Eastern Europe and the Western Alliance

Commentary by Pete du Pont

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil," Edmund Burke observed, "is for good men to do nothing." While what has happened in Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 is hardly evil; communism was the evil; the fact is that good men have done very little to nourish the seeds of Western values in the freed nations of Eastern Europe.

At a recent gathering of several hundred pro-democracy ministers and MPs from western and central European nations in Prague, Czech Republic President Vaclev Havel put it more bluntly: "Six years have passed since the fall of the Iron Curtain. It seems to me that little has happened during those six years and time is working against the Democrats. Against those who want peace and peaceful cooperation. Unless Democrats proceed with greater vigor to build the European order, others will start to do so and we know who the 'others' are.The story of the former Yugoslavia should be a clear warning for Europe and for the whole world as to what can happen if there is too much hesitation."

The Congress of Prague, as the meeting was called, stressed the urgency of bringing Eastern European nations into the western alliance. Its mission was "to reunite the family of western civilization, and so to ensure its future." Lest this seem too pessimistic, consider that for 50 years, from 1939 to 1989, Central Europe was the battleground of our century's epic battle of freedom against tyranny. With the flush of the victory of the west over communism, all seemed possible, and the integration of Russia's former satellites into the European community and its commerce seemed probable.

But it has not come to pass. Instead, "Market reforms in the former communist countries are being slowed down or reversed. Post-communists now govern in all the former satellites except the Czech Republic. A former communist has replaced Lech Walesa as president of Poland. The communists won 45 percent of the Russian Duma in the recent elections. And Central Europe has seen its membership of both NATO and the EU postponed."

So what to do? First, the economic base of western Europe must be expanded eastward. The current strategy of European Union (EU) advocates; principally the French and Germans; is flawed. A single, common-currency, Brussels-regulated European monolith, hard to join and with limited economic growth potential once admitted (the EU annual growth targets are the same anemic 2.5% as the U.S. Federal Reserve's), offers less hope for the future than a tariff-free trading group with harmonized procedures. All the former European Soviet satellites should quickly become a part of such a group.

Second, NATO must be expanded eastward as well. The Czech Republic and Hungary should be admitted now; Poland and the Baltic nations should follow. The Russians, of course, are opposed, and have been saber-rattling against it ("Moscow plans pact with Belorussia if NATO expands" - May 15, 1996). But as the London Times editorialized on May 14th, "The case for enlargement is one of principle: that independent nations have the right to choose their own foreign and defense policies and allies." Especially independent nations once enslaved by the very nation now objecting to their increased freedoms. Or in President Havel's words, we cannot allow "someone else [to] decide which countries should be allowed to join the Alliance and which should not."

Third, the United States and the newly enlarged memberships of the EU must move promptly to increase trade across the Atlantic. A Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) must be put on the agenda of the World Trading Organization. If it does not receive favorable attention, the EU and NAFTA should begin direct discussions to further liberalize trade agreements.

For seven years there has been a window of opportunity to bring stability to an area of the world that has spawned a century of wars. But it is closing rapidly; in fact, there is a chance that it may be slammed shut by the June elections in Russia. The fears of central European nations of instability to the East are not groundless.

Lady Thatcher's address to the Congress of Prague provided a practical program: "to merge the North American Free Trade Area with the European community, including the countries of Central and perhaps in time Eastern Europe." And a corresponding vision: "We in the West won a great victory in the Cold War. Let us not now forget why we fought. The mission of this Congress is to recapture that sense of purpose and clothe it with practical action."

There is an opportunity to bring the victims of this century the opportunities of the next one. It must be seized before it slips away.