The Heritage Foundation

Backgrounder #1154

February 2, 1998

February 2, 1998 | Backgrounder on

Answering Senate Questions About NATO Enlargement

The proposed enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is one of the most important questions before the U.S. Senate. The vote on ratification, which could come as early as late February, presents Senators with their most far-reaching foreign policy decision since the end of the Cold War. This decision will shape not only the future of European security, but also-and even more important-America's leadership role in the trans-Atlantic alliance. Failure to ratify the enlargement of NATO to include Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic would have serious repercussions: It would demoralize these countries, which were invited to join at the July 1997 summit in Madrid; reward Russian extremists for their opposition; and leave a potentially dangerous security vacuum in Central Europe.

Any enlargement of NATO requires Senate ratification of the North Atlantic Treaty, also known as the Washington Treaty. The legal basis for bringing new members into the alliance is stated clearly in Article 10: "The Parties may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European state in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to this Treaty."1 In line with this principle, NATO drafted an Accession Protocol in December 1997, and specifically named the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland as candidates for membership. This Protocol awaits the approval of NATO members through their individual parliamentary and legislative processes.

The prospect of accession by these countries has spurred a vigorous and protracted debate about NATO enlargement. Last fall, Congress held extensive hearings to explore the implications of expanding membership in NATO. For the most part, critics of the proposal performed a constructive role in the debate; their concerns forced the Administration to explain in detail its rationale for inviting specific countries to join the alliance. Now, as the ratification vote draws near, the Senate should take a fresh look at the most important questions surrounding the issue of NATO enlargement. How it answers these questions will determine whether this historic first round of NATO enlargement is to be concluded successfully and for the right reasons.


NATO's prospective enlargement raises a series of interrelated questions about the future of the alliance and the U.S. leadership role in Europe. Focusing on these questions will help the Senate make an informed decision when the ratification vote comes to the floor.

Q: How does NATO enlargement promote U.S. national interests?

A: NATO enlargement is part of a larger equation that defines the U.S. role in Europe. The United States has interlocking political, economic, and military interests in protecting Western Europe from external aggression. By providing a hedge against future threats, an expanded NATO would protect these long-term interests.

NATO's raison d'être is laid out in the treaty's Preamble: "They [member states] are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law." Since the end of the Cold War, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic have made admirable progress adhering to these principles.2

NATO's security guarantee, enshrined in Article 5 of the treaty, is the solemn commitment of its member states to support one another in the event of armed attack. Moreover, Article 3 requires parties to "maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack." If Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic are admitted to NATO, they will be treaty-bound to contribute to alliance security. Expanding NATO, then, will bring Europe's security structure into alignment with the seismic political and economic changes wrought by the end of the Cold War. Enlargement therefore will serve concrete U.S. interests by expanding the zone of democratic security to a historically strife-torn region.

These political and military rationales complement one another. Bringing the three candidate countries into the alliance will provide NATO with greater insurance against the possibility of a revived Russian threat and help ensure that Central Europe is no longer merely a checkerboard for the machinations of revanchist powers. Equally important, an enlarged NATO will provide new members with a shield for democratization. W. Bruce Weinrod, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy, argues well that "Spain's admission to NATO in 1982 very likely helped reinforce and consolidate its nascent democratic institutions; and NATO membership undoubtedly was a factor in the consolidation of democracy in Portugal, Greece, and Turkey."3 Similarly, the accession of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic will help these former communist states cement their recent democratic gains.

Delaying the initial round of expansion could lead to four negative consequences.

First, it would reward Russian extremists for their opposition and give them an incentive to redouble their efforts to thwart NATO enlargement. As former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev has stated, yielding to opponents "would play into the hands of the enemies of democracy."4

Second, it would discourage any countries that may want to be NATO members from making substantive reforms in a timely manner. At this point, NATO risks disaster if its members renege on their commitment to seek the inclusion of Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. A delay would likely lead these candidate countries to consider alternative security arrangements.

Third, it would consume a disproportionate share of U.S. attention. Europe is not the only region of the world where the U.S. has vital security interests. Delaying enlargement could prompt a crisis of confidence and needlessly divert U.S. attention from other security concerns outside Europe.

Fourth, it would tempt opponents to link enlargement to other policy questions, such as NATO's involvement in Bosnia, thus complicating the entire process. These two issues should be kept on separate tracks, especially since the Clinton Administration has locked U.S. ground troops into an open-ended commitment in the Balkans. Linking NATO expansion to European Union (EU) enlargement also is a bad idea. As a State Department paper has noted, "EU enlargement also requires current and new members to make vast and complex adjustments in their regulatory regimes. If NATO enlargement can proceed more quickly, why wait to further integrate Europe until tomato farmers in central Europe start using the right kind of pesticide?"5

Q: Can the United States afford to fund an enlarged NATO?

A: The projected costs of NATO enlargement are relatively modest, especially within the broader context of U.S. defense spending. The biggest costs will be borne by the new members themselves.

Critics are correct in pointing out that NATO enlargement involves real costs, but collective defense is still cheaper than individual defense. The costs of not expanding NATO, which would include sustaining a security vacuum in Central Europe and generating renewed geopolitical machinations, are potentially catastrophic.

Estimates of how much NATO expansion will cost American taxpayers vary because of their differing assumptions and methodologies. For example, in February 1997, the Clinton Administration estimated that NATO enlargement would cost $27 billion to $35 billion through 2009. When it made this estimate, the White House assumed that four new members would join, not three. A study of the costs by the RAND Corporation included a range of different scenarios, with varying threat levels.6 A recent report to Congress by the U.S. General Accounting Office cites a Congressional Budget Office estimate of $125 billion through 2010, based on a "resurgent Russian threat."7

In its own cost estimate, completed in December 1997, NATO projected that the cost to the United States to expand the alliance eastward would be less than $2 billion over ten years-far less than the Administration's initial estimate.8 The lower estimates resulted from the discovery that the candidate countries' necessary infrastructure (such as airfields and rail links) was in much better condition than originally believed.

Military cost estimates are necessarily linked with military requirements, as defined by NATO's Defense Planning Process. As part of this process, NATO allies fill out a Defense Planning Questionnaire (DPQ) each year. The prospective members are filling out a special DPQ. NATO's final report on costs is expected later this summer and will "capture costs to NATO through the first decade after enlargement," according to Army General Wesley Clark, Commander in Chief, United States European Command.9

As Secretary of Defense William Cohen emphasized last fall, "The bottom line is that alliances save money. Collective defense is more cost effective than national defense."10 And an effective national defense that deters conflict is less expensive than fighting a war. That said, however, Congress must insist that no new NATO member becomes a "free rider" in terms of defense spending. Congress must ensure that U.S. contributions to NATO common funds do not increase.

Overall, the cost of NATO enlargement to U.S. taxpayers should be relatively low. The United States already has invested in power projection capabilities, so developing contingency plans to defend Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic should not require huge expenditures. RAND analyst Richard Kugler puts enlargement costs in a broader perspective: "For the average American, the annual cost is equal to the price of a candy bar. For a West European, it is equal to that of a McDonald's hamburger."11

Q: Why the rush to expand NATO? Would the U.S. be better off waiting for a few years?

A: NATO has not rushed to admit new members. On the contrary, it has moved cautiously and deliberately in deciding to admit new members.

Some critics who claim NATO is rushing to expand its membership believe a major threat to Western Europe is remote and may take a decade or more to materialize. The British operated under a similar belief, the so-called Ten Year Rule, after World War I. The West may not have the luxury of watching threats emerge slowly and along predictable lines. New threats may emerge quickly, given the pace of technological change, and may assume unconventional or asymmetrical forms. As the December 1997 National Defense Panel Report emphasized, America's future enemies "will look for ways to match their strengths against our weaknesses. They will actively seek existing and new arenas in which to exploit our perceived vulnerabilities."12

The charge that NATO is rushing to expand its membership distorts the nature of the enlargement debate.13 The Soviet empire collapsed in 1991, and the Berlin Wall crumbled nearly a decade ago. The protracted public debate over the merits of enlargement already has included countless symposia, panel discussions, and international conferences. The circumstances for enlargement are not likely to become any more favorable in the near future. Although Moscow remains opposed to NATO enlargement, Russia's options are limited by its internal weaknesses.

Q: Why change NATO at all? Or, as critics argue, why tamper with success?

A: Freezing NATO's development would likely sound the death knell for Europe's most successful security organization. Furthermore, NATO's demise would jeopardize Washington's credibility and undermine U.S. security interests throughout Europe and the rest of the world.

The NATO alliance was never intended to be a closed clique. NATO's founders, anticipating that future changes in the security environment might justify future enlargement of their alliance, included specific language in Article 10 to define the accession of new members. To remain the continent's premier collective defense organization, NATO must adapt to the dramatic changes in that region wrought by the end of the Cold War.

To a certain extent, NATO has adjusted already. The United States has reduced its troop presence in Europe from 320,000 to approximately 100,000. NATO is streamlining its command and control structure as well. But despite these adaptations, the Soviet Union's dissolution is cited as a reason for NATO's alleged irrelevance today. For example, during congressional hearings last fall, Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) asked why the United States should "be trying to expand a military alliance, which we built, vis-à-vis a Soviet Union that does not exist any longer?"14 Wellstone's question overlooks the fact that part of the reason the Soviet Union no longer exists is because NATO has been so successful. Moreover, his question presumes that future European security threats will resemble past threats. Future dangers may assume novel guises, emerge from unpredictable sources, and appear more rapidly than in the past. An enlarged NATO will provide insurance against unexpected threats.

The debate over NATO enlargement reveals a paradox: The longer deterrence appears to work, the less it is considered necessary. As former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has emphasized, security-like oxygen-is taken for granted until it is challenged. European security is far too important to be taken for granted. Twice before in this century, American service members shed their blood to save Europe from tyranny. During the Cold War, NATO withstood persistent attempts by the Soviet Union to intimidate Western Europe. Assuming it maintains a muscular collective defense posture, an enlarged NATO will help preserve this post-Cold War peace.

Q: Why should the United States want to draw "new lines" in Europe?

A: The security environment has changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War, and NATO risks obsolescence unless it can adapt to these changed circumstances. The real question, therefore, is why those who oppose "new lines" believe the preservation of "old lines" is preferable.

NATO's boundaries today represent a bygone era when the Soviet Union dominated Eastern Europe. Administration officials are being disingenuous when they claim NATO expansion does not mean drawing new lines. Collective defense involves protecting sovereignty, and a state's sovereignty is defined, at least in part, by the territory it controls. Any discussion of collective defense without reference to "lines" is therefore misleading.

Critics who favor the status quo should explain why they believe NATO is fine as it now stands. Europe's political landscape has changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War. No security organization can expect to survive without adapting to tectonic geopolitical shifts. Indeed, attempts to preserve the status quo are anachronistic. Failure to ratify enlargement would place NATO in an outdated geographic straitjacket. As Secretary of State Madeleine Albright argues, "That would mean freezing NATO at its Cold War membership and preserving the old Iron Curtain as its eastern frontier. It would mean locking out a whole group of otherwise qualified democracies simply because they were once, against their will, members of the Warsaw Pact."15

Q: Are Americans willing to have their sons and daughters die for obscure towns in Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic?

A: Surveys indicate that a majority of Americans support NATO enlargement.

A collective defense agreement involves, at its core, a solemn commitment to risk blood and treasure. The presumption that Americans are unwilling to die for obscure towns in Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic misses the point. First, in all probability, an assault on a single town would be a precursor to a larger attack on the West. Second, the focus on obscure towns presumes that deterrence has failed. Consequently, the question assumes away one of NATO's greatest strengths: its capacity to deter external aggression.

The question of putting American lives at risk in defense of European security interests is not new. As Jan Nowak, the founder of Radio Free Europe's Polish Service, has argued:

I have a horrible feeling of déjà vu when I hear opponents of NATO asking why the United States should risk American lives in defense of distant countries such as Poland, Hungary or the Czech Republic. Neville Chamberlain asked the same question on the eve of the Munich Agreement. Hitler perceived these words as a signal that the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and the onslaught on Poland would not be resisted by the Western democracies. Should we today encourage the hopes of Russian nationalists that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe may once again become a Russian sphere of influence?16

The American people have demonstrated a rock-solid commitment to insuring Europe's security for more than half a century. Opinion polls reveal that a majority of Americans support NATO enlargement. In September 1997, for example, a Pew Research Center poll found that 63 percent of Americans approve of expanding NATO to include Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.17 This support is not surprising, since the tragic consequences of taking Europe's security for granted remain within the living memory of many Americans.

By enhancing European security, NATO enlargement will reduce the likelihood of Americans dying on another European battlefield. Moreover, in the unlikely event a major conflict does erupt in the future, an expanded alliance means that other countries will assist the United States in shouldering the burden of providing ground combat forces.

Q: Will enlarging NATO provoke a nationalist backlash in Russia?

A: As a transparent, defensive alliance, NATO poses no threat to Russia. An expanded NATO will not alter the alliance's defensive orientation.

Thus far, dire predictions about Russia's response to NATO enlargement have been wrong.

The nationalist backlash has not materialized. Public opinion polls reveal that domestic concerns are a much higher priority for most Russians. Revealingly, Moscow has made no effort to bolster its conventional forces in response to NATO's anticipated expansion. In fact, in December 1997, President Boris Yeltsin announced that Russia would unilaterally reduce its ground and naval forces in northwestern Russia by some 40 percent. Moscow appears to be making a virtue of necessity with its proposed cutbacks; with its conventional forces in disarray, Russia cannot match NATO's conventional capabilities.

Russia nevertheless remains opposed in principle to NATO enlargement, though its criticism has been muted of late. During the Cold War, the Soviets sought to sow seeds of discord with NATO. Whether Russia will sustain a similar effort against an expanded NATO is an unanswered question. Since the end of the Cold War, there have been distressing signs that Russia's imperialistic tendencies are reasserting themselves.18 President Clinton has downplayed these developments, hoping his personal rapport with Yeltsin will facilitate future NATO enlargement.

Too Many Concessions?
To date, the real danger associated with NATO enlargement has been not that it will provoke Russia, but that it will involve granting too many concessions. The Clinton Administration has sought to reassure Moscow by stressing the defensive nature of NATO enlargement. Washington insists it has given Moscow a "voice, not a veto" in NATO decisions. But in attempting to assuage Russian concerns, the Clinton Administration has set a worrisome precedent for future rounds of expansion. As former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick warns, "We do not help Russian democrats by appeasing their opponents."19

The importance of preserving NATO's integrity has generated much discussion about the 1997 Founding Act with Russia, an agreement that created a Permanent Joint Council. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger cautions that this council might corrupt NATO from within. Similarly, Harvey Sicherman, president of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, argues that "It should not surprise anyone if Moscow uses the new Council as an instrument to divide or hamper NATO, especially if Washington becomes confused about its purposes."20 In light of these knowledgeable warnings, an expanded NATO must inoculate itself against Russian efforts to weaken the alliance from within.

Attempting to allay such concerns, Secretary Cohen asserts that NATO's new relationship with Russia "does not allow Russian participation in internal NATO issues; it does not give Russia a voice or a veto over NATO's decisions; and it does not give Russia a de facto membership in NATO."21 Congress must make sure these assurances are not diluted or forgotten by a future administration. To this end, it should attach a condition to ratification that reaffirms Cohen's promises. This condition should stress the importance of keeping the permanent joint NATO-Russian council separate from the North Atlantic Council (NAC), NATO's supreme decision-making body, as specified by the Washington Treaty.22

From a broader perspective, NATO expansion and better relations with Russia should not be considered as an either/or proposition. Russian democrats share their Western European counterparts' interest in ensuring Central Europe's stability and security. In the long run, extending the zone of democratic security will encourage Russia's own commercial development. And, as former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski has argued, NATO enlargement will remove a security vacuum that otherwise might tempt Moscow hard-liners to reassert their influence in Central Europe.23

Q: Will NATO enlargement push the Russians into an alliance with the Chinese?

A: This outcome is unlikely. Political and economic factors militate against the formation of any meaningful alliance between China and Russia.

In 1996, Russia and China pledged a strategic partnership after President Jiang Zemin's visit to Moscow. In November 1997, President Yeltsin called strengthening Russia's relationship with China a "priority direction" of Russian foreign policy. Some analysts see the potential that such a Russian-Chinese alliance could develop as a response to NATO enlargement. One strategist warns that "If Russia feels threatened from the West, then it may enter into a 21st-century version of the Stalin-Hitler pact-namely, a Russian-Chinese pact."24 This analogy strains credulity; while Russia's current leadership is opportunistic, there is no evidence Moscow is bent on aggression of that magnitude.

Upon closer inspection, fears of a Russian-Chinese alliance are overstated for several reasons. Consider trade, for example. In 1996, Presidents Yeltsin and Jiang vowed to increase bilateral trade to $20 billion by 2000. In 1997, however, trade fell to an estimated $6 billion.25 In terms of trade, Russia needs Western Europe far more than it needs China. Similarly, China needs access to Western markets more than it needs commercial ties with Russia. A limited trading relationship between Russia and China is not likely to promote closer political ties.

Although the development of a hostile Moscow-Beijing axis would certainly be a cause for alarm, improved relations between the two countries do not necessarily pose a threat to Washington or NATO. In some ways, improved relations between these states may redound to the West's advantage, though Russian arms sales to China remain a source of great concern. For example, the West has an interest in seeing Russia and China resolve their long-standing border differences. The two states fought a vicious border war in 1969. Clearly, the West has a strong interest in helping these nuclear powers avoid armed conflict.

Q: Will an enlarged alliance dilute NATO's effectiveness?

A: No. Including new states that share the political values of existing members will strengthen, not weaken, NATO's effectiveness.

The question of dilution should not be reduced to an arithmetic calculation. Such an approach ignores the broader context of NATO enlargement. NATO is considering the accession of three countries with deep historical and cultural ties to the West. Equally important, these countries share the West's bedrock political values. Their inspired political leadership, forged in opposition to Soviet tyranny, is another plus. As Freedom House president Adrian Karatnycky argues,

[No] one should dispute that NATO's leadership will be enhanced by the voices and values of such leaders as Hungary's President Arpad Goncz, who fought for freedom in 1956 and participated in the democratic opposition after his release from prison in the 1960s; Poland's new Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, who risked his personal freedom when he headed the Solidarity trade union underground in the coal-mining region in Silesia in the 1980s; and the Czech Republic's leading fighter for freedom, President Vaclav Havel.26

Political leaders at the Madrid Summit in July 1997 pledged to provide the necessary resources for expanding NATO to these countries. The new members will have ample incentive to be team players; NATO's leitmotif will remain one of shared consensus. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic already have increased defense spending and worked hard to meet NATO's standards. By providing access to transportation nodes and bases on its territory, Hungary also has helped NATO with its Bosnia mission.

Alliance dilution would be a serious risk if the values and interests of prospective members differed significantly from those of existing members. But this is not the case with Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. In this sense, NATO expansion will ratify an existing reality.

Q: The Administration grossly underestimated the cost of the Bosnian mission. Why should it be trusted with NATO cost estimates?

A: The costs associated with funding an overseas deployment are different from those associated with expanding an alliance. The former costs are more difficult to calculate than the latter.

It is true that the Clinton Administration badly miscalculated the costs of U.S. involvement in Bosnia. In hearings last fall, Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) pointed out that the "cost of U.S. troop deployment in Bosnia is now up to about $7 billion, representing a more-than-three-fold increase over the Administration's initial estimate of some $2 billion."27

In Bosnia, President Clinton's decision to set artificial troop withdrawal deadlines makes the task of estimating the costs difficult. The initial cost estimates assumed U.S. forces would be removed by the President's withdrawal date of December 1996. Subsequent estimates assumed the United States would meet a withdrawal deadline of June 1998. With President Clinton now reluctant to set another deadline, American troops are locked in an open-ended commitment in Bosnia. The costs will continue to mount, thus making a mockery of the Administration's calculations. Tacitly admitting their mistakes, Administration officials have taken pains to distinguish Bosnia costs from the costs associated with NATO enlargement. As Secretary Albright argues, the "costs of NATO enlargement…are more straightforward; they are budgeted in advance and we have a veto. We do not run our alliance on supplemental appropriations."28

The Administration's mistakes in Bosnia do not justify derailing NATO enlargement. Incorporating Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into NATO will serve concrete U.S. national security interests. Enlargement, therefore, is merited on its own terms.

Q: Will an expanded NATO increase the likelihood of the United States becoming bogged down in future "Bosnias"?

A: If NATO maintains its focus on collective defense, an expanded alliance will be less likely to be mired in similar situations. NATO's involvement in Bosnia should be considered an exception, not a precedent for future operations.

According to Secretary of State James Baker, "Some say that by enlarging NATO, we commit ourselves to intervening in a future Bosnia-type situation in Central Europe. Nothing could be further from the truth. By enhancing stability, NATO enlargement will help guarantee that similar situations do not develop in Central Europe."29 Of course, there are no ironclad guarantees in predicting events. Yet NATO clearly has helped assuage frictions between former Western European adversaries, as evidenced by the comity between Paris and Bonn.30

In addition, an absence of border disputes remains an important criterion for NATO membership. The mere prospect of NATO membership has helped to assuage ethnic friction among Central European states for this reason.31 Examples include such developments as:

  • The 1997 Joint Declaration of Czech-German Bilateral Relations. This declaration strengthened bilateral ties between the Czech Republic and Germany, and resolved issues dating from World War II.

  • The 1997 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between Hungary and Romania to settle border issues. The two governments agreed to open new border crossings and build a highway to link Bucharest and Budapest.32 This agreement re-opened consulates and extended mutual recognition of the rights of national minorities.

  • The 1996 Treaty on Good Neighborliness and Friendly Relations between Hungary and Slovakia. This treaty established the inviolability of common borders and safeguards for 500,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia. It permits limited local self-government in southern Slovakia where most Hungarians live.

  • The 1992 Good Neighborly Relations and Mutual Cooperation Treaty between Poland and Ukraine. This treaty established the basis for friendly bilateral relations.

These and similar treaties differ on particular details, but they share a common thread-that of fostering better relations between prospective NATO members and their neighbors.

NATO also has helped smooth tensions that otherwise might escalate between its member states. For example, though Spain and Britain remain at odds over air and sea access to Gibraltar, both parties are committed to a peaceful resolution of this dispute. Relations between Greece and Turkey have always been strained, but membership in the NATO alliance has helped assuage the tension; last November, for example, Greece and Turkey agreed to a non-aggression pact brokered by the United States.

Q: Should an enlarged NATO assume more out-of-area missions?

A: No. NATO's regional focus is a source of strength, not weakness. NATO's core mission must remain collective defense, not collective security, lest the alliance lose its focus.

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) has asserted that NATO "must go out of area or out of business." And former Secretary of Defense William Perry argues that "Shifting NATO's emphasis in an evolutionary manner from defense of member territory to defense of common interests beyond NATO territory is the strategic imperative for NATO in the post-Cold War era."33 Such recommendations are unwise. As Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) asserts, "NATO is a military alliance-it must remain so or go out of business."34

Attempts to transform NATO into a mini-United Nations should be resisted. Problems outside the North Atlantic area should be left to coalitions of willing powers. Inevitably, foisting an out-of-area perspective onto NATO would diminish its European focus. This change would require a major revision of the Washington Treaty and expose the alliance to a barrage of divisive questions. If Britain's involvement in the Falklands War and America's intervention in Vietnam are any guide, NATO is not likely to find consensus on military conflicts that involve individual members acting outside Europe.

The Preamble to the NATO Treaty refers explicitly to "collective defense." Transforming NATO into a collective security organization could well have disastrous consequences. As John Hillen of the Council of Foreign Relations has argued, "Having a baby to save the marriage is neither good family practice nor a sound basis for military strategy."35

Q: What should U.S. policy be toward future rounds of NATO enlargement?

A: The question of future enlargement should remain open for discussion and debate. At this point, it would be premature to consider additional members before the initial round of enlargement has been completed.

Last July, Secretary Albright observed that "we have invited the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to join the Alliance, and we put into place a process that assures other nations will follow."36 Albright's unqualified assurance that "other nations will follow" carries with it the risk that NATO membership will be considered an entitlement. NATO will need time to digest the initial round of expansion. Prudence dictates that the effects of the initial round should be evaluated very carefully before a second round is seriously considered.

Secretary Albright also asserted that "By intensifying our dialogues with those nations that continue to seek membership, setting a date certain to review their progress, and making it clear that no European democracy will be excluded because of its place on the map, we have made sure that NATO's door will remain open."37 In that vein, President Clinton in January 1998 signed the U.S.-Baltic Charter of Partnership, which commits the United States to support the efforts of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia to secure NATO membership.

At this point, however, Washington should not make promises-formal or otherwise-regarding future rounds of NATO enlargement. Geographical considerations are relevant, and NATO should not seek the accession of countries whose territory cannot be defended credibly anymore than it should seek the accession of countries whose political institutions are antithetical to Western ideals. U.S. officials should refrain from giving the impression that the NATO door is open so wide that any state can saunter through it with relative ease.

A Screen Door, Not an Open Door
In emphasizing NATO's strict standards for membership, Washington should talk about a screen door, not an open door. In other words, future candidates for membership should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Membership must remain a privilege, not a right, and the criteria for membership must not be watered down. As in this initial round of discussions, NATO's member countries must continue to examine each candidate state's commitment to political democracy, a free-market economy, civilian control of the military, peaceful relations with its neighbors, and all other NATO principles.

Q: What should U.S. policy be toward countries that are not included in the initial round of enlargement?

A: Countries denied membership in the initial round of enlargement should be encouraged to play a meaningful role in European security. NATO planners should seek creative ways to enhance the Partnership for Peace (PFP) program.

NATO's stringent standards for admission have resulted in several "failed suitors"-countries denied membership despite intense lobbying efforts. Romania, Slovakia, and the Baltic states fall into this category. The Administration should reinvigorate NATO's Partnership for Peace program, initiated in January 1994 to keep potential NATO members engaged in the process of integration. The groundwork was laid at the 1997 Madrid Summit, when NATO created the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council to direct an enhanced PFP.

Washington should back a new set of initiatives for the Partnership for Peace, including:

  • A broader range of political/military exercises with PFP countries. Staff exercises build trust, are relatively low in cost, and foster better working relationships.

  • Increased emphasis on Western military standards. Even if their prospects for NATO membership appear remote, PFP members should be encouraged to develop their military forces along Western lines. States that strive to meet NATO standards demonstrate that they are serious about joining the alliance. Equally important, their efforts will facilitate the efforts of non-NATO states to contribute to coalitions operating outside the North Atlantic area. The Gulf War coalition, for example, involved a mix of NATO and non-NATO members. The distinction between full membership and partnership may be less important wherever such coalitions are concerned.

  • Increased funding for the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program so more PFP officers can study in the United States. At a very modest cost, the United States can expand its network of professional military contacts through educational venues.38 To maximize this investment, the focus should be on junior officers; more senior officers, being steeped in the old ways of thinking, generally are less receptive to Western ideas.

  • Increased enrollment for professional military education at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. This school inculcates Western values and allows PFP officers to develop working relationships with their NATO counterparts. Professional military education is a relatively low-cost way to keep such officers constructively engaged in common security questions.

Q: Will the costs of accession to NATO bankrupt the new members? And is NATO enlargement an attempt to help U.S. defense contractors find new markets?

A: No. The prospective members are well-positioned to assume their share of the expected costs of NATO enlargement. It is not in NATO's interest to accept countries that cannot afford to carry out their security obligations. NATO enlargement is driven by concrete security needs, not by the influence of defense contractors.

The greatest costs associated with NATO enlargement will be borne by new members. As Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) emphasized to a Polish military official in mid-1997, "If you want to fly first class, you have to buy a first class ticket."39 The three candidate countries must modernize their military forces regardless of whether they are accepted into NATO. Ultimately, however, these costs would be greater if they did not join NATO.

It does not serve U.S. interests to have new members spend more or less than is necessary on NATO enlargement. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic already have increased their defense budgets as a percentage of gross national product (GNP). All have done so without suffering major economic dislocation. Moreover, NATO membership will make them more attractive to foreign investors, which in the long run will help offset some of their enlargement costs.

Columnist Lars-Erik Nelson has expressed the claims of those who suspect that the defense market is pushing the process of enlargement by alleging that "Expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is one way to keep the arms race alive and defense budgets high."40 Various Members of Congress, including Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), have expressed similar views. But their argument mistakenly presumes that contractors will sell only to members of the alliance. This is unrealistic. Central European powers will modernize their military forces with or without NATO expansion. And big-ticket weapons systems are not considered immediate needs by these prospective member states; training and educational requirements are far more pressing problems. As General Wesley Clark argues, U.S. interests lie first in investing "`between the ears' rather than for additional hardware."41 English language training, in particular, is imperative for new members so that they can meet NATO's interoperability requirements.

Q: Will NATO enlargement require a change in military strategy?

A: NATO needs to implement its Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) and to exercise its reinforcement options to defend new member states in the event of attack.

NATO's military strategy must serve the alliance's political purposes. In the present security environment, forward deployed, tripwire forces are not necessary. NATO's new strategic concept, according to Secretary of Defense Cohen, is one of power projection.42 The framework NATO will use for this power projection will be its Combined Joint Task Force, a flexible organization capable of accommodating military units from NATO and, when necessary, non-NATO countries. This flexibility will provide an off-the-shelf, command-and-control structure for a NATO or European-led task force that can respond to an array of operational challenges. The CJTF concept will encourage U.S. allies to take greater responsibility for their own security without encouraging them to set up a separate defense organization that competes with NATO.

Insuring Credibility
In developing a coherent military strategy, NATO must consider existing resources, military capabilities, and potential threats. As historian Donald Kagan of Yale University argues, "The expansion of NATO will be worse than useless unless it is backed by the military power needed to fulfill the pledges we are undertaking."43 In other words, bluffing is not an option; operational capabilities must be exercised, lest NATO's credibility atrophy.

During the Cold War, the United States participated in annual NATO exercises to test its reinforcement capabilities during periods of crisis. By tangibly demonstrating Washington's intention to honor its security commitment, these exercises also served a political function. It is not necessary to duplicate the scale of Cold War exercises today; however, reinforcement options still need to be exercised. The size, scope, and frequency of these exercises will vary depending on the country. For example, reinforcing Hungary will pose a special challenge to military planners, since it does not share a contiguous border with any other NATO country. Furthermore, computer simulations, though helpful, cannot entirely replace reinforcement exercises. Computer simulations do not carry the same political weight. Nor do they account for the real-world frictions that invariably arise when moving personnel and supplies over vast distances.

Defense Response Capabilities
When he was asked whether Europe's current lack of a "rapid reaction capability" is a concern within the context of NATO enlargement, Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre asserted, "I don't know why we wouldn't want to adapt the alliance to have a more secure framework even though it means the military dimension may lag a bit."44 Hamre's comments are disturbing. The "military dimension" is not merely an adjunct to a "more secure framework." Both military capability and the political resolve to honor the alliance's Article 5 guarantee lie at the core of NATO's credibility. NATO must not become a two-tier alliance in which security benefits are unevenly distributed. An expanded NATO must move quickly to ensure that any new members meet alliance standards. Double standards will delay efforts to achieve interoperability.

New Deployment Requirements?
At this point, there is no compelling reason to station large numbers of American forces permanently in new member states; but a limited U.S. presence will be required in the newly admitted states, especially for headquarters units and liaison officers. Troop levels should be based on military requirements, not arbitrary numbers. At present, the number of U.S. military personnel in each NATO country varies depending on basing agreements and military requirements. The fact that the United States does not have a troop presence in, say, Iceland in no way undermines NATO's commitment to defend that country in the event of attack.


With any major foreign policy decision, a thorough debate is altogether fitting and proper. Enlarging NATO to include Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland will involve calculated risks. For this reason, skeptics are right to press the Administration on such issues as Russia's likely response, NATO's focus, and the expected costs. Their questioning has forced the Administration to clarify its rationale for NATO enlargement. But once the advantages and costs of expansion have been discussed, Congress should bring the initial round of enlargement to a close.

The United States cannot afford to fumble NATO enlargement. After attaching a condition reaffirming the importance of protecting the integrity of the North Atlantic Council from Russian influence, Congress should move swiftly to approve this first round of enlargement. Failure to expand NATO would undermine American credibility, shatter alliance cohesion, and reward Russian extremists for their opposition.

Because the decision to expand NATO will bring its own special challenges, it will be important to keep NATO focused on its core mission of collective defense. Congressional vigilance will be necessary to ensure that the enlargement process does not become a tool with which to transform NATO into a collective security organization.

Choice is the essence of national strategy. The proposed enlargement of NATO presents Congress with a stark choice that will define America's leadership role well into the next century. As Secretary Albright argues, the choice for Washington is whether it will be known "as the world-class ditherers who stood by while the seeds of renewed global conflict were sown or as the generation 
that took strong measures to build strong alliances, deter aggression, and keep the peace."45

James H. Anderson is the former Defense and National Security Analyst at The Heritage Foundation. The author would like to thank Matt Wiitala, Heritage Foundation Intern, for help in researching this article. 

APPENDIX: The North Atlantic Treaty
Washington D.C., April 4, 1949

The Parties to this Treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments.

They are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. They seek to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area.

They are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defence and for the preservation of peace and security. They therefore agree to this North Atlantic Treaty :

Article 1. The Parties undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international dispute in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered, and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.

Article 2. The Parties will contribute toward the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening their free institutions, by bringing about a better understanding of the principles upon which these institutions are founded, and by promoting conditions of stability and well-being. They will seek to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies and will encourage economic collaboration between any or all of them.

Article 3. In order more effectively to achieve the objectives of this Treaty, the Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.

Article 4. The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened

Article 5. The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.1

Article 6. For the purpose of Article 5, an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack:

  • on the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America, on the Algerian Departments of France,2 on the territory of Turkey or on the Islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer;

  • on the forces, vessels, or aircraft of any of the Parties, when in or over these territories or any other area in Europe in which occupation forces of any of the Parties were stationed on the date when the Treaty entered into force or theMediterranean Sea or the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer.

Article 7. This Treaty does not affect, and shall not be interpreted as affecting in any way the rights and obligations under the Charter of the Parties which are members of the United Nations, or the primary responsibility of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security.

Article 8. Each Party declares that none of the international engagements now in force between it and any other of the Parties or any third State is in conflict with theprovisions of this Treaty, and undertakes not to enter into any international engagement in conflict with this Treaty.

Article 9. The Parties hereby establish a Council, on which each of them shall be represented, to consider matters concerning the implementation of this Treaty. The Council shall be so organised as to be able to meet promptly at any time. The Council shall set up such subsidiary bodies as may be necessary; in particular it shall establish immediately a defence committee which shall recommend measures for the implementation of Articles 3 and 5.

Article 10. The Parties may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to this Treaty. Any State so invited may become a Party to the Treaty by depositing its instrument of accession with the Government of the United States of America. The Government of the United States of America will inform each of the Parties of the deposit of each such instrument of accession.

Article 11. This Treaty shall be ratified and its provisions carried out by the Parties in accordance with their respective constitutional processes. The instruments of ratification shall be deposited as soon as possible with the Government of the United States of America, which will notify all the other signatories of each deposit. The Treaty shall enter into force between the States which have ratified it as soon as the ratifications of the majority of the signatories, including the ratifications of Belgium, Canada, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States, have been deposited and shall come into effect with respect to other States on the date of the deposit of their ratifications.

Article 12. After the Treaty has been in force for ten years, or at any time thereafter, the Parties shall, if any of them so requests, consult together for the purpose of reviewing the Treaty, having regard for the factors then affecting peace and security in the North Atlantic area, including the development of universal as well as regional arrangements under the Charter of the United Nations for the maintenance of international peace and security.

Article 13. After the Treaty has been in force for twenty years, any Party may cease to be a Party one year after its notice of denunciation has been given to the Government of the United States of America, which will inform the Governments of the other Parties of the deposit of each notice of denunciation

Article 14. This Treaty, of which the English and French texts are equally authentic, shall be deposited in the archives of the Government of the United States of America. Duly certified copies will be transmitted by that Government to the Governments of other signatories.

Endnotes to Appendix

1. The definition of the territories to which Article 5 applies was revised by Article 2 of the Protocol to the North Atlantic Treaty on the accession of Greece and Turkey and by the Protocols signed on the accession of the Federal Republic of Germany and of Spain.

2. On January 16,1963, the North Atlantic Council heard a declaration by the French Representative who recalled that by the vote on self-determination on July 1, 1962, the Algerian people had pronounced itself in favour of the independence of Algeria in co-operation with France. In consequence, the President of the French Republic had on July 3, 1962, formally recognised the independence of Algeria. The result was that the "Algerian departments of France" no longer existed as such, and that at the same time the fact that they were mentioned in the North Atlantic Treaty had no longer any bearing. Following this statement the Council noted that insofar as the former Algerian Departments of France were concerned, the relevant clauses of this Treaty had become inapplicable as from July 3, 1962. 


1. For the full text of the North Atlantic (Washington) Treaty, see Appendix, infra.

2. According to rankings in The Heritage Foundation's 1998 Index of Economic Freedom, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland ranked 20th, 66th, and 69th, respectively, out of 154 countries in overall economic freedom. See Bryan T. Johnson, Kim R. Holmes, and Melanie Kirkpatrick, 1998 Index of Economic Freedom (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation and Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 1998).

3. W. Bruce Weinrod, "NATO Expansion: Myths and Realities," Heritage Foundation Committee Brief No. 23, March 1, 1996, p. 8.

4. Quoted in prepared statement of Jan Nowak in hearings, The Debate on NATO Enlargement, Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, 105th Cong., 1st Sess., November 5, 1997, p. 265.

5. Questions and Answers about NATO Enlargement, Prepared by the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs, U.S. Department of State, August 15, 1997, p. 4.

6. R. D. Asmus, R. L. Kugler, and F. S. Larrabee, "What Will NATO Enlargement Cost?" Survival, Vol. 38, No. 3 (Autumn 1996). Also available at  

7. U.S. General Accounting Office, NATO Enlargement: Cost Estimates Developed to Date Are Notional, GAO/NSIAD-97-209, No. B-277471, August 18, 1997, p. 5.

8. William Drozdiak, "NATO: U.S. Erred on Cost of Expansion," The Washington Post, November 14, 1997, p. A1.

9. General Wesley Clark, statement submitted to Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate, 105th Cong., 1st Sess., October 22, 1997, p. 3.

10. William Cohen, statement submitted to Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate, 105th Cong., 1st Sess., October 21, 1997, p. 19.

11. Richard Kugler, "Costs of NATO Enlargement," Strategic Forum, No. 128, October 1997, p. 3.

12. Report of the National Defense Panel, Transforming Defense: National Security in the 21st Century, December 1997, p.11. 

13. Jeanette Hamster and Paul Turner, "Rush to Approve NATO Enlargement Undercuts Debates," Defense News, December 1-7, 1997, p. 25.

14. Testimony of Senator Paul Wellstone in hearings, The Debate on NATO Enlargement, Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, 105th Cong., 1st Sess., October 7, 1997, p. 36.

15. Madeleine Albright, statement submitted to Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate, 105th Cong., 1st Sess., October 21, 1997, p. 5.

16. Nowak statement in hearings, The Debate on NATO Enlargement, p. 264.

17. Alvin Richman, "What the Polls Say: U.S. Public's Attitudes Toward NATO Enlargement," U.S. Foreign Policy Agenda, Vol. 2., No. 4 (October 1997), p. 37.

18. See Ariel Cohen, "The `Primakov Doctrine': Russia's Zero-Sum Game with the United States," Heritage Foundation F.Y.I. No. 167, December 15, 1997.

19. Testimony of Hon. Jeane J. Kirkpatrick in hearings, The Debate on NATO Enlargement, Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, 105th Cong., 1st Sess., October 9, 1997, p. 54.

20. Harvey Sicherman, "The NATO-Russia Agreement," Notes, Foreign Policy Research Institute, June 3, 1997.

21. William Cohen, statement submitted to Senate Committee on Appropriations, p. 7.

22. Bipartisan support for affirming such a firewall principle already exists. On November 10, 1997, Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Joseph Biden (D-DE) sent out a "Dear Colleague" letter in which they asserted that "A basis for common understanding has been established between the Committee and the Administration by which the new NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council will have no undue influence or veto over NATO's supreme decision making body, the North Atlantic Council."

23. See James Goldgeier, "NATO Expansion," Washington Quarterly, Vol. 2 (Winter 1998), p. 92.

24. Fred Iklé, quoted in Cato Online Policy Report, Vol. XIX, No. 5 (Sept/Oct 1997), available on the Internet at

25. Ian Johnson, "Sino-Russia Summit: All Talk, No Action," The Wall Street Journal, November 7, 1997, p. A16. 

26. Prepared statement of Adrian Karatnycky in hearings, The Debate on NATO Enlargement, Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, 105th Cong., 1st Sess., November 5, 1997, p. 299.

27. Prepared statement of Senator Russell D. Feingold in hearings, The Debate on NATO Enlargement, Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, 105th Cong., 1st Sess., October 28, 1997, p. 499.

28. Albright, statement submitted to Senate Committee on Appropriations, p. 11.

29. James Baker III, statement submitted to Committee on the Budget, U.S. Senate, 105th Cong., 1st Sess., October 29, 1997, p. 2.

30. France withdrew from NATO's integrated command structure in 1966, but it nonetheless remains part of NATO.

31. See Adrian Karatnycky, "NATO Weal," National Review, November 10, 1997, pp. 43_44.

32. Colin Woodard, "Longtime Balkan Enemies Seek Friendship," The Christian Science Monitor, November 10, 1997, p. 7.

33. Coit D. Blacker et al., NATO After Madrid: Looking to the Future, Report of a Conference Co-Sponsored by Stanford University's Center for International Security and Arms Control and Institute for International Studies and Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Stanford University, September 19-20, 1997, p. 3.

34. Jesse Helms, "New Members, Not New Missions," The Wall Street Journal Europe, July 9, 1997.

35. John Hillen, "Getting NATO Back to Basics," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1067, February 7, 1996, p. 2.

36. Madeleine Albright, Press Briefing on NATO Summit, July 8, 1997.

37. Ibid.

38. For background on the IMET program, see John Cope, "International Military Education and Training: An Assessment," McNair Paper 44, October 1995.

39. Senator Joseph Biden, quoted in "NATO Enlargement After Paris," Congressional Record, Vol. 143, No. 82 (June 12, 1997), p. S5593.

40. Lars-Erik Nelson, "Fuel for NATO Growth Is Greed," New York Daily News, October 31, 1997, p. 43.

41. General Wesley Clark, statement submitted to Senate Committee on Appropriations, p. 7.

42. William Cohen, statement submitted to Senate Committee on Appropriations, p. 8.

43. Donald Kagan, "Locarno's Lessons for NATO," The Wall Street Journal, October 28, 1997, p. A22.

44. Interview with John Hamre, "One on One," Defense News, November 3-9, 1997, p. 30.

45. Madeleine Albright, Address at Ford Museum Auditorium, Grand Rapids, Michigan, April 16, 1997.

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