THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release
|March 20, 1998
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON THE NATIONAL INTEREST FOR ENLARGING NATO
The East Room
12:46 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much,Secretary Albright, General Shelton, General Sandler, Mr. Berger,Senator Roth, to the members and representatives of the Joint Chiefs,members of the diplomatic corps, and other interested citizens, manyof whom have held high positions in the national security apparatusof this country and the military of our country. We're grateful foreveryone's presence here today.
I especially want to thank the members of the Senate whoare here. I thank Senator Roth, the chairman of the NATO observergroup, Senator Moynihan, Senator Smith, Senator Levin, Senator Lugar,Senator Robb, and Senator Thurmond. Your leadership and that ofSenators Lott, Daschle, Helms and Biden and others in this chamberhas truly, as the Secretary of State said, made this debate a modelof bipartisan dialogue and action.
The Senate has held more than a dozen hearings on thismatter. We have worked very closely with the Senate NATO observergroup. And I must say, I was essentially gratified when the SenateForeign Relations Committee voted 16 to 2 in support of enlargement.
Now, in the coming days the full Senate will act on thismatter of critical importance to our national security. Theadmission of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to NATO will bea very important milestone in building the kind of world we want inthe 21st century.
As has been said, I first proposed NATO enlargement fouryears ago, when General Joulwan was our commander in Brussels. Manytimes since, I've had the opportunity to speak on this issue. Now afinal decision is at hand, and now it is important that all theAmerican people focus on this matter closely. For this is one ofthose rare moments when we have within our grasp the opportunity toactually shape the future, to make the new century safer and moresecure and less unstable than the one we are leaving.
We can truly be present at a new creation. WhenPresident Truman signed the North Atlantic Treaty 49 years ago nextmonth, he expressed the goal of its founders in typically simple andstraightforward language: to preserve their present peacefulsituation and to protect it in the future. The dream of thegeneration that founded NATO was of a Europe whole and free. But theEurope of their time was lamentably divided by the Iron Curtain. Ourgeneration can realize their dream. It is our opportunity andresponsibility to do so, to create a new Europe undivided,democratic, and at peace for the very first time in all history.
Forging a new NATO in the 21st century will help tofulfill the commitment and the struggle that many of you in this roomengaged in over the last 50 years. NATO can do for Europe's eastwhat it did for Europe's west -- protect new democracies againstaggression, prevent a return to local rivalries, create theconditions in which prosperity can flourish.
In January of 1994, on my first trip to Europe for theNATO summit, we did take the lead in proposing a new NATO for a newera. First, by strengthening our Alliance to preserve its coremission of self-defense, while preparing it to take on the newchallenges to our security and to Europe's stability. Second, byreaching out to new partners and taking in new members from amongEurope's emerging democracies. And third, by forging a strong andcooperative relationship between NATO and Russia.
Over the past four years, persistently andpragmatically, we have put this strategy into place. NATO hasshifted to smaller, more flexible forces better prepared to providefor our defense in this new era, but also trained and equipped forother contingencies. Its military power remains so unquestioned thatit was the only force capable of stopping the fighting in Bosnia.NATO signed the Founding Act with Moscow, joining Russia andhistory's most successful alliance in common cause for a peaceful,democratic, undivided Europe. We signed a charter to buildcooperation between NATO and Ukraine. We created the Partnership forPeace as a path to full NATO membership for some, and a strong andlasting link to the Alliance for others.
Today, the Partnership for Peace has exceeded itsmission beyond the wildest dreams of those of us who started it. Ithas more than three dozen members.
Now we're on the threshold of bringing new members intoNATO. The Alliance's enlargement will make America safer by makingNATO stronger, adding new forces and new allies that can share oursecurity burdens. Let me be very clear: NATO's core mission willremain the same -- the defense of the territory of its members. Theaddition of new members will strengthen and enhance that mission. Inpursuing enlargement, we have made sure not to alter NATO's corefunction or its ability to defend America and Europe's security.
Now I urge this Senate to do the same, and in particularto impose no constraints on NATO's freedom of action, its militarydecision-making, or its ability to respond quickly and effectively towhatever challenges may arise. NATO's existing treaty and the way itmakes defense and security decisions have served our nation'ssecurity well for half a century.
In the same way, the addition of these new members willhelp NATO meet new challenges to our security. In Bosnia, forexample, Polish, Czech, and Hungarian soldiers serve alongside ourown with skill and professionalism. Remember, this was one of thelargest, single operational deployments of American troops in Europesince World War II. It was staged from a base is Taszar, Hungary.It simply would not have happened as swiftly, smoothly, or safelywithout the active help and support of Hungary.
As we look toward the 21st century, we're looking atother new security challenges as well -- the spread of weapons ofmass destruction and ballistic missile technology, terrorism and thepotential for hi-tech attacks on our information systems. NATO mustbe prepared to meet and defeat this new generation of threats, to actflexibly and decisively under American leadership. With three newmembers in our ranks, NATO will be better able to meet those goals aswell.
Enlargement also will help to make Europe more stable.Already, the very prospect of membership has encouraged nationsthroughout the region to accelerate reforms, resolve disputes, andimprove cooperation.
Now, let me emphasize what I've said many times beforeand what all NATO allies have committed to: NATO's first new membersshould not be its last. Keeping the doors open to all of Europe'snew democracies will help to ensure that enlargement benefits thesecurity of the entire region, not just the first three new members.
At last summer's summit in Madrid, NATO agreed toexamine the process of enlargement at our next summit in 1999.Neither NATO nor my administration has made any decisions or anycommitments about when the next invitations for membership should beextended, or to whom. I have consulted broadly with Congress ondecisions about the admissions of the first three members. I pledgeto do the same before any future decisions are made. And of courseany new members would also require the advice and the consent of theUnited States Senate.
For these reasons, I urge in the strongest terms theSenate to reject any effort to impose an artificial pause on theprocess of enlargement. Such a mandate is unnecessary and, Ibelieve, unwise. If NATO is to remain strong, America's freedom tolead it must be unfettered and our freedom to cooperate with ourother partners in NATO must remain unfettered. A unilateral freezeon enlargement would reduce our own country's flexibility and,perhaps even more important, our leverage, our ability to influenceour partners. It would fracture NATO's open-door consensus, it wouldundermine further reforms in Europe's democracies, it would draw anew and potentially destabilizing line, at least temporarily, inEurope.
There are other steps we must take to prevent thatdivision from re-emerging. We must continue to strengthen thepartnership for peace with our many friends in Europe. We need togive even more practical expression to the agreements between NATOand Russia, and NATO and Ukraine, turning words into deeds. WithRussia and other countries, we must continue to reduce our nuclearstockpiles -- and we thank you, Senator Lugar, for your leadership onthat -- to combat the dangers of proliferation, to lower conventionalarms ceilings all across Europe. And all of us together must helpthe Bosnian people to finish the job of bringing a lasting peace totheir country. If you think about where we were just a year ago inBosnia, not to mention two years ago, not to mention 1995, no onecould have believed we would be here today.
It would not have happened had it not been for NATO, thePartnership for Peace allies, the Russians, all of those who havecome together and joined hands to end the bloodiest conflict inEurope since the second world war.
Now we have to finish what America started four yearsago, welcoming Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic into ourAlliance. If you look around at who is in the room today, you cansee that they are more than willing to be a good partner. They willmake NATO stronger; they will make Europe safer; and in so doing,they will make America and our young people more secure. They willmake it less likely that the men and women in uniform who serve underGeneral Shelton and the other generals here, and their successors inthe 21st century, will have to fight and die because of problems inEurope.
A new NATO can extend the blessings of freedom andsecurity in a new century. With the help of our allies, the supportof the Senate, the strength of our continued commitment, we can bringEurope together -- not by force of arms, but by possibilities ofpeace. That is the promise of this moment. And we must seize it.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)