Expanding NATO membership while increasing Russia's involvement with the alliance is central to promoting American, European, and Russian security. Expansion, if done correctly, will facilitate the required flexibility the United States needs to protect its interests in a dangerous and unpredictable world. A larger pool of NATO countries will increase the opportunities for successful operations by coalitions of the willing.
The Senate is currently considering H.R. 3167, the NATO expansion bill. The bill, passed by the House, should it become law, would provide a strong congressional endorsement for NATO expansion further into Eastern Europe. Aside from the political implications, it also provides significant financial help to potential member states. Specifically, it allows Slovakia to receive aid under the NATO Participation Act of 1994 (PL 103-447) and authorizes funds to help military financing for Estonia ($6.5 million); Latvia ($7 million); Lithuania ($7.5 million); Slovakia ($8.5 million); Slovenia ($4.5 million); Bulgaria ($10 million); and Romania ($11.5 million).
Expanding membership and bringing Russia closer, however, will require a thoughtful and deliberate policy prescription. H.R. 3167 promotes that objective. As NATO considers another round of enlargement this fall, the NATO expansion bill will strengthen new members' bids to enter the alliance by demonstrating America's commitment to their cause. However, the funds associated with the bill should not be construed as American endorsement for any or all of the potential new member states to enter the alliance at any certain time. Nor should the amounts of funds allocated be construed as supporting one nation over another.
The United States, NATO, and potential new members must consider a number of things beyond the bill as new membership is deliberated. While the current standards for new NATO members ensure that new members share alliance values, maintain secure borders, and attempt to develop interoperable forces, an additional standard must be established. New NATO members should be considered only if they recognize that NATO's role extends beyond Article V: that many of today's threats to transatlantic security come from outside of Europe and new members must be willing and able to develop capabilities to contribute to coalition operations out-of-area as well as within Europe.
NATO's response to the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11 demonstrated that the alliance has too many members willing to sign bold declarations, such as invoking Article V, but then either unwilling or unable to undertake substantive military action. If the alliance is to make a meaningful contribution to transatlantic security in the 21st century, it must be able to fight collectively, not just sign pieces of paper. The alliance's approach to expansion should be to help the accession countries become fitting candidates before they join. The NATO expansion bill can help do that.
However, more needs to be done by the alliance. Current provisions can be better tailored to aid candidates in developing their force abilities through emphasizing a sector-by-sector approach to interoperability. As many of the current states in the queue (Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia) are relatively small, with limited budgets, and unlikely to field a state-of-the-art military in the near future, these candidates should instead be judged on their ability to develop resources that would be useful to future coalitions of the willing and the out-of-area missions they may undertake.
For example, ensuring that field hospitals, military police, infantry divisions, and similar units have the appropriate training, equipment, and deployment capabilities will be extremely important. This would be an appropriate use for the funds that H.R. 3167 provides. Doing less in terms of numbers of troops deployed, but doing it at a higher technological level, will ensure alliance interoperability into the future. As long as entering members begin to possess the mission operations ability and willingness to countenance out-of-area missions, a large NATO expansion supports the underlying American principles of enhancing strategic flexibility while limiting the ability of NATO to encumber the U.S.
The legislation currently under consideration by the Senate coincides with America's, NATO's, and potential member states' mutual interests. However, moving forward with expansion will require further deliberation.