With toasts, bear hugs and back slaps, President Clinton, the chiefs of European countries, and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed an agreement in Paris, May 27, to expand NATO eastward.
But the celebrations in the Elysee Palace did not conceal the strong opposition to giving NATO a new lease on life by admitting Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. The new members will be admitted during a NATO summit in Madrid in July. Then the U.S. Senate will be asked to approve the deal by a two-thirds majority probably in the spring of 1998.
Critics charge that NATO is a Cold War relic that should be abolished, not expanded. They told the World that this deal will commit the U.S. to deploy troops in regional wars and conflicts at great cost in tax dollars and potentially life and limb.
Peace leaders pointed out that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has set the price tag of NATO expansion at $125 billion over the next decade even as the Clinton administration and Congress ramrod through $115 billion in Medicare cuts and $58 billion in domestic cuts to achieve a balanced budget.
"There is a lot of opposition to this expansion of NATO," declared Edith Villastrigo, a veteran leader of Women Strike for Peace in Washington. "And it is unconscionable that President Clinton has agreed to cuts in Medicare which he vowed he would oppose."
The military budget is still over $260 billion dollars each year, or more than a trillion dollars over the next four years, she pointed out. "It is not in tune with what our country needs. Expanding NATO will cost taxpayers many billions but it will be a big profit windfall for the 'defense' industry. This will create an arms race in Europe. They are looking for enemies but their are no enemies."
Marilyn Clement, Executive Director of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in Philadelphia told the World, "Nobody needs an expansion of NATO except the military-industrial complex - to fill their pockets. We know that military spending is minimal in job creation compared with spending for peacetime production."
She cited Camden, N.J., where Lockheed Martin has taken over a GE plant and is producing electronic components for the Pentagon. "Yet Camden has the highest unemployment rate of any city in the U.S.," she said. "NATO is useless and should be abolished. What we need as people, and as women, is programs that provide jobs, livable wages, education, health care, and Social Security."
Tomas Valasek, a research analyst at the Center for Defense Information, said, "NATO expansion is being promoted as a force for stability in Europe. We disagree. It will have a destabilizing effect. It has worsened our relations with Russia. Virtually every politician in Russia is opposed to the expansion of NATO. It moves the security line further east."
Valasek said it means the U.S. would be committed to deploy troops to "defend" Warsaw, Prague and Budapest against an unidentified "aggressor." NATO expansion, he said, "has created an enemy where it did not previously exist ... It has already created many more security concerns than benefits."
The Cold War is over, he said, "It makes you wonder what purpose NATO serves. Perhaps expansion is supposed to help NATO with its identity problem. But when you look at the problems in Europe, they are internal conflicts and crisis. Resolution of internal conflicts is not NATO's mission."
There are three estimates of the cost of expanding NATO. The Pentagon estimate, embraced by Clinton, is $25 to $35 billion over the next 10 years with the U.S. share estimated at $200 million annually. The Rand Corporation did a study that estimated the cost as high as $50 billion over the next decade. But Valasek said the CBO estimate of $125 billion is closer to the mark. "The Clinton administration has a vested interest in estimating the costs as low as possible," he said. "But nobody really knows what form the expansion of NATO and force modernization will take. If it means establishing NATO bases and deploying U.S. troops, the costs could be incredibly high."
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) debunked the Clinton administration's bargain-basement cost estimates. "They said Bosnia would cost $1.2 billion and we ended up at this point $6.5 billion into Bosnia." That's money any number of U.S. cities could have used to deal with the worsening urban crisis.
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