The Future of NATO in an Uncertain World

Speech to the SACLANT Seminar 95

  • 22 Jun. 1995
  • |
  • Last updated: 05 Nov. 2008 02:37


The Future of NATO in an
Uncertain World
Speech to the SACLANT Seminar 95
June 22, 1995 -- Norfolk, Virginia

Senator Sam Nunn

Introduction: The Importance of NATO Enlargement

Thank you, General Sheehan, for your kind introduction. Secretary
General Claes, NATO Military Committee Chairman Field Marshall
Vincent, distinguished NATO ambassadors, distinguished military
commanders, distinguished guests, I am honored to be with you this
morning to discuss the role of NATO in the post-Cold War period.

The pivotal issue of NATO expansion deserves thorough and careful
consideration has important ramifications:

- for the future of NATO;

- for the countries of central and eastern Europe;

- for the future and the other countries of the former Soviet Union;

- for the future security order throughout Europe, east and west.

New Security Situation

NATO was established primarily to protect the western democracies
from an expansionist Soviet Union that seemed determined to spread
its influence through subversion, political intimidation and the
threat of military force.

When NATO was formed in the late 1940s, Europe was faced with
post-war devas the emergence of Soviet aggression and
confrontation. Western consensus developed around two critical
concepts that were decisive in winning the Cold War and in winning
the peace:

- First, Germany and Japan should not be isolated but should
be integ rated into the community of democratic nations.

- Second, the western democracies should pursue together a
policy of containment, and unite in NATO to carry out this

Integration and containment succeeded:

- The Berlin Wall is down and Germany is united.

- Eastern Europe and the Baltics are free at last.

- The Soviet Empire has disintegrated and Russia is
struggling to try to establish a market economy and some
semblance of democracy.

For almost half a century, NATO's military strength was our
defensive shield against aggression by the Soviet Union, but our
offensive sword was our free societies, our innovative and
energetic peoples, our free market systems and our free flow of

With the end of the Cold War, we have witnessed a heart-pounding,
terrain-altering set of earthquakes centered in the former Soviet
Union and in Eastern Europe. These seismic eventshave ended an
international era.

The European security environment has changed. We have moved from
a world of f high risk, but also high stability because of the
danger of escalation and balance of terror, much lower risk but
much less stability. In a strange and even tragic scene, the world
has been made safer for racial, ethnic, class and religious
vengeance, savagery and civil war. Such tragedy has come to the
people of Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti, Burundi, Liberia, Sudan,
Tajikistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and many others.

The dust has not settled. Bosnia continues to erode NATO's
credibility and confidence. Yet it is clear that the overall
security and freedom of Europe has dramatically improved.

- The Eastern European countries, the Baltic countries, and many of
the countries of the former Soviet Union that have become fully
independent, are turning westward, and are anxious to become part
of the European community and to join NATO as full

- We are no longer preoccupied with the crucial Cold War issue of
how much wearning time NATO would have in advance of a massive
conventional attack westward by the Warsaw Pact.

- During the Cold War, we worried about a Soviet invasion deep into
Western Europe. As Michael Mandelbaum points out, the current
debacle in Chechnya indicates that Russia today has serious trouble
invading itself.

- Today, our military planners estimate that preparation for a
Russian conventional military attack, even against Eastern Europe,
would take several years at a minimum -- assuming the resources
could be found to rebuild the undermanned, underfunded, poorly

- Russia itself has gone from being the center of a menacing,
totalitarian global empire to an economically weak, psychologically
troubled country struggling to move toward democracy and a
market-based economy.

- A multilateral security system is forming across Europe that
reduces nuclear and conventional armaments and makes a surprise
attack by Russian conventional military forces toward the west
increasingly unlikely.

- I have in mind the cumulative effect of such agreements as the
INF Treaty, the CFE Treaty, the unilateral U.S. and Soviet decisions
to reduce tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, the START I and
pending START II Treaties, and the pending Chemical Weapons

- These mechanisms are far from perfect, several await
ratification, and they require vigorous verification and full
implementation. Yet even at this stage, they significantly enhance
warning time that today is measured in years rather than in days or
in months.

We are all aware of the dramatic change in the threat environment
in Europe resulting from these changes.

- The immediate danger is posed by violent terrorist groups; by
isolated rogue states, by ethnic, religious and other types of
sub-national passion that can flare into vicious armed conflict.
The lethality of any and all of these threats can be greatly
magnified by the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological
weapons, as well as by the destabilizing conventional weapons.

- This audience is well aware that Russia currently possesses over
20,000 nuclear weapons, at least 40 thousand tons of chemical
weapons, advanced biological warfare capabilities, hundreds of
tons of fissile material, huge stores of conventional weapons, plus
thousands of scientists and technicians skilled in manufacturing
weapons of mass destruction.

- This is the first time in history that an empire has
disintegrated while possessing such enormous destructive
capabilities. Even if these capabilities are greatly reduced, the
know-how, the production capability, and the dangers of
proliferation will endure for many years. This is the number one
security threat for America, for NATO and for the

- As we contemplate NATO enlargement, we must carefully measure its
effect on this proliferation threat.

- In longer term, we cannot dismiss the possibility of a resurgent
and threatening Russia.

Russia not only has inherited the still dangerous remnants of the
Soviet warmachine. In addition, even in its currently weakened
condition, Russia possesses great potential in human and material
resources. By virtue of its size and strategic location, Russia
exerts considerable weight in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Russia has inherited the USSR's veto power in the UN
Security Council and therefore has a major voice in multilateral
decision making. Russia will be a major factor, for better or for
worse, across the entire spectrum of actual and potential threats.

- Russia can fuel regional conflicts with high technology
conventional weapons, along with political and other material

- Or Russia can cooperate with us in defusing such
conflicts particularly by preventing the spread of Russian
weaponry to irresponsible hands.

- Russia can itself emerge as a militarily aggressive power.

- Or Russia can assist us in averting rivalry among
major power s that poison the international security

- Russia can pursue a confrontational course that undermines
security and cooperation in Europe.

- Or Russia can work with us to broaden and strengthen
the emerging system of multilateral security in Europe.

Out of all this background come five fundamental points:

- First, preventing or curbing the proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction is the most important and most difficult security
challenge we face.

- Second, Russia is a vast reservoir of weaponry, weapons material
and weapons know-how. Thousands of people in Russia and throughout
the former Soviet Union have the knowledge, the access and strong
economic incentives to engage in weapons traffic.

- Third, increased Russian isolation, paranoia or instability would
make this security challenge more difficult and more dangerous.

- Fourth, although the West cannot control events in Russia, and
probably can assist political and economic reform there only on the
margins, as the medical doctors say, our first principle should be

- Fifth, we must avoid being so preoccupied with NATO enlargement
that we ignore the consequences it may have for even more important
security purposes.

Problems With the Current Approach to NATO Enlargement

It is against this background that I offer a few observations on
the current approach to NATO enlargement.

NATO's announced position is that the question of enlargement is
not whether, but when and how. Somehow I have missed any logical
explanation of WHY. I cannot speak of public opinion in other
countries, but in America when the enlargement debate focuses on
issues of NATO nuclear policy, NATO troop deployments, and formal
NATO military commitments -- played against the background of
repercussions in Russia -- somebody had better be able to explain
to the American people WHY, or at least WHY NOW.

NATO was founded on a fundamental truth: the vital interests of
the countries of NATO were put at risk by the military power and
political intimidation of the Soviet Union. As President Harry
Truman said in his memoirs: ""The [NATO] pact was a shield against
aggression and against the fear of aggression..."" Because NATO was
built on this fundamental truth, and discussed it openly and faced
it truthfully wit our people, the alliance endured and prevailed.

Today we seem to be saying different things to different people on
the subject of NATO enlargement.

- To the Partnership for Peace countries, we are saying that you
are all theoretically eligible and if you meet NATO's entrance
criteria (as yet no fully spelled out), you will move to the top of
the list.

- To the Russians, we are also saying that NATO enlargement is not
threat-based and not aimed at you. In fact, you too can eventually
become a member of NATO. This raises serious questions.

- Are we really going to be able to convince the East Europeans
that we are protecting them from their historical threats, while we
convince the Russians that NATO's enlargement has nothing to do
with Russia as a potential military threat?

- Are we really going to be able to convince the Ukraine and the
Baltic countries that they are somehow more secure when NATO
expands eastward but draws protective lines short of their borders
and places them in what the Russians are bound to perceive as the
""buffer zone?""

In short, are we trying to bridge the unbridgeable, to explain the
unexplain able? are we deluding others or are we deluding

The advantage of NATO's current course toward enlargement cannot be
ignored. If NATO expands in the near term to take in the Visegrad
countries, these countries would gain in self-confidence and
stability. It is possible that border disputes and major ethnic
conflicts presumably would be settled before entry - for instance,
the dispute involving the Hungarian minority in Romania.

However, the serious disadvantages must be thought through

For example, my conversation with Russian government officials,
members of parliament across the political spectrum, and
non-official Russian foreign policy specialists convince me that
rapid NATO enlargement will be widely misunderstood in Russia and
will have a serious negative impact on political and economic
reform in that country. There are several reasons for this:

- At the moment, Russian nationalism is on the rise and reformers
are on the defensive. The Russian military establishment and the
still huge military-industrial complex that undergirds it are
dispirited and resentful.

- The average Russian voter has trouble making ends meet, is unsure
what the future may hold, but is well aware that Russia has gone
from being the seat of a global empire and the headquarters of a
military superpower to a vastly weakened international s

- Russian nationalists feed this sense of loss and uncertainty by
proclaiming that rapid NATO enlargement is intended to take
advantage of a weakened Russia and will pose a grave security threat
to the Russian people. Russian demagogues argue that Russia must
establish a new global empire to counter an expansionist west. They
smile with glee every time NATO expansion is mentioned.

- Russian democrats do not see an immediate military threat from an
enlarged NATO but fear the reaction of the Russian people. The
democrats worry that alarmist messages, however distorted, will set
back democracy by increasing popular tolerance for authoritarianism
and renewed military spending within Russia, and by isolating Russia

In short, if NATO enlargement stays on its current course, reaction
in Russi a is likely to be a sense of isolation by those committed
to democracy and economic reform with varying degrees of paranoia,
nationalism and demagoguery emerging from across the current
political spectrum.


In the next few years, Russia will have neither the resources nor
the where withal to respond with a conventional military build-up.
If, however, the more nationalist and extreme political forces gain
the upper hand, by election or otherwise, we are likely to see
other responses that are more achievable and more dangerous to
European stability. For example:

- While Russia would take years to mount a sustained military
threat to East it can within weeks or months exert severe external
and internal pressure on its immediate neighbors to the west --
including the Baltic countries and the Ukraine. This could set in
motion a dangerous action-reaction cycle.

- Moreover, because a conventional military response from Russia in
answer to NATO enlargement is infeasible, a nuclear response, in the
form of a higher alert status for Russia's remaining strategic
nuclear weapons and conceivably renewed deployment of tactical
nuclear weapons, is more likely. The security of NATO,
Russia'sneighbors and the countries of eastern Europe will not be
enhanced if the Russian military finger moves closer to the nuclear

By forcing the pace of NATO enlargement a volatile and
unpredictable moment in history, we could place ourselves in the
worst of all security environments: rapidly declining defense
budgets, broader responsibilities, and heightened instability. We
will also find ourselves with increasingly difficult relations with
the most important country in the world in terms of potential for
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

This is the stuff that self-fulfilling prophecies and historic
tragedies are made of.

Specific Recommendations for Alliance Policy

Where do we go from here? I recognized that it is much easier to
criticize than to construct, but I do have a few suggestions.

I suggest a two-track approach to NATO enlargement.

- The first track would be evolutionary and would depend on
political and economic developments within the European countries
who aspire to full NATO membership. When a country becomes
eligible for European Union membership, it will also be eligible
to join the Western European Union and then be prepared for NATO
membership, subject, of course, to NATO approval.

- This is a natural process connecting economic and
security interests.

- We can honestly say to Russia that this process is
not aimed at you.

- The second track would be threat-based. An accelerated,
and if necessary immediate, expansion of NATO would depend on
Russian behavior. We should be candid with the Russian
leadership, and above all, honest with the Russian people, by
telling them frankly:

- If you respect the sovereignty of your neighbors,
carry out y our solemn arms control commitments and other
international obligations, and if you continue on the path
toward democracy and economic reform, your neighbors will
not view you as a threat, and neither will NATO.

- We will watch, however, and react:

(1) to aggressive moves against other sovereign

(2) to militarily significant violations of your
arms control and other legally binding obligations
pertinent to the security of Europe;

(3) to the emergence of a non-democratic Russian
government that impedes fair elections, suppresses
domestic freedoms, or institutes a foreign policy
incompatible with the existing European security

- These developments would be threatening to the security of
Europe and would require a significant NATO responses, including
expansion eastward. We would be enlarging NATO based on a real
threat. We would not, however, be helping to create the very
threat we are trying to guard against.

Finally, Partnership for Peace is a sound framework for this
two-track approach. Its role would be to prepare candidate
countries and NATO itself for enlargement on either Programs of
joint training and exercises, development of a common operational
doctrine, and establishment of interoperable weaponry, technology
and communications would continue,based on more realistic
contingencies. Tough issues such as nuclear policy and forward
stationing of NATO troops would be discussed in a threat-based
framework, one of which we hope would remain theoretical.

As the Russian leaders and people make their important choices,
they should know that Russian behavior will be a key and relevant
factor for NATO's future. This straight-forward approach is also
important for our citizens, who will pay the bills and make the
sacrifices required by expanded NATO security commitments.

The profound historical contrast between post-World War I Germany
and post-World War II Germany should tell us that neo-containment
of Russia is not the answer at this critical historical juncture.
If future developments require the containment of Russia, it
should be real containment, based on real threats.