AT a time when the national mood seems to favor less international risk and involvement for the United States, two Republican initiatives in Congress could have exactly the opposite result - over the long term.
In the first instance, the Senate is pressing the Clinton administration to lift the arms embargo on the Bosnian government. If there is no peace plan in the region by May 1, congressional pressure will grow.
The Senate's move to lift the embargo flows from a genuine frustration and concern over the Bosnians' plight. But Britain, France, and other United Nations members have put the US government on notice that such a unilateral move will result in withdrawal of British and French units now acting as peacekeepers in Bosnia. The US may be called upon to assist in extricating them. This prospect could be realized even earlier if President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia continues to insist that UN forces leave his country. The Senate seems to be aware of these risks and willing to accept them.
What the Senate has not fully examined are the other potential consequences. Those pressing for such action expect that if the embargo is removed other nations will supply the arms - preferably nations friendly to the US, such as Saudi Arabia. But where will any friendly supplier turn for assistance in airlifting the arms? To the US - with the result that US military aircraft will be flying into the Yugoslavian morass. And who will train the Bosnians to use US arms? Inevitably, there will be demands for US personnel to be involved. Inevitably, the US will be drawn into the fighting on the ground. If the US refuses to help because of the risk involved, the Bosnian government will receive one more tragic disappointment and the US will lose international credibility.
The second Republican initiative calls for NATO membership for four Eastern European countries: Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. This provision was rushed through the US House without serious hearings or debate. Did members look at Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, the provisions of which would be extended to new NATO members? It reads: ``The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them [the members] in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them ... will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with other parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.''
No stronger commitment to deploy US forces exists among US international obligations. The terms of the treaty were the subject of extensive congressional hearings and debates over a two-year period between 1945 and 1947. Today the House would extend that commitment, without further consideration, to the borders of Russia and Ukraine, to a region where the democratic commitments of at least one of the governments (Slovakia) are in doubt and where political elements in other countries, including Poland, have recently been cool toward NATO membership. And the extension is into a region, like the Balkans, where overlapping ethnic and national claims lie beneath the surface and could erupt at any time.
The proposal undoubtedly stems in part from lingering fears of Russia. The situation in the region is seen as an opportunity to secure the future of the former ``captive nations.'' Each of the initiatives may have merit. However, it is hard to avoid the impression that each is being pushed for emotional and ideological reasons rather than on the basis of a well-considered assessment of its long-term consequences.