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U.S. CAN’T MAINTAIN WORLD ROLE IF ALLIES WON’T PULL OWN WEIGHT

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Today I have a conflict of mindsets. One says: Within the next decade the Russian bear will become strong and hungry and will growl again, so we must strengthen and extend the Western alliance to avert a test by war.

Deep geothinkers such as Kissinger and Brzezinski support this mindset with historical sweeps: Russia is authoritarian at heart and expansionist by habit; with its educated population and vast resources - now unencumbered by communist baggage - Russia will rise again to superpowerhood and is manifestly destined to look west and south to fill its irredental caries.If that's true - and a lifetime's hawkish instinct says it is - then we should set aside petty irritations with newly complacent allies in Europe. We should not only maintain our troop strength of 100,000 Americans there, which puts our men and women where our mouth is, but extend NATO membership eastward to countries most likely to be threatened by a revivified Moscow.

That means soon taking in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states - the most Westernized nations of Eastern Europe - and ultimately Ukraine as it privatizes. The time to push the protective line eastward is now, while Russia is weak and preoccupied with its own revival, and not later, when such a move would be an insufferable provocation to a superpower.

That inclusion is the direction taken by Clintonites, to the consternation of doves and other isolationists. After flirting for a year with a silly halfway house called a "Partnership for Peace" to fool or pacify the Russians, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott is getting serious about making certain the nations most at risk will be brought into NATO and no longer be up for grabs.

That's why President Clinton is off to Budapest on Sunday on a frenetic five-hour photo event at a gathering of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the alliance bigger than NATO but smaller than the United Nations. It's a way of telling the Russians they can belong to a convivial European club too, without letting them into NATO, which would defeat the Atlantic alliance's purpose.

On the other hand, if allies are not prepared to pull their weight in an alliance, let them go it alone.

Bosnia is to the United Nations what Ethiopia was to the League of Nations: the moment of truth at which the world body flinched, inviting greater aggression elsewhere later. The United States wanted to supply the victims with arms and offer them NATO - mainly U.S. - air support. France and Britain put troops in only to facilitate surrender. But if nobody is willing to supply Sarajevo, who will be willing to die for Danzig?

Or Paris, for that matter? France's record includes a pre-emptive surrender in World War II and a free ride on NATO's back in the Cold War. Britain's reliability has been compromised by a studied spinelessness intended to curry favor with Europhiles. And insular Germany, the real power in Europe, quietly favors helping us defend Germany.

If our NATO partners laugh at our leadership in the Balkans, why maintain a major force over there at all? Why promise to participate in a European nuclear war? America's front line is no longer Europe; our front line is the skies over the United States.