Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger frequently writes for The Times

The Clinton administration should be applauded for braving both domestic and Russian opposition in urging the admission of new members into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. At the same time, the Founding Act between Russia and NATO seeks to reconcile Russia by diluting the Atlantic Alliance into a U.N.-style system of collective security.

The distinction is not, as President Bill Clinton keeps asserting, a legacy of the Cold War but crucial to the future of the Atlantic area. An alliance defines a territory to be defended and sets up military machinery to resist aggression. A system of collective security defines neither the territory to be defended nor the means for doing so; it is a judicial concept. The threat to peace is not defined. Decisions about it are made through consultations, in which the nation posing the threat participates. The United Nations has never succeeded in imposing peace on reluctant parties because of the congenital defect of collective security: When all the participants agree, there is no need for it; when they split, it is useless.

The language of the Founding Act is that of collective security, not of alliance. Article 2 speaks of the parties’ “shared commitment to build a stable, peaceful and undivided Europe, whole and free.” Article 6 refers to the parties’ “allegiance to shared values, commitments and norms of behavior.”


At the signing ceremony for the Founding Act, Clinton spoke in similar terms. The alliance, he said, no longer envisages resistance to a hostile bloc but is designed “to advance the security of every democracy in Europe, NATO’s old members, new members and nonmembers alike.” If there is no distinction between members and nonmembers, what remains of the alliance?

The words “common defense” apparently proved so offensive to their commitment to collective security that the drafters of the Founding Act could not bring themselves to invoke them and used instead, and only once, the euphemism “commitments undertaken in the Washington Treaty,” which created NATO in 1949. But they did not specify the nature of these commitments.

This view is assuredly not shared by the new members, which are seeking to participate in NATO for reasons quite the opposite of what the Founding Act describes--not to erase dividing lines but to position themselves inside a guaranteed territory by shifting the existing NATO boundaries some 300 miles to the east.

In the blissful collective-security world of the Founding Act, Article 4 lists “peacekeeping” and “crisis management” as the primary NATO functions, implying global missions not specifically related to the Atlantic region. Article 5 achieves an illusory congruence by listing the same functions as among Russia’s primary policy aims.

None of this reflects reality. Russia has maintained two divisions on the territory of sovereign Georgia, troops in Tajkistan and is fueling the Armenian-Azeri conflict with massive arms deliveries to Armenia. Are these activities to be endorsed as peacekeeping and crisis management within the meaning of the Founding Act?

Since the Founding Act seeks to transform the Euro-Atlantic area into one without a special status, it subordinates NATO to a host of existing international institutions. The United Nations is described as having the “primary responsibility” for international security, and the Organization for Security in Europe (OSCE) as the “inclusive and comprehensive organization for consultation, decision-making and cooperation in its area” (Article 10). Article 27 provides that “any action undertaken by the Russian Federation or NATO, together or separately (emphasis added), must be consistent with the U.N. Charter and OSCE’s governing principles.” If this becomes the operating principle, Russia can always insist that all NATO actions, even in the traditional NATO theater of operations, will have to be reviewed by institutions where Russia has a seat.


The most worrisome aspects of the Founding Act are its provisions on the consultative machinery. Article 12 calls into being, side by side with existing NATO institutions, a new Permanent Joint Council composed of the same ambassadors who form the existing NATO Council, plus a Russian full member. Article 15 designates the council as the (emphasis added) principal venue for crisis consultation between Russia and NATO. If Poland, for example, feels threatened by Russia, it will have to appeal first to the Permanent Joint Council. Similarly, according to the letter of Article 15, Russia could have insisted that the Gulf War be brought to the Permanent Joint Council where, as the Founding Act repeatedly states, decisions are made by consensus. Hence, Russia has a veto no matter how often administration spokesmen repeat that “Russia has a voice, not a veto.”

It will be argued that if the Permanent Council deadlocks, the regular NATO Council remains free to perform its historic functions. That is true in theory, but will not work in practice in all but the most extreme cases. Since, except for the Russian representatives, the membership is identical, each country will assess the grave step of meeting without a Russian presence in terms of its overall relationship with Moscow. Thus, in practice, NATO Council sessions and Permanent Council sessions will tend to merge. The free and easy “family atmosphere” of existing institutions will vanish.

The same will be true of the biannual foreign and defense ministers’ meetings provided for by the Founding Act. These will almost surely be scheduled for the traditional meetings of the NATO foreign and defense ministers. And since the presence of the Russian ministers will draw the major publicity, the Permanent Joint Council will become the more prominent body.

The dilemma supporters of NATO enlargement face is that the Founding Act has gone into effect upon signature. If the admission of new members is not ratified, we will have inherited the worst possible outcome: the demoralization of Central Europe and a NATO rendered dysfunctional by the Founding Act.

Supporters of the Atlantic Alliance must thus rally in support of the ratification of NATO enlargement. But we must also urge the Senate to address the philosophical ambiguities of the Founding Act. If the Atlantic Alliance is not to degenerate into a U.N.-style talk shop, the Senate should reassert the central role of the alliance for U.S. foreign policy and insist that nothing in any other document shall detract from the North Atlantic Council as the supreme body of the alliance. It should declare that it expects Russia to desist from all pressures and threats in Europe on this issue. Meantime, while ratification proceeds, a joint resolution of Congress should urge that new NATO members be permitted to join at least the Permanent Joint Council while waiting for ratification. And if the Administration does not want to be remembered as having, in effect, atrophied the most effective alliance of this century, it should go along with an effort to spell out an interpretation of the Founding Act that removes its many ambiguities.