Bucharest on My Mind: Experts React to the NATO Summit

Bucharest on My Mind: Experts React to the NATO Summit

The allies are sending more troops to Afghanistan and behind U.S. missile-defense plans, but less than thrilled about expanding NATO into Russia’s backyard.

A Successful NATO Summit
Nikolas K. Gvosdev


For those who judge foreign policy by the criteria that President Ronald Reagan conveyed to his then-chief of staff James Baker ("I'd rather get 80 percent of what I want than to go over the cliff with my flag flying"), the NATO summit in Bucharest was a success for President George W. Bush.

The alliance formally endorsed the missile defense system that is to be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic (although it also again invited Russia to cooperate in this endeavor)-ending any possibility that missile defense might become an occasion for divisions among European states that could undermine transatlantic solidarity.

Recognizing the importance of success in Afghanistan for NATO's future credibility, French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to send additional forces to eastern Afghanistan, helping to relieve the pressure on embattled Canadian troops and reducing the possibility-which raised its ugly head at the NATO ministerial meeting in Vilnius earlier this year-that individual NATO members might begin to withdraw forces from the mission.

But to read some of the doom and gloom headlines, the decision not to extend membership action plans to Georgia and Ukraine at this particular summit is being treated as a disaster which somehow makes the Bucharest meeting a failure.

That Presidents Yushchenko of Ukraine and Saakashvili of Georgia are not happy with the outcome is perfectly understandable. Their disappointment and anger, however, should not be taken as the yardstick for assessing the overall positive nature of the meeting. Nor should Washington, Berlin, London, Paris or any other NATO capital be required to adopt as their assessment the reaction in Kyiv or Tbilisi.

And Georgia and Ukraine did receive a major "silver lining" at Bucharest in the communiqué. In the past, a number of continental European leaders have argued that NATO's mission should be focused on Europe and that future NATO members should have, in Sarkozy's words, a "European vocation." By keeping the door open to both, it torpedoes any plans for assigning a definitive eastern frontier to NATO (and by extension, the European Union) that would terminate at the western shores of the Black Sea. And for all the talk about supposed Russian "blackmail" of the Europeans, Moscow is still quite displeased with any statement on NATO that still declines to recognize the Eurasian/post-Soviet space as falling into Moscow's sphere of influence.

The president, however, can and should be faulted for his last-minute grandstanding on the MAP issue, when, after his telephone conversation with Chancellor Merkel (after his White House meeting with Saakasvhili), he was well aware of both the German concerns about extending the MAP at this time as well as the compromise solution that was being proffered. Perhaps Bush wanted to protect himself from contentious domestic U.S. criticism about kowtowing to Moscow and was content to shift the onus to those perfidious "Old Europeans" like France and Germany, the villains in 2003 over Iraq. But Sarkozy and Merkel are not Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder-and casting them in that role is counterproductive. Moreover, it doesn't bode well for all the various Republican and Democratic proponents of a "new multilateralism" that stresses taking the concerns of allies seriously to suggest that France and Germany had no legitimate grounds for their concerns about not moving ahead with expansion at this particular time.

It's also a bit disingenuous because Bush will be able to meet President Putin in Sochi without then having to deal with the issue of NATO expansion on the agenda, which assists him in his efforts to secure his legacy in terms of Russian-American relations. He also travels to Russia with a united NATO behind him on missile defense-including the endorsement of countries like Germany and Slovakia, which had been quite skeptical about the system.

So, all in all, a good summit meeting-and an important step in revitalizing transatlantic ties.


Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.


The Babysitter's Club
Ted Galen Carpenter


The NATO summit in Bucharest produced a split decision on expanding the alliance. Opposition from Germany, France and other key long-time members thwarted the Bush administration's goal of offering a Membership Action Plan (the first stage of preparing a country for admission to NATO) to Georgia and Ukraine. Several leading NATO powers realized that adding those countries to the alliance would provoke Russia and further damage the West's already-tense relationship with Moscow.

But membership for two other countries, Croatia and Albania, did get a green light. A third Balkan country, Macedonia, would have received an invitation if it had not been for an unresolved esoteric dispute with Greece about using the name "Macedonia"-which Athens claims belongs exclusively to a region in Greece.

The addition of Croatia and Albania is a textbook example of what has been wrong with Washington's NATO policy since the end of the cold war. Those two nations will do nothing to augment the vast military power of the United States or enhance the security of the American people. All they will do is create another set of potential headaches for Washington.

NATO was once a serious alliance with a serious purpose. Throughout the cold war, it was the mechanism that prevented the Soviet Union from intimidating or (less likely) attacking democratic Western Europe-a region of considerable strategic and economic importance. True, the United States was always the dominant player in the alliance, but Washington could count on credible secondary military powers, most notably Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Turkey. NATO may not have been the ideal instrument for protecting and promoting U.S. interests, since it did allow the European allies to underinvest in defense and sometimes free-ride on the U.S. defense guarantee, but the alliance at least arguably served America's security.

But the new members that the alliance has admitted since the end of the cold war are little more than weak client states that expect the United States to defend them. That was largely true even of the first round of expansion that added Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. It was more evident in the second round that embraced such military powerhouses as Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Such "allies" are security consumers, not security producers. From the standpoint of American interests they are not assets, they are liabilities-and potentially very dangerous liabilities. 

Taking on the obligation to defend the Baltic countries was especially unwise, because Washington now poses a direct geopolitical challenge to Russia right on Moscow's doorstep. Relations between Russia and its small Baltic neighbors are testy, to put it mildly. At the moment, Russia may be too weak to challenge the U.S./NATO security commitment to those countries, but we cannot be certain that will always be true. One only wishes that the European powers who blocked the U.S. drive to add Georgia and Ukraine to NATO had shown the same wisdom and caution when Washington pushed membership for the Baltic states.

The endorsement of NATO membership for Croatia and Albania confirms that the alliance has now entered the realm of farce. The military capabilities of those two countries are minuscule. According to the most recent edition of The Military Balance, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Croatia's military budget is a mere $875 million, and its military force consists of 17,660 active-duty personnel. Albania's budget is $208 million, and its force is 11,020. They will augment Estonia's $356 million and 4,100 troops, Latvia's $471 million and 5,969 troops, Lithuania's $470 million and 13,800 troops, and Slovenia's $750 million and 5,973 troops. By not offering membership to Macedonia, though, NATO will have to do without Skopje's $161 million and 10,890 troops.

Collectively, such members spend less on their militaries in a year than the United States spends in Iraq in ten days. How adding such military pygmies to NATO is supposed to enhance the security of the United States is truly a mystery.

But these new allies are not merely useless, they are potentially an embarrassment to the alliance, if not a danger. When Vice President Dick Cheney asserted during a visit to the Balkans in 2006 that such members would help "rejuvenate" NATO and rededicate the alliance to the values of freedom and democracy, he showed how out of touch with reality the Bush administration has become.

Croatia is just a few years removed from the fascistic regime of Franjo Tudjman and continues to have frosty relations with neighboring Serbia. Albania is a close ally of the new, predominantly Albanian state of Kosovo, an entity whose independence both Serbia and Russia do not recognize and vehemently oppose. Albania also is notorious for being under the influence of organized crime. Indeed, the Albanian mafia is legendary throughout southeastern Europe, controlling the bulk of gambling, prostitution and drug trafficking.

It is baffling why NATO (and especially the United States as the leader of the alliance) would want to take on such members. That is a policy that verges on masochism.

NATO is fast becoming a parody of itself. It is increasingly a combination political honor society and geopolitical babysitting club. The admission of such trivial military powers as the Baltic republics, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia and Albania confirms that the alliance has outlived any usefulness it once had. Someone should take the merciful step and put NATO out of its misery.