Air Date: November 11, 1997 Program 9745


Hans Binnendijk, Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University
Phillip Merril, former Assistant Secretary-General, NATO

(This text has been professionally transcribed, However, for timely
distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground: a look at the U.S. rule in NATO, and NATO expansion.

HANS BINNENDIJK: The cost of NATO enlargement per American, annually, is the cost of one candy bar. It's 67¢ per American per year. That's the cost of NATO enlargement to the American people.

PHILLIP MERRIL: If you were an official of any Eastern European country and did not want to get the guarantee of the United States for your territorial integrity, you would be a lunatic. So these people are willing to say anything to get that guarantee, and I would do the same thing if I were in their position.

PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It's produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Keith Porter.

NATO: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, may be getting bigger. The Clinton administration and the leaders of NATO have agreed to invite Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to join what many call the most successful military alliance in the history of the world. But the expansion, which must now approved by the U.S. Senate, has many vocal and powerful critics. Today we'll hear from both sides of the debate, starting with Phillip Merril, now Chairman and Publisher of the Capital-Gazette newspapers, Merril is former Assistant Secretary General of NATO. He begins by describing how NATO changed during his service there.

MERRIL: One went essentially to fight the Cold War. And the job became "make friends with the Russians," or put aphoristically, we're awash in Russian generals trying to explain what the West was about; how a free society operates; how armed forces operate in a free society; what the, how a collective 16-nation alliance can operate as a military force, which the Russians had great difficulty seeing. They think top down.

BINNENDIJK: I've been working on NATO, thinking about NATO, writing about it, for several decades.

PORTER: Joining us is Hans Binnendijk. He's Director of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University.

BINNENDIJK: I served as the Director of Studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. With regard to the specific issue of NATO enlargement, I wrote an article in November of 1991 calling for NATO enlargement. And then in '93-'94, I was the principal deputy at the State Department for policy planning, and I was heavily engaged in the arguments within the State Department and the administration at that time on NATO enlargement.

PORTER: Mr. Merril, I think that out in Middle America, and by that I mean outside the Beltway, the people probably aren't thinking much about NATO in any sense. But if you really press them, if you said, you know, "Tell me what you think about NATO and making NATO bigger," I think one of their first questions would be, "Why NATO? Do we still have NATO?" I mean that would be their, I think that would be their overriding question. So before we get to expansion, make the case for NATO.

MERRIL: I agree with you. NATO is now below the zone, so to speak, on the American horizon, and quite properly, because we won the war. It's not triumphalism to say that our objective was to kick the can down the road long enough so that the, let me call it FSU for former Soviet Union, would collapse of its own accord. Most of us, including me, thought this would happen sometime in the middle of the 21st century, or maybe the 22nd century. NATO was organized in 1949, first as a political alliance and then as a military alliance, after the Korean War in 1951. It had two purposes. Stiff the Soviet Union, stop the 110 tank battalions that were marching up and down the Eastern German border from threatening us or invading us. But the second purpose, which was to unite the countries of western Europe, which had fought two great wars and dozens and dozens, hundreds of wars before. And so its purpose now is really strictly defensive and that is to see that the five great powers of western Europe—Britain, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, so forth—maintain a harmonized industrial base and an integrated command-and-control structure so that the relationship among them is similar to that among American states in defense terms. We might argue with one another but nobody thinks West Virginia is going to invade Virginia. And....

PORTER: It hasn't happened for over a hundred years.

MERRIL: Yeah, well Maryland and Virginia fought a couple of oyster wars. But the point is to ensure that these, that we take the profit of this alliance and do not allow Europe to fall back into a pre-World War I scenario where everybody re-nationalizes their own defense budget. And then again starts the process that has taken place over a thousand years of major power conflict inside Europe. As long as NATO is there, as long as these five countries are integrated, as long as all the troops are under combined command, this can't happen. Because everybody is making, everything is transparent.

PORTER: Mr. Binnendijk, do you agree with this assessment of why we need NATO.

BINNENDIJK: To a large degree. I certainly feel that NATO is very important for our future in Europe and beyond. It's a different kind of organization today, with different purposes than it was during the Cold War. And I think it has shown a great deal of flexibility in adapting itself to this new world. Why do we need NATO today and tomorrow? Well, I think first is that we still have not achieved the fundamental goal, which is stability in Europe. Most of the instability is in Central and Eastern Europe, and of course the Balkans. And that is one important role for NATO enlargement. I think, secondly, you have the problem of beyond the NATO area. The real instabilities, and our interests, in fact lie in the Persian Gulf. We have problems in the Magreb, northern Africa, Middle East. Elsewhere, the Balkans I mentioned. NATO will serve in the future as the basis for coalitions of the willing to operate, through power projection, into those areas and will allow us to deal with common interests, U.S. interests and European interests, in those other areas of the world. You've got to have an instrument like NATO to do that. And third and finally, you do need NATO and its Article 5 as a hedge. We don't know where Russia is going in the future. It seems to be on a reasonably decent track. There are a lot of problems. If things go badly in the future you need NATO as an ultimate hedge to go back and deter the way we did very successfully for many decades.

MERRIL: Can I just say that I agree...

PORTER: Please, yes.

MERRIL: I agree with every word of that. But simply emphasize it by saying that we, that one thing for which we know have to fight, or we're willing to fight, is energy. And that really means the Middle East. And the, that is simply impossible without Torejon and Rhine Main and the staging points and cooperation of our European allies.

PORTER: Mr. Merril, I'll stay with you to go on to the next big question. We know why we need NATO. Why do we need a bigger NATO? Or do you think we need a bigger NATO?

MERRIL: Well, for the reasons just stated by Hans. I think since we agree that NATO ought to, be pointing, for one of at least two major reasons, south or southeast, that is towards the Persian Gulf, I think it's a very bad mistake to extend it eastward because I don't think there's a threat there. Nor do I think that, that the, let me call it the detritus of the collapse of the several hundred years of Russian Empire and 70 years of Soviet Empire, into a mass of arguments over language, race and religion, are an appropriate role for NATO or the United States to get themselves involved in. I mean, this is an historical collapse of Empire and to take all these lines that were drawn on a map by Russian Tsars or Commissars, and say, "Okay, these are frozen into space," when we know that they're going to argue over the three great bugaboos of human history—language, race and religion—seems to me to be a very bad mistake for the United States. Our job is to integrate Russia and China into the community of civilized nations and to deal with short-form loose nukes—weapons of mass destruction, not only inside the former Soviet Union, but in the hands of other countries. And advancing NATO eastward impedes that effort and does not enhance it.

PORTER: Mr. Binnendijk.

BINNENDIJK: Well, this is clearly where Phil and I disagree.

MERRIL: Sure, sure.

BINNENDIJK: And just to take the three points that I raised earlier, let me explain how I think NATO enlargement enhances NATO's future capability. First, with regards to stability in Central Europe, the area between Germany and Russia is the area that started two World Wars in a century and caused tens of millions of deaths. And it is very important to stabilize that area. And I think NATO enlargement does that in two ways. First by providing a security guarantee for Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. You give them a clear orientation and you let others know that this is within your security zone and you are prepared to defend it. Just knowing that deters.

MERRIL: Against who?

BINNENDIJK: Well, it remains to be seen. That relates to the third point at hedging.

MERRIL: But who?

BINNENDIJK: Well I think eventually the concern in those countries when you go talk to those people, is a resurgent Russia in the future. But that is a long-term thing. I think more important, Phil, in the area of stability, has to do with the internal situation in these countries. You had people like Vaclev Havel and Walensa in Poland, saying "You must take us into NATO. We need that orientation. We need it to reform and to stabilize ourselves." And that's what they, that is exactly what's happened. There has been a very, very positive affect already, of NATO enlargement in these countries. It has given them a proper orientation. Ten agreements have been signed among the Central and East European nations relating to their borders and that has created a sense of stability that has not existed there in a long time. Civil-military relations and democratic reforms have really accelerated as a large, as a result of this process. But that's only point one. Point two is, that the addition of these three countries in fact enhances the capabilities of NATO to do precisely the kinds of operations that it will have to do in the future.

MERRIL: I can't....

BINNENDIJK: It's the Bosnia's of the world. Look at Bosnia today. We have a Polish contribution there. Hungary is key to our ability to, to NATO's ability to operate in Bosnia. So there is a real contribution that these three countries make to the kinds of operations that NATO has got to do in the future. The third, last point, on hedging, Phil, and the Russian relationship: in a very, I mean the, you go to Russia, people don't like NATO enlargement. And I go there once a year and I hear these arguments all the time. In fact, what's happened here is that the NATO enlargement process has created some dynamics which have in effect pulled Russia more closely into the West than otherwise would have been the case. Examples: we have a new Joint-Permanent Council between NATO and Russia, just getting started. If properly used that could be a very important instrument. We used to talk about the Group of 7. Now we talk about the Group of 8. Russia is now included. There is a conscious effort to try to bring Russia in as much as we possibly can to the West. And that has been accelerated in fact by NATO enlargement.

MERRIL: Well, all the arguments he just made are valid, if you posit that the role of the United States is to go into Bosnia. I do not. I think it was a bad mistake and I don't think we belong there. We went in lying to the American people, saying that we would go in and be out in a year. Everybody who was involved in that knew it was a lie. Lying to the American people is an extremely stupid thing to do because they won't believe you the next time. It's what happened to us in Vietnam. I do not believe that it is the role of the United States to involve itself in the linguistic, ethnic and racial arguments of Eastern Europe. The, if you posit that that's the role of NATO, then of course doing this makes sense. But if you posit that the role is what I said before, is to deal with Russia and China and loose nukes, then it's a stupid waste of time and a focus on the capillaries rather than a mainline, on the mainline illnesses of the world. The, thirdly, I would deny, vigorously, that the Eastern Europe countries, Eastern European countries add anything worthwhile militarily to NATO. They do not have, nobody, we're not going to pay for their sophisticated weaponry that allows them to become interoperable with the United States. The Europeans have made it absolutely clear, Western Europe, I mean they're not going to do it. And if they take their money into it, then they're investing in military equipment when they should be investing in the framework of a free society. That is in Western-oriented free economies, or I should say free market-oriented economies. The, so we're steering them in the wrong direction. What the Eastern Europeans/FSU really want are to be part of Western Europe and that is more an economic thing than it is a military thing. Certainly they want the guarantee of the U.S. against the Russians. But if we make that guarantee, then we have to keep it up. And we might be able to keep it up against the three "visigrad" countries, but this is not just about these three countries. It's about all the countries east of those. And the posit that we are going to defend Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, or that they add anything to the United States military capacity, is preposterous. What about Moldava? What about The Ukraine? I mean, to state it is to see how absurd it is. Making promises that we're not going to keep is a bad idea, and—a very idea—and worse, more than that, is giving these countries the ability to stick their fingers into the Russian eyes, as they all wish to do, backed up, not by themselves, but by an American military Article 5 guarantee, is an extremely dangerous thing to do. And we should not do it.

BINNENDIJK: Phil, let me get in if I might, just for a second. First your point on the focus ought to be on Russia. I don't disagree with the fact that the future of Russia is one of the most critical elements of the emerging international system and very important to our security. But, I think we walk and chew gum at the same time.

MERRIL: Ah, we can only think about one thing in this country at one time.

BINNENDIJK: Well, I think....

MERRIL: We have the enemy of the week.

BINNENDIJK: We can do at least two.

MERRIL: It used to be Japan. It's moving over to be China. You know, I mean....

BINNENDIJK: That's quite possible for us....

MERRIL:'s one thing, one time.

BINNENDIJK: No, I disagree with that. I think it's quite possible for us to deal with the Russian problem and to deal with Bosnia at the same time. And in fact Bosnia has worked out pretty well. We have been relatively successful there so far.

MERRIL: So far.

BINNENDIJK: Now let me raise, go to the other point, some of the other points that you made with regard to integration. Yes, I think economic integration is equally or even more important to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The problem is that we don't control that. That's a European Union decision and it is a very complicated decision and it relates very directly to money and trading areas and common currencies. And these countries are not quite ready for that. Certainly that's the judgment of the European Union.

MERRIL: Oh yes.

BINNENDIJK: And so we can try to press, and we are trying to press that process forward, but we can't count on it. These countries need a sense of security now. We have NATO as an instrument to do that. Now I do agree with you that we have to think in terms of limits. I am not prepared at this point to support the Baltic states into NATO. I think that would be a bridge too far at this point. And probably very dangerous. But at the end of the day I could see a situation in which that might happen. The real trick now is to work to make sure that the Russia-NATO relationship matures and that the Russians realize that NATO is no longer a threat to them, but rather, it is a partner.

PORTER: We're talking in this edition of Common Ground about the movement toward expanding NATO. Our guests are Phillip Merril, former Assistant Secretary General of NATO, and Hans Binnendijk, Director of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University. Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

PORTER: Mr. Merril, can I just ask you a question real fast? As someone who grew up entire during the Cold War, you know, we were always taught that if we were ever going to face a land battle with those Soviets it wasn't going to be on the shores of New Jersey, it was going to be way over there in Germany. And now doesn't it just sort of feel good to move that border further to the east? I mean is there just a....

MERRIL: As a matter of fact if you're going to face a land battle with them you have it where it was needed, which is defense in depth. Which we did not have before. It had to be right up against the inner-German borders. No, it does not feel good. But you might recall that one of the things that....

PORTER: Well some people might say isn't this why we fought the Cold War? Is to move that line farther to the east?

MERRIL: Well, that's not what we told the Russians.


MERRIL: We, I mean, you know, we, most people in this country deal in good faith. Overwhelming majority of Americans, Europeans too, are really honest. And most Americans are not crooked, they're decent. I mean, I'm not saying there aren't crooks, but, most, most, overwhelming majority are honest. We told the Russians, time and again after the reunification of Germany and after they voluntarily gave up all of their conquests in Eastern Europe—they pulled out voluntarily—we didn't fight them out, they pulled out. 350,000 troops: that's 50 railroad cars, 50 railroad trains a day, 55 cars each, for 2½ years, to move out of Germany. That's what it took to move those troops out. We said to them, we promised them, that we would not take advantage of this to move into Eastern Europe. We said we would not move NATO eastward. Now we go back to them and say, "Well, you didn't get in a contract. You didn't have it nailed down. Now you got to deal with a bunch of Philadelphia-Washington lawyers, and unless you nail the thing down you didn't read the fine print when we undertook this understanding. And now we're going to move westward—eastward." After World War I, we got it wrong. What we did was essentially we humiliated a defeated or fallen opponent and you can see what happened—World War II. The Russians are now a fallen opponent. They had a revolution to be like us. It's an unusual revolution. It wasn't against something; it was for something. To be like the West. Our job is to integrate them. With respect to Hans' point, which is valid, about the desire of the Eastern Europeans to integrate into Western Europe, what the Europeans don't want to do is give them anything that counts. That is, access to western markets, sources for their goods, all the rest of that. What they want to do is give them something that sounds good and doesn't cost them anything. And that's the United States' military guarantee. The Partnership for Peace, which may not be perfect, but if you can't move forwards, which I don't think we want to do, and you can't move backwards, which we also said earlier we don't want to do, a Partnership for Peace, which is a process by we can maintain relationships—military relationships, integrated relationships—let them participate when NATO exercises, on a policy of differentiation. Those countries closest would be, are closer. Those countries, to the extent that they want to participate with us. It's fine so long as we don't extend an absolute, Article 5 "We will come to your assistance no matter what." These countries are going to have 50 years, after the collapse of Empire, of argument and uproar and ethnic discussion. The fact that they signed a treaty with one another this week makes no difference. You go into Hungary, every single newsstand in Hungary sells a map that shows, here is Hungary now, and this is the way Hungary used to look 50 years ago.

BINNENDIJK: Phil, let met....

MERRIL: And it covers half of the adjoining countries. Those arguments, we don't need.

PORTER: Okay, Mr. Binnendijk.

BINNENDIJK: Phil, let me just respond to a couple of those points and maybe even make one or two new ones if I might. First, lessons from history. It seems to me the real lesson from history right now in the period that you were talking about, post-World War I, is not treat your enemy well. In fact, there's a big difference between the way we're treating Russia now and the way Germany was treated after World War I. We are not, there is no Dawes Plan, we are not trying to sanction Russia in any way. In fact, we're giving aid to Russia. We're being as inclusive as we can. So there's a real difference.

MERRIL: There is a difference, but this is a question of attitude.

BINNENDIJK: Well, but I think our attitude is right. Now, second point. The real lesson seems to me, from that part of history, is the League of Nations. What did we do with the League of Nations? The United States created a security system for Europe, the League of Nations; the Senate did not ratify it. It walked away from it, and the result, eventually, was World War II. We are in a similar situation today. We have created, the United States has been pushing, in the lead, on NATO enlargement. If now the United States Senate—and this is now before the Senate—if the Senate decides not to ratify, it would be a tragic mistake. We would be walking away once again from a security arrangement that we created in Europe. And I think probably that would lead to a tremendous, tremendous problems in NATO. Probably make us very ineffective there.

MERRIL: Of course you've got it wrong. Even though it's an able argument. The, what we are creating in Europe with a 20 or 30 or 40 man, person NATO, which operates by the way by the principle of unanimous consent—every, any single country can veto anything—is essentially the League of Nations. It cannot possibly be a military, a real military force with 20 or 30 or 40 countries a member. It becomes a League of Nations. And it's a very bad mistake. We have a military force in being and that military force purpose cannot be to deal, or should not be, to deal with the, I say again, the racial, linguistic and ethnic arguments that are going to dominate Eastern Europe for a hundred years.

PORTER: Mr. Binnendijk.

BINNENDIJK: Phil, that is in fact the future security problem in Europe. And so if NATO can't deal with that, why do we need NATO.

MERRIL: Well, for the reasons you stated earlier.

BINNENDIJK: Well, that's exactly why I...

MERRIL: If you think the American people are prepared to go fight for Moldava, you have a very bad misunderstanding of what...

BINNENDIJK: I don't think...

MERRIL: ...American public opinion is willing to tolerate.

BINNENDIJK: In fact I think a good example is Bosnia. We have, we have been very cautious in our approach to Bosnia. We have been very successful, at least NATO has. The UN prior to that was not. But NATO has been very successful. Hardly any casualties.

MERRIL: NATO hasn't been very successful. The United States put a full division in there, 20,000 people...


MERRIL: ...And backed that up with 60,000 more. So, and the....

BINNENDIJK: ...Phil, we have...

MERRIL: ...the rest of them were absolutely fringe.

BINNENDIJK: One-third of the, that's not right.

MERRIL: But all the real combat power, all of the intelligence, all of the air power, all of this stuff is American stuff, which they said was going to cost a billion dollars a year, and it's been costing us over $15 billion so far and the tab is still running.

BINNENDIJK: Phil, one-third of the force structure in so-called SFOR in Bosnia is U.S. The other two-thirds is European.

MERRIL: Yes, but you're not counting all the air power and intelligence...

BINNENDIJK: ...Listen, let me...

MERRIL: and space assets and all the rest of that....

BINNENDIJK: ...Let me also....

MERRIL: ...Sixth Fleet...

BINNENDIJK: ...Let me come back, let me come back....

MERRIL: the ?? in Bosnia, but off Bosnia....

PORTER: Okay, let's let Mr. Binnendijk finish.

BINNENDIJK: Let me come back to the question of the role of NATO in the relationships between countries in Central Europe, because it's a critical question.

MERRIL: Yeah, I agree with you.

BINNENDIJK: I've just visited Hungary and Romania in this last year. And it is remarkable, the extent to which these two countries are cooperating now. Cooperating with each other with regard to the ethnic Hungarian minorities in Romania. There are new arrangements, new agreements that are signed. The Hungarians are supportive of the Romanian case for NATO. And this is a sea change from where things were just at the end of the Cold War. So....

MERRIL: But to credit that—I agree with you. But to credit that to NATO is like saying Haley's Comet came by and that's why we developed atomic energy.

BINNENDIJK: Phil, that's not right. I mean, I went I talked to....

MERRIL: They're not cause and effect.

BINNENDIJK: They certainly are. I went and I talked to people in Hungary and in Romania, and unless they were just lying, what the officials there tell you is that they are cooperating in large measure because they both want to cooperate with NATO and become part of NATO.

MERRIL: If you were an official of any Eastern European country and did not want to get the guarantee of the United States for your territorial integrity, you would be a lunatic. So these people are willing to say anything to get that guarantee, and I would do the same thing if I were in their position.

BINNENDIJK: Well, they're not only...

MERRIL: I'm not arguing that....

BINNENDIJK: They're not only talking, they're behaving. And that's what important. Now...

MERRIL: And after they get the guarantee, and it's signed in blood, then Bango!, off they go doing their normal tricks. Depends who's going to be the government, going to be in charge of those governments five years from now or ten years from now.

BINNENDIJK: That has not been the experience within NATO.

MERRIL: Certainly that's been the experience in Bosnia.

PORTER: We're, we're just about out of time. I'll let Mr. Binnendijk finish his point and then I have one last question for you.

BINNENDIJK: Yeah. I think the Greek-Turkish situation is a good example of the way in which in fact NATO can help and ameliorate and soothe conflict between countries that are in NATO or around NATO. So I think, I think there is a stabilizing role for NATO that is critically important.

PORTER: Mr. Merril, is NATO enlargement inevitable?

MERRIL: Some people say that the train has left the station. That is, because the President announced this before a Ukrainian and Polish audience, he did it for political reasons, without having thought it through, that it would be bad to back down. I think the contrary is the case. It's a mistake to do it. And we'd be better not to have a vote on it at all. In other words for the Congress to say, "Look,"—which will happen if they don't have enough votes and if there's enough debate—to say, "Look, we're not ready for this. We ought to have a free and full debate. Let us kick it over for another year or two and have the kind of debate we had after World War II.

PORTER: Mr. Binnendijk, can you read the mind of the U.S. Senate?

BINNENDIJK: I think that there's a reasonably good chance that NATO enlargement will be approved by 67 senators. If that proves not to be the case it would be a real tragedy for NATO. I think when it comes down to the final vote senators will recognize that. We are, the train has left the station on this decision pretty much, unless they want to put the brakes on and derail the train, they can't do that. The big issue on the Hill has been cost. The cost of NATO enlargement per American, annually, is the cost of one candy bar. It's 67¢ per American per year. That's the cost of NATO enlargement.

MERRIL: This discussion indicates that this is not a simple, Yes-No issue. Reasonable people on both sides of this issue disagree.

PORTER: That is Phillip Merril, former Assistant Secretary General of NATO. Our other guest was Hans Binnendijk, Director of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University. For Common Ground, I'm Keith Porter.

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