Back to Common Ground Archive


Program 9745
November 11, 1997


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: …it’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

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.

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

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.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security