UWILLING to offer East European countries NATO membership, the alliance says it is doing the next closest thing by strongly stating its interest in the region and by building a network of contacts between NATO and the former members of the Warsaw Pact. NATO foreign ministers said here last week that the security of the alliance is ``inseparably linked'' to that of the rest of Europe and that the preservation of democracy in Eastern Europe is of ``direct and material concern.''
The alliance hopes to contribute to the security of Eastern Europe by strengthening political processes, such as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), also known as the Helsinki process.
The 34 members of the CSCE will meet in Berlin later this month when, according to the statement, NATO will push for a way in which the unwieldy organization can deal quickly with emergency situations. The statement made explicit reference to the Soviet Baltic republics, expressing support for their ``legitimate aspirations.''
NATO's statement announced the intention further to develop the diplomatic liaison between former members of the Warsaw Pact and NATO, which has been heavily used since initiated last summer. It wants to broaden and deepen this contact by:
* Organizing meetings of officials and experts on such military topics as arms control, weapons proliferation, and the conversion of defense industries to civilian purposes.
* Intensifying contacts between senior NATO military authorities and their counterparts in Eastern Europe.
* Making experts in NATO's lesser known departments of science and the environment available to the East Europeans.
* Inviting East European news media, educators, young people, and parliamentarians to NATO headquarters.