Monday, March 15, 1999

NATO expansion could
alienate Russia

THE admission of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to NATO, in a ceremony at the Harry Truman Library in Independence, Mo., doesn't strengthen the 50-year-old alliance; it dilutes it. Moreover, it arouses resentment in Russia, which could worsen relations with the West.

NATO was formed during the Truman administration to block Soviet aggression. It succeeded. The collapse of the USSR represented the victory of NATO. Since then NATO has been an alliance in search of a mission.

The new Russia is not the Soviet Union. Although it is far from a smoothly functioning democracy, Russia does not threaten its neighbors with aggression or the world with communist domination.

The three new members of NATO were Soviet satellites and of course do not wish to be under Russia's military domination. But the threat that justified NATO does not exist in their case.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's exclamation, "Hallelujah," as she received the admission papers for the three countries was misguided. This is no cause for celebration.

There were 12 original members of NATO at the time of its founding. Since 1949, it has been expanded to include Greece and Turkey in 1952, Germany in 1955 and Spain in 1982. The new additions bring the total to 19.

Moreover, this may not be the end of NATO's expansion. Others seeking admission are Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. The question of what NATO will do about these applicants is expected to dominate a NATO summit set for Washington in April.

A military alliance is not a social organization. It requires all members to come to the defense of any member threatened with attack. With the Cold War over, do Americans really want to be committed to the defense of Bulgaria, for example?

In recent years, NATO has taken on a new role as an opponent of ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. It has peacekeeping troops on duty in Bosnia and is ready to send more peacekeepers into the Serbian province of Kosovo if a peace agreement is reached.

Although these operations can be justified, they did not require NATO membership for Bosnia or Kosovo. The same could apply to NATO action elsewhere should it be required. In any case, the European members of NATO should be able to handle these low-level conflicts without U.S. participation. Unfortunately, they lack the will to do so. Expanding NATO could lead the United States into commitments that it should avoid.


Appeal on Rodrigues

THREE unit leaders of the United Public Workers have appealed to their international union to investigate the mishandling and possible misappropriation of union funds by UPW State Director Gary Rodrigues.

The allegations involve a sexual harassment complaint, the purchase of buildings by the UPW for offices, and the building and maintenance of Rodrigues' home in Bend, Ore. The charges involve matters reported previously by the Star-Bulletin's Ian Y. Lind.

The appeal was addressed to Gerald McEntee, international president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). McEntee has responded that the federation will not investigate the allegations at this time but the three stewards have the right to pursue remedies under the AFSCME constitution.

We hope they do. The stewards said the UPW Oahu executive board had refused to answer their questions or provide information on how union funds were spent. The stonewalling by the local union shouldn't be the end of the subject. The international union should not ignore these apparent abuses of authority by the UPW state director.


Tobacco companies

RJR Nabisco, the huge conglomerate formed in 1985, is selling its international tobacco unit to Japan Tobacco Inc., which is two-thirds owned by the Japanese government, and will spin off its U.S. tobacco business.

Coming on the heels of Big Tobacco's multibillion-dollar settlements of state lawsuits, and the prospect of further litigation, the move clearly is an attempt to defend Nabisco's food business from financial devastation. RJR's shares have lost more than half of their value since the company went public in 1991. Dissident shareholders have been prodding the company to boost the stock by separating the food business from tobacco.

The sale to a foreign buyer -- and a government at that -- could serve as a hint of further such moves as the tobacco companies seek shelter from the wave of litigation engulfing them. Asked about the threat of liability suits, a Japan Tobacco official observed that the company operated under a different legal system. Japan Tobacco will pay $8 billion for Reynolds International, the company's foreign tobacco operation.

The domestic operations, Reynolds Tobacco, will become a free-standing company, putting the original parent at a greater distance from tobacco liability damages.

Reynolds has about 24 percent of the tobacco market, about half that of Philip Morris. Philip Morris says it has no similar plans to separate its tobacco and food operations.

Nevertheless the tobacco litigation has made mergers with companies in the tobacco business deals to be shunned. Philip Morris' lawyers are no doubt plotting strategies to protect their company's non-tobacco operations from huge damage awards as well.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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