is likely to be more significant than Albright’s scheduled talks in Moscow on Thursday with President Boris Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov. The main topic will be NATO’s projected expansion eastward, to embrace Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. These former members of the Moscow-dominated Warsaw Pact are expected to be invited in July to join the alliance, with actual membership probable in 1999. A Russia whose history has left it eternally suspicious of foreign threats, real and otherwise, continues to ask why a NATO created to counter Soviet aggressiveness feels the need to expand now that this danger no longer exists.
In the current Economist, Albright seeks to make the case for NATO’s enlargement and at the same time to assuage Moscow’s concerns. The new NATO’s emphasis, she writes, is on vanquishing old hatreds in Europe, promoting economic and political integration and deterring Bosnia-style violence. None of this can be seen as bad for Russia. On the contrary, a broader NATO that would foster stability in Europe by including its new democracies would be of great benefit to Moscow.
Russian leaders continue to resist this argument. Whether their minds can be changed could depend heavily on just what NATO’s proposed “partnership” with Russia ends up looking like. “Russia,” Albright writes, “has a strategic opportunity to secure its interests in an integrated Europe.” That at least is the perception in the West. Whether Albright can help change the view from Moscow is now the question. More than a mettle-testing trip, this journey could be of prime importance in setting the tone of U.S. relations with key nations in a time of transition.