THE Clinton administration's June 10 announcement of a December NATO summit meeting to discuss the alliance's role as a post-cold-war security organization is long overdue. Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced the summit at the NATO defense ministers' meeting in Athens, where the European allies agreed to join the United States in providing air cover for United Nations peacekeepers in Bosnia.
Three years after the Warsaw Pact's collapse, NATO has yet to seriously consider most post-communist nations for membership. Moreover, the West has undermined these states' attempts to establish regional mutual security or defense organizations. Mr. Christopher's announcement clearly was timed to offset a concurrent French proposal that the European Community (EC) set up a new European security pact in order to prevent "a second Yugoslavia."
The French plan, which would involve the US and Canada, was presented at the EC summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, which ended Tuesday. The US announcement may also have been prompted by a joint Polish-Ukrainian plan - spelled out before President Lech Walesa's visit to Kiev in late May - for a "security zone" that would have included the Baltic states, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Austria. According to Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza, NATO and the US pressed Mr. Walesa to sq uelch the plan, which called on signatories to respect the inviolability of borders, develop broader cooperation and confidence-building measures, work together to prevent conflicts, promote disarmament, and avoid unilateral force.
IN this context, NATO's moves over the last few years to redefine its function in light of new political and security contingencies have been sluggish and inadequate. In a series of recent summits, NATO agreed to reduce troop strength and endorsed a "new strategic concept." It featured a reduction of nuclear forces and a proposed "rapid reaction corps" to deal with small-scale crises. It also set up the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC), a largely symbolic body that includes most East and Central
European countries and former Soviet republics. While the US would remain engaged in Europe, an expanded role was envisioned for the EC, the 53-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), and the Western European Union (WEU).
But the alliance's do-nothingness in the early stages of the Bosnia conflict, when selective air strikes might have discouraged Serbian escalation, and its failure to extend a security umbrella to all NACC members, forced economically hard-pressed countries to try to beef up their military forces.
The French proposal notwithstanding, NATO remains the most credible multinational force in Europe. President Clinton's call for a December summit indicates continued US commitment to European security affairs. A key item on the agenda must be the full integration of former Soviet bloc countries into NATO's political and military organs. A truly pan-European security arrangement, with a nuclear capability, would be an effective deterrent to aggression and adventurism in a volatile, vulnerable region. Such
a plan would finally eliminate a lingering cold war mind-set, which holds that although Europe is no longer divided by ideology and Soviet tanks, Western and Russian spheres of influence remain, and that Russia remains a superpower with requisite prerogatives.
The political objective of a new NATO should be to smooth the road to democracy and market reforms. An important step in that direction must be an expanded mandate to preserve what is, at best, a very shaky peace in most of the former East bloc. Mr. Clinton's apparent recognition of this fact is encouraging, but it remains to be seen if the administration is resolute enough to make the tough decisions to secure a measure of peace and stability in the new Europe.