NATO: The Dilemmas of Expansion
The fiftieth anniversary of NATO, which falls next April, willmark the conclusion of the first enlargement of the Allianceundertaken since the peaceful end of the Cold War. It is alsocertain to give rise to a new debate as to whether the Allianceshould continue to expand. It is therefore not too early to ponderthe several ramifications of that issue. They involve such broadgeostrategic matters as the nature of the long-term relationship ofAmerica to Europe, the proper scope of the Euroatlantic alliance,its connection to the also ongoing expansion of the European Union,the relationship of Russia to the expanded Euroatlantic andEuropean structures--as well as the more immediate policy choicesthat may need to be made regarding the specific timing of anyfurther expansion, its geographical direction, and its depth.
In brief, whether, and if so, why, when, where, and how much nextto expand, and eventually where to stop, are the questions thatneed to be addressed and aired.
Europe is Unfinished Business
The basic lesson of the last five decades is that European securityis the basis for European reconciliation. Without NATO, Francewould not have felt secure enough to reconcile with Germany, andboth France and Britain would have even more actively opposedGermany's reunification. It is enough to recall here the last-ditchmaneuvers by both Thatcher and Mitterrand to delay (and thus evenprevent) the reunification of Germany in order to appreciate theextent to which NATO has helped pacify the persisting Europeanfears of a powerful and potentially dominant Germany, its gooddemocratic and European postwar record notwithstanding.
Moreover, without NATO, it is most unlikely--for the samereasons--that the EC and now the EU would have ever come intobeing. Similarly, the ongoing reconciliation between Germany andPoland would not have been possible without the American presencein Germany and the related sense of security that Poland'sprospective membership in NATO has fostered in Poland. The same istrue of the Czech Republic and Germany, Hungary and Romania,Romania and Ukraine; and the desire to get into NATO is also havinga similar influence on Slovenia's attitude toward Italy andLithuania's toward Poland.
In the foreseeable future, the evolving reconciliation betweenPoland and Russia is also likely to become more marked. The Poles,once in NATO, will fear less that a fraternal embrace by their morepowerful neighbor will become again a stifling yoke. And once theRussians realize that Central Europe is no longer a geopoliticalvacuum, their definition of their sphere of influence will becomeless ambitious. Given the fact that all of Russia's westernneighbors--rightly or wrongly--fear its aspirations, greaterregional security thus will be to the benefit of all of Europe,Russia included.
This point--that security breeds reconciliation--deservesreiteration, given the recent debates over NATO's expansion. Even acursory review of the arguments made by the principal opponents ofthat expansion indicates how dramatically wrong have been theirdiagnoses. In fact, it would be positively unkind to list seriallyand identify all the apocalyptic predictions made by variousscholars, ex-ambassadors, and editorialists regarding Russia'slikely behavior in the wake of NATO's expansion. They simply failedto draw the most elementary lessons from Europe's recenthistory.
Moreover, the construction and expansion both of the EU and of NATOare clearly long-term historical processes that are still far fromfinished. Even if at this stage it may be premature to draw ademarcating line--and perhaps it should never be drawn with anydegree of finality, given the contingent nature of historicalprocesses--it is certainly evident that neither the EU nor NATO canbe viewed as having reached its ultimate limits. Both institutionsare committed publicly to further expansion, and even a glance at amap indicates why their present scope cannot be considered asfinal.
The expansion of the EU and of NATO are also mutually reinforcingprocesses. Each tends to facilitate the other, and the overlapbetween the two creates also the reality of greater politicalinterdependence. That enhances the sense of shared security andeven further binds Europe and America together. The two processesalso leapfrog each other. At any point in time, expansion of onemay be ahead of the other. Poland will be in NATO before it is inthe EU. Estonia is likely to be in the EU before it is in NATO. Butthe overlap between most of the EU and most of NATO creates a senseof common geopolitical space that collectively reassures allinvolved in the two frameworks.
For NATO, however, the commitment to expansion does raise the morespecific and fundamental question of the degree to which theorganization should remain primarily an integratedpolitical-military alliance and to what degree it should evolveinto a regional security system. In the former case, collectivedefense has to be the central concern; in the latter, more emphasiscan be assigned to peacekeeping. Again, in the former case,additional members should be judged primarily by the degree towhich they may enhance the Alliance's political-military potential;in the latter, by the extent to which they increase the scope ofpolitical stability. The former argues for greater selectivity inadmission; the latter for less discrimination.
Ultimately, neither formula can be seen as iron-clad, and expansioncannot be guided mechanically by either criterion. Nonetheless, thedistinction should be kept in mind, in order to make certain thatany additional expansion does contribute tangibly to collectivesecurity, and that it does not produce a watered-down NATO thatgradually loses its political-military cohesion and its capacityfor united and effective action. Concern for the preservation ofthe primacy of collective defense should also guide--and restrainany excessive enthusiasm in codifying--the formulation of NATO'snew strategic doctrine and the assumption by NATO of new"out-of-area" roles and mission. By seeking to take on too much,one could run the risk of undermining the magnetic core of theAlliance.
Hence, gradual and measured expansion--one that provides time forthe integration of new members, one that carefully meets theobjective criteria of membership, and one that is derived from thesubjectively voluntary desire of a given nation to join--is bothdesirable and even necessary. Halting the process would bearbitrary, demoralizing for those left out, and pernicious toEurope's security. A significant gap between the eventual scope ofthe EU and of NATO could create tensions in the American-Europeanconnection, breed misunderstandings, and perhaps in some cases eventempt external challenges. A proclaimed or even de facto halt inNATO's expansion would also be a denial of everything that haslately been affirmed by all the top NATO leaders. It would thusfundamentally damage Euroatlantic credibility while perhapsunintentionally signaling that what is beyond NATO may be up forgrabs.
When, Where, and How Much?
The three new members--Poland, the Czech Republic, andHungary--will be admitted early in 1999, either before or duringthe Alliance's fiftieth anniversary. At that point, some overtconfirmation of the Alliance's oft-stated commitment to acontinuing process ("open door policy") will be necessary, lest theimpression be created that the first enlargement has been the last.One can anticipate that Russia will pursue that objective and mighteven condition President Yeltsin's attendance at the Washingtonfte--presumably much desired by the Clinton administration andjustified by the existence of the NATO-Russia Council--on a promisethat the issue of enlargement be ignored or muted, and that formalenlargement not even take place on that occasion.
Yet silence and inaction on the issue could prove ascounterproductive as excessive emphasis on immediate andsubstantial follow-on enlargement. The Alliance is hardly ready totake on promptly a large second wave of members. It must absorb thenewly admitted members, while Russia must accustom itself to thenon-threatening reality of a gradually expanding alliance. Thatwill require several years, and it is no betrayal to acknowledgethis reality. But silence or only a token enlargement limited to asingle geopolitically insignificant and thus non-controversial newcandidate would be tantamount to a message that further expansionhas been relegated to ad calendas grecas. For reasons alreadystated, such a price should not be paid, even for a spectacularAmerican-Russian public relations success at the 1999 NATOsummit.
Accordingly, given these conflicting considerations, the bestcourse of action should involve coupling a ceremonious welcome tothe new members in April with a collective statement that theforeign and defense ministers of the Alliance are being chargedwith the task of identifying at a December 1999 ministerial thenext potential candidates for membership. Negotiations with thesecandidates regarding the matter could subsequently begin, pointingperhaps to eventual admission a year or so later, depending ontheir respective states of readiness. This would give everyoneconcerned time to learn that gradual expansion enhances Europeanreconciliation, while avoiding an ego contest at the April 1999summit among the heads of state regarding the selection of any newcandidates.
The foregoing would thus reconfirm that expansion is a continuinghistorical process, related to the construction of a new Europe andto the progressive redefinition of the scope and role of theEuroatlantic alliance. But doing so would necessitate also making aprudent choice regarding the direction and the depth of the secondwave of enlargement. Expansion to the southeast of Europe wouldpose fewer problems with Russia, and probably hardly any if it werelimited to Slovenia; expansion to the northeast, namely the Balticstates, would involve a wide crossing of Russia's declared "redline" and thus reignite the controversies that took place duringthe first enlargement. The southeast involves an area of greaterinstability but lesser external threat; the opposite is the casewith the northeast. What follows from that fact in so far as NATO'sinterests are involved?
It has already been noted that expansion confined to only one andvery non-controversial state would be more an act of evasion thanof fidelity to oft-stated commitments. Yet selecting several statesin one direction only could also prompt complications. To pick theBaltic states in one bite would be, indeed, to invite a quarrelwith Russia that could be divisive both for Europe and for theAlliance itself. Yet to go deep exclusively in the southeastdirection runs the risk, not only of selecting candidates who mightnot be quite ready for membership and thus actually weakening theAlliance's cohesion, but also of legitimating through the passageof time Russia's unilaterally drawn "red line."
Perhaps the best choice would be to remain faithful to threeprinciples: first, that only qualified candidates who truly desireand are ready for membership should be considered; second, that inkeeping with the solemn declaration of Madrid, no qualifiedEuropean state can be excluded by Moscow's unilateral "red line";and third, that there are no automatic linkages or clusters ofstates that have to be admitted together, either in the southeastor the northeast. Just as the EU did not hesitate to select Estoniaahead of the other Baltic states, so NATO should not feel compelledto consider states in some special clusters.
Accordingly, it might be appropriate and constructive to examinethe possibility of a limited expansion both to the southeast and tothe northeast, involving no more than two or so states, dependingon the degree to which they satisfy respectively the criteria ofmembership, and demonstrating thereby--but on a prudent basis--thatno democratic state of Europe can be arbitrarily blackballed by anon-member from participation in the Euroatlantic alliance.
At the present time, in the southeast, Slovenia and perhaps alsoRomania seem to be most advanced in their preparations; and in thenortheast that is the case with Lithuania. A decision in favor ofSlovenia and Lithuania would have the advantage of enhancing theAlliance's geographical cohesion (and of establishing a direct landconnection with Hungary), and both Italy and Denmark would beespecially gratified. In the event that Lithuania were to be thenortheastern choice, and given Estonia's advanced status innegotiations with the EU, it might also be wise to make concurrentefforts to facilitate Latvia's entrance into the WTO and to open aNATO information office in Riga (such offices exist in Moscow andKyiv), in order to reassure Latvia that it was not beingpermanently left behind the "red line."
The Issue of Russia
A properly paced process of enlargement should be one that neitherover-stretches the Alliance's cohesion and capabilities norunnecessarily delays Russia's liberation from its imperialnostalgia. Hence, Russia cannot, and should not, be excluded fromthe process of constructing a larger Europe securely embraced bythe Euroatlantic alliance. But Russia cannot be allowed to exercisea veto on the free choice of individual European states and, evenworse, to justify doing so on the basis that some of them hadformerly been part of the Soviet Union. To the Baltic states, theadditional fact that Russia still formally insists that they had in1940 joined the Soviet Union voluntarily only adds insult toinsecurity.
However, the process of expansion must be pursued in a fashion thatgives Russia time to digest the new realities and to learn fromthem that enhanced security breeds more genuine reconciliation.That process has already started in Russian-Polish relations. It isimportant that it be matched by reconciliation with the Balticstates and also with Ukraine. At some point, Ukraine too might optfor a closer link with NATO, and NATO certainly cannot a prioriexclude Ukraine simply because Moscow might disapprove. Moreover,Russia, if it is to be a truly European national state and not anostalgic craver of empire, must accept the fact that democraticEuropean states do wish to coalesce in a joint security frameworkwith America, and that sovereign right cannot be denied to them.Lines drawn on the basis of the old Stalinist empire can only serveto separate Russia from Europe.
By the same token, Russia cannot be asked to accept the expansionof NATO if it is at the same time seen as excluded forever from adeepening association with it. The creation of the JointNATO-Russian Council is a good beginning in forging a newrelationship, and that step too should be viewed as a continuingand evolving process. If President Yeltsin were to attend theWashington NATO summit, he should hear there not only areaffirmation of NATO's commitment to growth--in keeping with thevoluntary desire of democratic European nations--but also a moreexplicit affirmation of the principle that, in tandem with theexpansion of Europe, NATO's doors will remain open to all Europeanstates--Russia included--that subjectively desire membership andobjectively meet the requirements of that membership.
In politics, one should never use the words "never" or "end." Onesimply does not know where Europe will "end", say, fifty years fromnow, and hence one cannot also postulate that Russia should "never"be considered for membership. No one ever dreamed a hundred yearsago of a Euroatlantic community and no one can stipulatecategorically what that community of values and interests willencompass a century from now. The key issue is to keep thehistorical process of growth open, to sustain it with prudence anddeliberation, and to be clear-headed about the shared values itimplies.