Moynihan was, and is, an outspoken critic of the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to include Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
This past Thursday, members of the Senate voted 80-19 to expand NATO across the former Iron Curtain.
The worry of Moynihan, Sen. Patrick Leahy and others who are opposed to the NATO expansion is that such action will anger Russian leaders and probably strengthen the efforts of those who are calling for a more nationalistic Russia.
Moynihan has a distinguished record as a senator and as an ambassador. He is held in high regard by his fellow senators. It would seem that when he suggests the world may be close to nuclear war, it would be of great concern to others in the Senate, as well as the American public.
The New York senator said that due to growing nationalism inside Russia, the fragile Russian government, the presence of many nuclear weapons inside Russia, the growing power of the Russian military, the desire of Boris Yeltsin to be in control of everything and now the advance of NATO next to the Russian border, ``we may stumble into the catastrophe of nuclear war with Russia.''
He added, ``This would come about not from Russian strength, but Russian weakness.''
Those who have backed the NATO expansion talk of further expansions of the NATO shield by eventually adding Romania, Slovenia and the three Baltic states, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Whether Russia ever would be invited to become a NATO member is a big unanswered question.
Bringing Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO will mean extending and upgrading the current military network of common command and control systems, communications, air defense and other alliance-wide operations. Some U.S. officials estimate it will cost NATO members at least $1.5 billion, with Uncle Sam picking up about $400 million of the price tag.
Moynihan pointed out the warning of many who questioned the NATO expansion, such as Charles Krauthammer, who asked in the Washington Post, ``Is NATO expansion directed against Russia? Of course it is.''
The senator also noted the comments of Russian President Yeltsin in his December 1997 presentation of the Russian National Security Blueprint. Moynihan said it was an assessment of their bleak situation and their only seeming option. Yeltsin said, ``The former defense system has been disrupted, and the creation of a new one is proceeding slowly. Long unprotected sections of the Russian Federation state border have appeared.'' What does remain intact and continues to work are the strategic nuclear weapons. This being the case, the senator pointed out, the National Security Blueprint added, ``Russia reserves the right to use all forces and systems at its disposal, including nuclear weapons, if the unleashing of armed aggression results in a threat to the actual existence of the Russian Federation as an independent sovereign state.''
The senator noted Russia's Duma has yet to ratify the START II treaty signed in 1991. He said a generation of arms negotiations beginning under President Eisenhower, all directed against ``first use'' nuclear policies, seems now to have been rejected by the Russians.''
The warning of many experienced and knowledgeable foreign diplomats was reported by Moynihan. Former Ambassador George Kennan said, ``Expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era.''
This is scary stuff. With a shaky Russian government and a continued expansion of NATO membership to other countries such as Croatia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria, probably near the end of 1999, and then the possibility of adding the three Baltic nations, what are Russian leaders to think?
Could military leaders seize control of the Russian government, and if so, is there reason to think they might be willing to test their military might against NATO countries along their border?
How much of this week's Senate vote on the expansion of NATO is more a question of playing politics than doing what is in the best long-range interests of the United States and the original 12 NATO members? If Moynihan is right, that the world is closer to a nuclear war today than at any time since the end of World War II, it is hoped the 80 U.S. senators knew what they were doing rather than simply voting in a way they thought would be most pleasing to their constituents. Surely they know a recent Pew opinion survey found that public approval for NATO expansion had dropped to 49 percent with a large undecided element.
Do the senators know more than their voters back home?