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EDITORIAL : A CASE OF OVERSTRETCH CLINTON, DOLE ERR BY PUSHING THE EXPANSION OF NATO.

PRESIDENT Clinton called Tuesday for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to admit three Eastern European nations - probably Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic - by the spring of 1999, the 50th anniversary of the founding of NATO.

Bob Dole, Clinton's Republican opponent in the Nov. 5 election, responded by accusing the president of dragging his feet.

We think Clinton and Dole are wrong, no matter how well their messages might play to certain ethnic groups during the current political contest.

Times have changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The United States, rather than trying to enlarge NATO, should instead be leading a charge to re-evaluate the mission of the alliance in the post-Cold War era.

``Enlargement will mean extending the most solemn security guarantees to our allies - a new commitment to treat an attack on one as an attack on all,'' Clinton said.

True enough. But enlarging NATO also would mean extending the Western alliance's security blanket far to the east. That in turn would increase the United States' security commitments, perhaps to the point of treating a local confrontation between a new NATO member and a neighbor as an ``attack on all.'' Isn't that how World War I began?

Expansion - and we suspect that the precedent-setting step of admitting three Eastern European nations would open the floodgates - also would make the alliance unwieldy. Consensus would be more difficult to achieve if more members are admitted.

And as we have said before, the expansion of NATO threatens to damage U.S. relations with Russia. It could become a made-to-order issue for demagogues seeking to exploit the traditional suspicion of many Russians about the intentions of the West.

Noted historian Paul Kennedy, in the ``The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers,'' wrote: ``The United States now runs the risk, so familiar to historians of the rise and fall of previous great powers, of what roughly might be called `imperial overstretch': that is to say, decision-makers in Washington must face the awkward and enduring fact that the sum total of the United States' global interests and obligations is nowadays far larger than the country's power to defend them all simultaneously.''

The expansion of NATO at a time when Russia and other nations in Eastern Europe are going through the painful process of emulating the West by establishing democratic governments and free-market economies would be a classic example of ``imperial overstretch.''

Clinton, in his campaign speeches, is fond of talking about building bridges to the 21st century. But the president, with his feel-good advocacy of expanding NATO, is forging a chain to the past. And even worse, Dole is egging him on.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 24, 1996
Words:441
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