Nato Is Not Our Enemy

AS MADELEINE ALBRIGHT BECOMES SECRETARY OF state, she faces a dizzying array of daunting challenges. Few are as delicate--and as crucial--as NATO expansion. I have witnessed her professionalism for several years, and I expect her to be serious and unbiased on issues concerning Russia. The problem of NATO enlargement will certainly be one of the first issues she addresses. I hope and trust that she will see beyond the current anti-NATO clamor in some Russian circles. To pay it too much heed would play into the hands of the enemies of democracy.

Secretary Albright will remember that another solution to the dilemma--a Russian alliance with NATO--was proposed by Boris Yeltsin in 1991. But a harsh period has invariably followed the tenure of each of our more progressive national leaders in Moscow. And today Russia is suffering from an inevitable backlash against democratization--led by an old guard that grew up with NATO as the common enemy. Unreformed generals in the military, with no knowledge of the modern world and no place to go after military reform is complete, spout empty threats. KGB-style intelligence officers, trying desperately to breed again in the gathering gloom of the backlash, cling to NATO as their budgetary excuse to exist. Red directors of national industry, who rely blindly on the cold-war equation for their share of a dwindling budget, warn of the need to prepare for the inevitable showdown with NATO. Astoundingly, even some of the Moscow intellectuals who joined the democratic choir in the heyday of reform now revel in the alarmist rhetoric.

No diplomatic initiative can satisfy these people, because without NATO as an enemy they have no place in the world. In fact, this debate in Russia is not about foreign policy; it is clearly about domestic policy. Opponents to reform are uniting against the Western model of society--represented by NATO--in a last-ditch attempt to derail the unfulfilled transition to democracy. If they win this battle of ideas, after bumbling nearly all others, they could still stop the march toward reform in its tracks. Their bombast is a PR ploy, designed to dupe people into across-the-board opposition to the Western model.

The Russian people must be told the truth. And the truth is, NATO is not the enemy. Indeed, fighting the West's proposal to admit Central European countries to NATO is self-defeating, because Russia has no means of stopping it. The vital Commonwealth of Independent States alliance would surely fall on hard times if it is burdened with opposition to NATO. What member-nation would remain part of such a group, when the NATO seal of approval often brings investment, advancement and economic enhancement? As foreign minister, I found that every Eastern European leader who wanted NATO membership saw it primarily as an economic move, not a military one. Opposing that will weaken our economic position in Central Europe.

The West must recognize this as a domestic-policy crisis, resist capitulation to the old guard and deal with it in a balanced fashion. An entirely new generation of leaders in our country is waiting for this policy shift. To accomplish it, NATO's member-nations must take very difficult and challenging steps. The practical way for Russia to transform NATO is to cooperate with the alliance--and vice versa. Recognize the need for a transitional period to draw up a new agreement involving Russia. Don't be hasty with expansion, and wage serious negotiations toward this end. Recognize genuine Russian interests and security concerns. In many ways, Russia is very different from other nations (a nuclear power on enormous Eurasian territory) and should be treated differently. That is why there is a need for a treaty between NATO and Russia. The West must insist on this and not fall back on "peaceful coexistence." Coexistence isn't partnership. Russia should be heard when NATO is debating political policy. The militaries should be given more time to adapt to each other. A treaty should stipulate that no nation will move, expand or rebase troops unilaterally. And Russia must be permitted to compete in the world weaponry market, so its industry can find its place in the modern world.

In fact, a compromise agreement based on these elements was nearly reached in 1995. I must admit, preliminary discussions were undercut in Moscow by the old guard, a major reason for my departure. But now, 13 months later, the situation has changed. NATO enlargement has become inevitable and there is a chance for renewal of the concept of partnership. Moving toward this kind of relationship will not be easy, but it is realistic.

This kind of approach would be appreciated by the growing group of Russians (some, like retired general Aleksandr Lebed and Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, from surprising quarters) who do not see NATO as a threat. For our part, Russian democrats must mount a public-education campaign to challenge the hollow rhetoric dominating our domestic debate. This is a crucial battle for Russian democracy--a battle we must win and a battle the West cannot afford to stand by and watch us lose.