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On ice cream, hot dogs and NATO

Ben Cohen, head of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, is struggling for the right analogy: If NATO expansion against a newly democratic Russia were like the ice cream biz, what would it be?

"I think I've got it," says Ben. "Our biggest competitor is Haagen-Dazs. So it would be as if one day Haagen-Dazs announced that after all these years of competing with us, it had decided to go out of the ice cream business and instead would sell only hot dogs. And then one day Haagen-Dazs Hot Dogs comes to Ben & Jerry's and says, "We would like to be partners with you and sell your ice cream in our hot dog shops.' But we said to them, "No, we won't let you sell our ice cream. We still want to drive Haagen-Dazs out of business, even though you're not in the ice cream business anymore, because we remember you were once in the ice cream business. And furthermore, we're going to spend $2-billion to kill your hot dog business to make sure you'll never sell ice cream again."'

Well, you get the point. NATO expansion is about not knowing when the war is over and how to consolidate your gains. Now you might ask what Ben of Ben & Jerry's knows about such things and why he is buying newspaper ads opposing NATO expansion, on the eve of the Senate vote.

The answer is that Cohen is not an expert in foreign policy, but that makes him perfect for the NATO debate, because it hasn't been about foreign policy. It has been about politics _ the Clinton team's desire to win Eastern European ethnic votes. It has been about marketing _ the biggest lobby for NATO expansion is U.S. arms sellers. And it has been about nostalgia _ the nostalgia of the conservative right for the Soviet Union and the clarity of the Cold War.

The one thing it has not been about is what Cohen is an expert in: what's good for America. And as the founder of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, a coalition of 400 executives concerned about the future of U.S. schools and cities, Cohen is asking the only relevant question: Why would the United States expand a Cold War alliance against a democratic Russia that wants to be part of Western Europe, when those resources and energies could be used at home and abroad so much more productively?

"It's crazy," he says.

But NATO expansion isn't just dumb. It's dangerous _ because fighting the last war is only going to make it harder to win the next one. What are the threats to U.S. security today? They are Russia's loosely controlled nukes, missile proliferation, terrorism, rogue states like Iraq and global organized crime (especially Russian). The United States cannot effectively deal with these problems without a cooperative Russia. Therefore, there is only one relevant test for NATO expansion: Will it help or hinder U.S.-Russian cooperation on America's post-Cold War agenda?

It will absolutely hinder. NATO expansion will exacerbate America's security problems in Europe _ because just bringing Poland, Hungary and the Czechs into NATO is going to draw a new dividing line in Europe, and bringing all Central and Eastern Europeans into NATO, including the Balts, will only rekindle the Cold War and prompt Russia to rely even more on nuclear weapons for its defense.

Oh, but you don't understand Russia, the NATO expanders say. It's as much a bear as the Soviet Union. It will re-occupy Eastern Europe as soon as it's strong enough. Maybe. But so far the Russians have peacefully withdrawn their troops from Eastern Europe, abandoned communism, established democratic rule, disbanded the Soviet Union and agreed to conventional and nuclear arms reduction treaties, in which they gave up much more than we did.

That's why those Cold War hard-liners who actually know Russian history, politics and culture _ like Ronald Reagan's ambassador to Moscow, Jack Matlock, or Harvard historian Richard Pipes _ are against NATO expansion. They know that if Russia should turn into a bear again, there's ample time to deter it. But in the meantime we maximize America's post-Cold War interests by trying to nurture the reforming Russia, the one before our eyes, rather than treating it like the Soviet Union in drag, and inevitably restricting future cooperation on what matters to us. As Cohen would put it, opposing NATO expansion is not about being sensitive to Russia's feelings, but about being sensitive to U.S. interests.

Ah, but what does the ice cream man know about foreign policy?

New York Times News Service

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