WASHINGTON, May 15 (UPI) -- The new head of an international think tank program that focuses on the expansion of NATO and on policy issues of common interest to the United States and Europe has ambitious plans to expand the reach and influence of the program on both sides of the Atlantic.
Radek Sikorski, the newly installed executive director of the American Enterprise Institute's New Atlantic Initiative, says that now that NATO is being enlarged to include former Soviet block nations -- the NAI's aim since its inception in 1996-- the policy group's focus has expanded.
He told United Press International that the NAI is now moving to promote the inclusion of other newly democratic nations in Central Asia into NATO, as well as the establishment of free trade between the European and NAFTA nations.
"We now have set ourselves even more ambitious goals (beyond) not only the next wave of NATO enlargement, which is coming up (this fall) in Prague," said Sikorski. "We want to look beyond this to what criteria will have to be met by countries such as the Ukraine, even Belarus, and one day perhaps Russia, to become a candidate for NATO membership."
Sikorski's strong belief in NATO stems from his former position as the secretary of foreign affairs for Poland's Solidarity's political party, and his time as a political refugee living in England during the 1980s. Before joining NAI last month, Sikorski was Poland's Deputy Minister of Defense and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1998 through 2001.
Sikorski -- who has been involved with NAI since its beginning -- has significant plans to expand the successful role he believes NAI has already played in expanding American-European connections. He believes that by increasing the dialogue on relevant issues involving the United States and Europe, NAI can help expand the relationship that has protected the interests of all members since the early days of the Cold War.
He plans on using the recent doubling of NAI's funding to get the group's message out to as broad an audience as possible. And he hopes to establish an electronic newsletter as well as Web cast lectures and events that will allow people all over the world to ask questions via Internet hook-up.
Sikorski also hopes the NAI can distribute policy publications to impoverished universities and libraries in countries in Central and Eastern Europe that could "greatly benefit from an improvement in the transatlantic stream of ideas."
In addition, he aims to expand the policy discourse by establishing a program to send lecturers to Europe, along with a syndication service for reprinting in other countries articles written by policy experts from both sides of the Atlantic.
Sikorski takes over the NAI at a time when European and American critics of U.S. involvement in European affairs contend NATO has outlived its usefulness. He vehemently disagrees: from his perspective, that assessment ignores the fact that U.S. involvement in European affairs is critical to stability in the region.
"We have had three world wars -- the First World War, the Second World War and the Cold War," said Sikorski. "Each happened when the United States was not involved in European affairs. I think in security terms the Western World, Europe and the Unites States are one. Clearly Poland bore the brunt of the instability in Europe each time America is not involved."
Sikorski says that it is now unlikely that NATO would ever be used for the purpose for which it was established -- a large-scale conventional war -- that this shows the success of the organization. And NATO's forces have been used for good in the last few years, he says.
"Thanks to NATO intervention in the Balkans we now have a democratic Serbia and the dictator of former Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, is being tried by the tribunal in the Hague," he said. "If that is the failure of NATO, I don't know what you would call a success. I don't see any country yet that has not benefited from NATO membership and would not benefit from EU membership."
Despite his belief in expanding U.S.-European ties, Sikorski conceded that their are barriers to this, including various trade issues such as farm subsidies in member nations, as well as recent moves by the United States to impose high tariffs on European steel imports and on the trade in genetically modified foods.
"This is exactly why we need the New Atlantic Initiative to get involved, because these disputes, unchecked, could actually harm the alliance," he said
In response to the distrust by some Europeans of increasing United States hegemony around the world, Sikorski says that the position of America in world affairs is an earned one stemming from its winning the Cold War and its promotion of democratic ideals that are also cherished by most Europeans.
As to the role that a think tank program can play in the debate, Sikorski said that the importance of think tanks "is much bigger than people here realize."
"I come from a country where free debate was not allowed until a few years ago, and where the institutions that inform the debate are pretty young, and I am enormously impressed with the strength and quality of the think tanks here in Washington," said Sikorski. "You are so fortunate in having so many people thinking about policy, preparing draft documents for government, for Congress."