NO other issue is more crucial to European security than NATO's relationship with central and eastern Europe. How the alliance manages the integration of this region into the West will significantly determine whether or not Europe will benefit from an enduring and stable peace.
Careful NATO enlargement should be the geopolitical priority of US policy toward Europe. The alliance is uniquely qualified to provide the foundation for regional peace and security. No other institution combines the two requisites to serve in this role: a transatlantic dimension and real operational capability.
Recognizing this, we've introduced ''The NATO Participation Act Amendments of 1995,'' S 602. This legislation would require the president to establish a transition program for the integration of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary into the alliance. The extension of NATO membership to these countries would be an important first step toward establishing a system of European security, and it should be complemented by a special relationship between the alliance and Russia.
Today, central and eastern Europe remain outside any viable security structure. The region is a security vacuum between NATO's eastern frontier and Russia. History shows that the region's strategic vulnerability has been a longstanding source of instability on the continent - with calamitous consequences that drew the United States into two world wars.
The absence of a stable security environment for the countries of central and eastern Europe jeopardizes political and economic reforms now under way. Security is not an alternative to reform, but is essential for reform to occur.
Moreover, two great European powers, Russia and Germany, are now undergoing complex and sensitive transformations, and the outcomes will be significantly determined by the future of central and eastern Europe. The extension of NATO membership to Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary would help ensure that Germany and Russia evolve in a manner that reinforces regional stability.
Germany, because of reunification and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, is concerned about security developments beyond its new eastern frontiers. NATO enlargement would lock German interests into a transatlantic security structure, further consolidating the positive role Bonn plays in European affairs.
NATO enlargement also would assist Russia's democratic transformation. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has been forced to adjust to the unraveling of an empire and a return to 16th century frontiers. By ensuring stability in Europe, NATO enlargement would invalidate calls by Moscow's extremists for Russia's westward expansion and would enable Moscow to direct more energy toward the challenges of reform.
Moscow's sensitivities are frequently noted as reasons against speedy NATO enlargement. Critics argue that because Russia sees NATO enlargement as an effort to isolate it from the rest of Europe, an even more aggressive and dangerous Russian foreign policy could emerge.
But Russia is not an isolated nation. Moscow is a principal recipient of international financial assistance, has been repeatedly invited to participate in the G-7 process, sits on the UN Security Council, and is a member of the Contact Group on the Balkan conflict. Today, Russia has more engagement with the US and members of NATO than any other central or eastern European state.
Russia's geopolitical magnitude ensures that it will never be isolated from Europe. But if Moscow's extremists prevail and Russia resists NATO enlargement, then the underlying motivation of the process would shift to a defense against hegemony.
On the other hand, if Russia respects the rights of other nations to determine their own geopolitical orientation and works with the alliance to expand NATO, then it will be contributing to a process of integration that can bring Europe and Russia closer together. A democratic Russian role along these lines can and should be institutionalized through a special partnership between the alliance and Moscow. Nonetheless, the bottom line remains that it is not NATO enlargement that will determine the future of Russia's relationship with the alliance but rather Moscow's reaction to NATO enlargement.
NATO enlargement should begin now on a nation-by-nation basis. Senate bill 602 recognizes the different levels of political and economic development in eastern and central Europe as well as the important geopolitical factors that must be taken into account. S 602 establishes criteria by which countries may be selected to receive priority assistance in their transition toward NATO membership.
Accelerating the integration of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary into NATO would benefit all of central and eastern Europe. Those nations not yet qualifying under the program would be less isolated from the West. They would be part of a region that is being rapidly integrated into European institutions.
Current policy is too concerned with Russia's psychological well-being. US policy must be to shape a strategic landscape that enhances economic, political, and military stability in all parts of Europe. That should be our national interest, and that is the intent of our legislation.