U.S. allies Tuesday to admit a first group of former Soviet-dominated nations into NATO by 1999, promising ironclad defense against outside aggressors. Republican rival Bob Dole said Clinton was moving too slowly.
Two weeks before the election, the president raised his voice on a foreign policy issue of deep interest to Midwestern voters with family ties to Eastern Europe. The seats of Fisher Theater were filled to the top balcony by supporters cheering “four more years.”
Later, Clinton was in Florida, a traditionally Republican state where the president is ahead in the polls. Amid a brilliant sunset, he was eagerly welcomed by several thousand people at the Miami-Dade Community College.
“Will you be there on Nov. 5?” he shouted hoarsely. “I need you.”
Differences between Clinton and Dole on expanding NATO are actually relatively slight, with Dole urging that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic be added by 1998. The president did not specify which nations should be at the head of the line for admission.
But the campaigns drew lines of disagreement.
“He’s been dragging his feet since 1993,” Dole said. “We think it’s time for the foot dragging to stop.”
Clinton said he has led the way for NATO enlargement, raising the idea at a NATO summit in 1994. The year 1999, he said, would mark NATO’s 50th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“A gray zone of insecurity must not re-emerge in Europe,” Clinton said. The West must not “allow the Iron Curtain to be replaced by a veil of indifference.”
Russia is wary about any eastward expansion of the Western military alliance that it regarded as a foe during the Cold War. Some in Moscow have said they would not go ahead with ratifying the START II nuclear arms treaty if NATO expanded.
Referring to Russia, Clinton said, “No country outside of NATO will have a veto” on new members. But he said Moscow should not feel threatened.
“We are building a new NATO just as they are building a new Russia,” the president said. “By reducing rivalry and fear, by strengthening peace and cooperation, NATO will promote greater stability in Europe — and Russia will be among the beneficiaries.”
Dole said, “The cries of extreme Russian nationalists to the contrary notwithstanding, NATO’s mission is peace. The framework of peace must include assurances to the Baltic states and the Ukraine. This is particularly important given the ongoing instability in Russia.”
It is unusual for a president to make foreign policy announcements from the campaign trail, but the White House treated this as a major occasion. National Security Council briefers were flown to Detroit from Washington to offer background on Clinton’s remarks.
Not missing a chance to campaign among ethnic voters, Clinton went from his speech to the Polish Village Cafe in Hamtramck for a lunch of stuffed cabbage, potato pancakes, pirogies, kielbasa, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and gravy. He also stopped his motorcade to shake hands on Jos. Campau street.
After decades of domination by the Soviet Union, Central European nations are eager to come under NATO’s security blanket. NATO’s doctrine obliges all allies to come to the defense of any member attacked from outside the alliance.
“Peace and security are not available on the cheap,” Clinton said. But if NATO fails to act now, he said, “we will pay a much higher price later on down the road.”
European leaders have urged that NATO’s future be kept out of American politics. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said earlier this year that the issue should be put off until after the presidential election.
A decision to set a specific date for expanding NATO is not Clinton’s to make alone. It will be determined by a consensus of NATO leaders, although the position of America, as the only remaining military superpower, will carry the most weight.
In December, NATO will hold a meeting at the foreign minister level to launch a process of evaluating potential new members and examining timetables for expansion.
The question of expanding NATO has generated debate within U.S. national security circles. Should the commitment to put American lives at risk in defending longtime allies Britain, France and Germany be given just as readily to nations such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania?
NATO was created in 1949 as a deterrent to what the Western allies saw as an aggressive and potentially dangerous Soviet Union. Since the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the alliance has struggled to redefine itself and its purpose.