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Jewish World Review June 26, 2001 / 5 Tamuz, 5761

Jill "J.R." Labbe

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Just how many NATOans are necessary? -- THE temperatures of war may change over time from hot to cold, but NATO's purpose remains constant as a military alliance whose members pledge an assured response when the security of other member nations is threatened.

"The security of all Allies is indivisible: an attack on one is an attack on all." Perhaps not as pithy as the motto that Alexandre Dumas assigned to his Three Musketeers -- "One for all and all for one" -- but the sentiment is clear.

Yet in pragmatic terms, is it reasonable, feasible, remotely conceivable that an American-led NATO would go to war over Slovenia? Estonia? Latvia?

Exactly how much oil `is' under the Baltic states?

During his first foray overseas as president of the world's sole remaining superpower, George W. Bush advocated an expansion of an alliance that could see U.S. troops mucking around in any number of regional conflicts -- exactly the kind of entanglements that Candidate Bush cautioned against when he called for a close re-examination of the kinds of missions that the nation's military undertake.

Since the end of World War II and the Cold War, the nature of conflict in Europe has changed from continent-consuming battles to more narrowly focused regional problems. Instead of epic clashes of good vs. evil in the form of democracy vs. communism, the skirmishes are often ethnically based. If NATO's number grows from the current 19, the new members are going to expect the alliance's help in these regional spats.

That reality was voiced by representatives of one of the newest alliance members just last week. Poland (admitted during the first round of NATO enlargement in 1999 along with the Czech Republic and Hungary) is increasing pressure on its allies to admit East European countries next year -- in particular the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The Polish news agency PAP reported that one foreign relations committee official suggested admitting all of them at once because "one headache is better than three headaches."

Poland's president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, was reported in European newspapers as saying: "As a NATO member, Poland thinks that Latvia has to be a part of the second wave of NATO enlargement, which will enhance security in the region."

Seven other countries also are eying the coveted invitation to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization: Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia and Albania.

The glue that holds the alliance together is the shared desire to promote stability based on "common democratic values" and respect for human rights and the rule of law. (It apparently doesn't cleave fast and hard to that human rights caveat, or Turkey would have been booted out years ago.) Finding the common values, though, in the variety of democracies operating in the former Soviet states is tough.

In truth, the use of the word `democracy' to describe the governing structures in many of these nations is a stretch. At the core of all democracy stands the idea that by voting, one has the power and responsibility to help determine one's own destiny. How exactly do the former Soviet states qualify as democratic when, in some, half of their residents aren't considered full-fledged citizens under their onerous citizenship rules and are therefore denied the right to vote?

Of course, NATO membership isn't a prerequisite for the alliance to get involved in a country's business. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is already knuckle-deep in a shooting war, and NATO troops are fixin' to be right in the middle of things.

According to testimony Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the North Atlantic Council has agreed to set up disarmament stations where the National Liberation Army, composed of ethnic Albanian militants, can turn in its guns if a peace agreement is ever worked out with government officials.

The new committee chairman, Sen. Joseph Biden, said Wednesday that he supports "limited" NATO military involvement in Macedonia.

It would be most helpful if Biden would define `limited.' You will recall that he was among those senators pushing the Clinton administration to use force to protect ethnic Albanians from the Serbs in Kosovo.

That engagement was supposed to be limited, too -- and U.S. troops are still there.

JWR contributor Jill "J.R." Labbe is senior editorial writer and columnist for the Star-Telegram . Comment by clicking here.

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© 2001, Jill "J.R." Labbe