George W. Bush hit the 100 days mark in the White House, he is doing
pretty well: His poll ratings are high
compared to Bill Clinton's at this point in his presidency, and
the influential transatlantic Economist magazine has just
rebuked media, Democrat, and European critics of his leadership
for exaggerating both his conservatism and his lack of competence.
Western European leaders in particular have been inclined to sneer
at Bush's supposed lack of sophistication in foreign affairs. They
cherish the notion of unifying Europe's defense with a Rapid Reaction
Force that would be independent of NATO and the United States; they
dislike the proposal for an American system of missile defense;
they are nervous of expanding NATO (and thus of offending Russia)
further, and they worry that the White House does not pay sufficient
regard to their concerns.
Interestingly, however, their disdain is not shared by the leaders
of Eastern and Central Europe. For obvious historical reasons, they
are more nervous of Russia and more determined to safeguard America's
military presence in Europe.
Two prime ministers arrived in Washington in the past week
Bulgaria's Ivan Kostov and Hungary's Viktor Orban to lobby
for, among other aims, the further expansion of NATO eastward. Nine
nations are seeking entry at next year's NATO summit in Prague.
Hungary is already a NATO member; Bulgaria is one of the stronger
candidates for NATO membership, and both governments took considerable
domestic political risks to assist NATO in the Kosovo conflict.
Significantly, both support the admission of all nine NATO applicants.
Their enthusiasm for a wider NATO is very easy to understand. As
Kostov says, the promise of NATO expansion to Eastern Europe and
the Balkans provides the best basis for the peaceful settlement
of the ethnic disputes that still obstruct the region's stability
and future prosperity. Once the Americans are included in any grouping
like NATO, every other member ceases to fear his neighbor. It is
fear that promotes instability and security that underpins
Hence, as Orban is expected to tell the New Atlantic Initiative
(which is tonight making him the first recipient of its Freedom
Award), the 1989 expansion of NATO has already created a zone of
stability and prosperity in central Europe.
What is worrying is that increasingly the West Europeans would like
NATO to pull up the drawbridge and keep eastern Europe out of the
military club as well as the economic one or admit two new
members at most.
They claim to fear Russia's reaction not unreasonable since
the Russians are indeed strongly opposed. Yet there is more to it
than that. NATO has greatly benifitted Russia by removing any rational
fear of a German attack. And the Europeans know that well. Their
real reason for keeping eastern Europe at arm's length may be that
they fear its entry would strengthen America in transatlantic debates
on a range of issues.
East Europeans are more wary of Russia than are France and Germany;
they are less hostile toward Bush's plans for missile defense, and
they share London's view that any separate European defense force
should be subordinate to NATO rather than wholly independent.
In short, although they are committed to "building Europe," they
also support the construction of a new Atlantic architecture that
would keep America in Europe as the leader of the alliance indefinitely.
Bush should pay attention: The leaders of mitteleuropa are now among
his closest allies in alliance politics. Europeans might also note
that Bush at the end of his 100 days is doing very well indeed by
one historic comparison. Napoleon Bonaparte (who began the whole
"100 days" exercise) ended his own 100 days by being exiled to St.
Helena after his attempt to unify Europe ended in defeat at the
hands of the then leading "Anglo-Saxon" power.
Just a point to bear in mind.
This originally appeared in the Chicago