NATO Enlargement: What's the Rush?

NATO Enlargement: What's the Rush?

Mini Teaser: Temporizing is not always a good idea, but neither is impetuousness, and it is nothing other than impetuous to end the NATO enlargement debate prematurely, to decide such an important issue before its time.

by Author(s): Adam Garfinkle

This is probably the best of possible futures, but at present Europe
appears instead to be set on course either for "deep"-and-small-EU,
or for retrograde motion toward newly competitive security policies
should European Union "beyond Maastricht" fail. It will probably
fail. Nor have the major West European states shown much talent for
handling security issues at their periphery, as the Bosnia experience
shows. But whatever happens, the evolution of European politics, well
entangled as they already are with American political influence and
military power, will be more important to European security than
whether NATO is enlarged in the near term or not.

Walk, Don't Run

Unfortunately, the enlargement dilemma deflects attention from all this - but that dilemma sits in our laps and something must be done about it. What is that something? It is, I suggest, to slow the policy process down to give ourselves a chance to sort out these larger issues. The polarizing tendencies of polemic aside, we face a common problem over NATO enlargement: that of wanting something, but not wanting to pay the price for it. It is possible simultaneously to credit most prudential arguments against enlarging NATO and still respect some arguments in principle favoring it. The trick, as always, is to judge wisely with both sets of arguments in mind.

The best argument for enlargement is that which sees a larger NATO as protection against a Europe returned to re-nationalized, competitive security policies. The optimists may be right about both Germany and Russia, and correct that even a revival of their rivalry would be expressed only in relatively harmless economic terms. But that is by no means clear. The German political personality floats today in a historical space defined by the memory of moral enormities and dual national defeat on the one side, impressive economic success and recent reunification on the other. It is, indeed, too soon to draw confident conclusions about its future.

As for Russia, few would claim that its journey is set and its destination known. So far, so pretty good, but until Russia has built a social infrastructure for political pluralism and the rule of law - both unknown in six hundred years of its modern history, and still little more than noble intentions - no one could be blamed for expecting another autocratic, imperial emergence from another Russian Time of Troubles. And, certainly, Central Europe has a capacity for homegrown mischief whose exploitation by troubled powers on the flanks could once again prove irresistible.

That said, concern about future European troubles is at present very speculative. There is plenty of time to see whether such worries are justified, so there is no need to rush into major commitments without really having thought them. through. That we are on the verge of such decisions anyway owes much more to the fallout from the Clinton administration's accident-prone experience in Europe over the past four years than to careful analysis.

Temporizing is not always a good idea, but neither is impetuousness, and it is nothing other than impetuous to end the NATO enlargement debate prematurely, to decide such an important issue before its time. In one sense, though, debate cannot end, for events will re-open it - several times, no doubt - in the years ahead. As they do, we shall be reminded that there are some things in life that, if they cannot be done properly, ought not be done at all.

Time, therefore, is of the essence in the special sense that we should use the uncharacteristically ample supply at our disposal to apply the diplomatic arts and to examine carefully all the options in Europe, not only those directly pertaining to NATO enlargement. If the Clinton administration is not so disposed, then the Senate, before and during ratification hearings, should insist on it. That is, in this case, the national interest.

Essay Types: Essay