Bring Mother Russia Into the Fold

Now that they have taken a measure of each other, President Bush and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin should work toward this goal: Russia's entry into NATO.

Not only would this bold step blunt the growing rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing, but it also would achieve three strategic objectives:

* It would elevate to a top U.S. priority the ultimate prize of the end of the Cold War: the inclusion of Russia in a democratic, peaceful Europe.

Rather than array their formidable power against Russia, America and its allies should reach out to their defeated adversary to ensure that a pacified and democratized Russia is integrated into Europe. NATO bound Germany to the West after World War II. It should now do the same for Russia.

* Working toward Russian membership would make it easier for the alliance to admit all aspirants, including the Baltic countries and Ukraine.

They would be joining with rather than against a Russia that has come to see NATO not as a threat but as key to its own security.

In contrast, if NATO excludes Russia while opening its doors to the countries of Central Europe, it would be signaling Russians that they are not welcome in the West.

The security of Central Europe will be better served by pulling Russia westward than by risking Russia's isolation and alienation.

* A strategic partnership with Moscow would facilitate Bush's efforts to sharply reduce nuclear arsenals--the United States still has a total of 7,000 warheads and Russia about 6,000--and to build a limited missile defense against rogue states.

A few days after his meeting with Bush in Slovenia, Putin warned that if the United States were to deploy missile defenses unilaterally, "the nuclear arsenal of Russia will be augmented multifold," potentially resulting "in a hectic, uncontrolled arms race."

If Bush is to persuade Moscow to modify the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty and join the United States in building a missile defense system, he first will have to persuade Putin that he is serious about making Russia an ally.

In light of the fragile state of Russia's democratic reforms and economy, it is too soon to admit Russia to NATO in the second wave of enlargement, scheduled to begin next year.

But even as the alliance proceeds with a small second round, perhaps restricted to Slovenia and Slovakia, NATO should invite Russia to enter into formal negotiations for membership.

Russian reform may well fail in the interim, foreclosing the option of joining NATO. But at least the West will have made a sincere effort to expose Russia to the pacifying effects of military and political integration.

The risks are low; Russia will have a say in NATO only as its reforms substantially advance.

But the payoffs of success, Russia's integration into an undivided Europe, would be huge.

Should Russia ultimately join NATO, the alliance would function quite differently.

With a host of new members from Central and Eastern Europe, it would serve as a more informal and flexible vehicle for coordinating military activities and preserving peace rather than on territorial defense.

But this broader NATO is a must if Bush is to follow through on his promises "to put talk of East and West behind us" and construct a Europe "whole and free."

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