The Western alliance now seems destined for confrontation with Moscow over the possible inclusion of Poland in Nato, a proposal that has drawn bitter and consistent criticism from the Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev.
Mr Hurd acknowledged that Russia was "entitled to an assurance that the process will not surprise her", and agreed with Mr Kozyrev on the need to avoid "a nightmare of renewed confrontation".
But Mr Hurd's remarks, in a speech prepared for delivery at last night's Lord Mayor's banquet in London, made no practical concessions to Russian concern. "Poland longs for collective security," the Foreign Secretary said, "because her history of invasion and partition leaves her anxious, even impatient. Who can blame her?"
Mr Hurd warned that the expansion of Nato committed its member states to dramatic military and political responsibilities. "It means the extension of specific and binding guarantees which amount to a more dramatic pooling of sovereignty than anything envisaged in the European Union," he said.
"If a member of Nato is attacked in the morning, Britain is at war in the afternoon."
Mr Hurd said forethought and planning was needed, not least to reassure Russia that an enlarged Nato would not amount to the creation of a new hostile bloc.
"The Nato allies could not possibly be heirs to Napoleon and Hitler, pointing a dagger at the heart of Russia," he said. Russia's views would be sought and listened to, he claimed.
This formulation is unlikely to still the chorus of indignation from Moscow, where the accession of Poland to Nato is widely regarded as an alteration to Russian security interests of historic proportions.
Russia is also, though to a lesser extent, concerned about the aspirations of Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia to join Nato. Indeed, Mr Kozyrev has said his country would prefer to see the organisation dissolved. He has proposed in its place a new continental security order, perhaps founded on the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). That prospect, too, was dismissed by Mr Hurd, who described the OSCE as merely one strand of Europe's security relationship with Russia.
Nato, he said, was "the most successful collective security organisation we have known" and would not be dismantled. "We cannot tell the time or the origin of the next threat," he said, "but we cannot be caught unready. Nor can we deny indefinitely to others in Europe the protection which we have secured for ourselves."Reuse content