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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 18, September 1997

Clinton Letter and Answers on NATO Expansion

Editor's note: President Clinton was responding to a letter he received in June from 20 Senators, headed by Kay Bailey Hutchison (Republican - Texas). The Senators, including the Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Jesse Helms (Republican - North Carolina), posed a series of questions, the replies to which were prepared for the President by the Departments of State and Defense. The letter and response were sent to Senator Hutchison on 11 September, and made available by the White House the following day.


Letter from President Clinton to Senator Hutchison, The White House, 11 September 1997


"Thank you for your recent letter concerning NATO enlargement. As you so rightly point out, NATO is the most successful defense alliance in history and the decision to accept new members is one of profound significance. As we proceed in this historic endeavor, our touchstone must remain American national security interests and the many ways in which those interests will be served by an enlarged and renewed Alliance. ...

Since its inception almost 50 years ago, NATO has been the bedrock institution of the transatlantic community. It has safeguarded our collective defense and has fostered close cooperation among its members. In the coming decades, the Alliance will continue in this pivotal role as it adapts to the changed circumstances of the post-Cold War period. Our overarching goal of a Europe that is peaceful, democratic, and united is within reach for the first time. By making the right decisions now concerning NATO, I believe we can make that goal a reality for the next century.

However, we can only succeed with the full support of the American Congress and the American people. As we move to ratify the addition of new States to the Alliance, your endorsement and leadership will be crucial in building the necessary bipartisan support. I welcome the thoughtful questions you have submitted and believe that they will help ensure a more informed public debate. Toward that same end, I have asked the Departments of State and Defense to prepare detailed answers to each of your questions, and I am sharing them with all members. ..."

Questions and Answers

'Question and Answers on NATO Expansion', The White House, 11 September 1997


"Question: 'When one looks at the threats to American national security interests, foremost among these is Russia's substantial nuclear arsenal. Considerable progress has been made to lessen nuclear tensions through dramatic arms reductions in the past decade. And, for the moment, the current leadership in Russia is becoming reconciled to the likelihood of NATO expansion. But what of tomorrow's Russian leaders? By expanding eastward, are we not creating an incentive for Moscow to withhold its support for further strategic arms reductions and perhaps even develop an early first-use nuclear policy?'

Answer: '... President Yeltsin and other Russian leaders oppose NATO enlargement, reflecting in part a lingering misperception among many Russian political leaders that the Alliance poses a threat to Russia's security. That is an issue on which we have decided to disagree, while working together to manage that disagreement. But, judging by the evidence, it is unlikely that NATO enlargement will undermine Russian reform or strengthen Russian hardliners. Those who suggest this would be the case see Russian democracy as far more fragile than has proven the reality over the last few years. NATO enlargement is not a significant concern for most of the Russian public, which understandably remains far more concerned about wages, pensions, corruption, and other domestic issues.

Over the past year, against the backdrop of NATO enlargement, Russian reform and security cooperation have continued to advance. President Yeltsin was reelected. He brought new officials into the government who are committed to economic modernization and integration with Western and global structures. He brought in a new Defense Minister who supports the START II nuclear arms reduction treaty. At the Helsinki Summit in March, President Yeltsin agreed to press for Duma ratification of START II, and to pursue a START III treaty with further reductions once START II has entered into force. And of course, Russia joined with NATO in May to conclude the Founding Act. Indeed, as NATO enlargement has gone forward, Russia has drawn closer to the West.

These recent positive developments call into question the theory that NATO enlargement erodes Russian reform and security cooperation. In any case, it would be counterproductive to make our NATO policies hostage to Duma intransigence on START II. Doing so would send a message to the Duma that we will hold up NATO enlargement as long as they hold up START II. In that case, we likely would get neither.'

Question: 'What have we given up in terms of NATO's own freedom of action to deploy forces throughout the expanded area of the Alliance in order to obtain Russian acquiescence to the expansion plan?'

Answer: 'The NATO-Russia Founding Act was not an effort to buy Russian acquiescence to enlargement. It was instead driven by our judgment - and that of the Alliance - that a robust NATO-Russia relationship could make an important contribution toward the goal of a peaceful and undivided Europe.

The Founding Act institutionalizes this relationship and provides the basis for increased cooperation. At the same time, NATO equities remain fully protected. The North Atlantic Council remains the supreme decision-making body of the Alliance. The Founding Act, in establishing a Permanent Joint Council between NATO and Russia, provides for consultation, coordination and, to the maximum extent possible, where appropriate, joint decision-making and action. ...

Nothing in the Founding Act restricts NATO's ability to station troops, deploy weapons, or carry out any of its missions. The final section of the Act contains restatements of unilateral NATO policy that existed prior to the Founding Act about how the Alliance intends to act "in the current and foreseeable security environment." In its 1995 enlargement study, NATO concluded that enlargement did not require a change to the Alliance's nuclear posture; on this basis, NATO declared in December 1996 that NATO members "have no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members, nor any need to change any aspects of NATO's nuclear posture or nuclear policy." ...

The Founding Act reflects Alliance policy in the current and foreseeable security environment. Should we see an unexpected change for the worse, NATO retains the prerogative to reconsider its policies with regard to nuclear and conventional deployments, and the Founding Act would in no way constrain that. ...'"

Source: 'Text - Clinton responds to Senators extracts on NATO enlargement,' United States Information Agency, 12 September.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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