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Executive Summary #1154es

February 2, 1998

February 2, 1998 | Executive Summary on

Executive Summary: Answering Senate Questions About NATO Enlargement

The proposed enlargement of NATO to include Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic presents Congress with the opportunity to shape the future of European security and America's leadership role in the trans-Atlantic alliance well into the next century. NATO enlargement will help to bring Europe's most successful security organization into alignment with the seismic political and economic changes wrought by the end of the Cold War.

Ensuring Europe's territorial integrity remains an irreducible American security imperative. Allowing these three countries to join NATO serves this imperative by:

  • Expanding and consolidating the zone of peace and democracy in Europe;

  • Removing a security vacuum in Central Europe;

  • Providing the alliance with greater insurance against the possibility of a revived Russian threat; and

  • Enhancing NATO's military capabilities at a reasonable cost.

Answering the Critics
Critics of NATO enlargement have yet to articulate a credible alternative. Allowing NATO to dissolve would sever America's security ties with Europe. The tragic results of once taking European security for granted still linger in living memory. On the other hand, preserving the status quo would condemn NATO to an anachronistic Cold War posture. Both alternatives would undermine Washington's credibility and imperil U.S. security interests in Europe and the rest of the world.

Although NATO enlargement will not be cost-free, collective defense remains cheaper than individual defense. The costs of not expanding NATO, including a continued security vacuum in Central Europe and renewed geopolitical machinations, are potentially catastrophic. The most recent estimates suggest that the costs of NATO enlargement for U.S. taxpayers will be considerably lower than the Administration's initial estimate. Equally important, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have demonstrated their commitment to paying their fair share of the expected enlargement costs by increasing their defense budgets.

In the past, the question of how Russia would react to NATO enlargement has generated intense discussion. Although Moscow more recently has toned down its rhetorical disapproval, it remains opposed to enlargement in principle. The real danger associated with NATO enlargement has been that Moscow will be granted too many concessions, not that Russia will be provoked. In attempting to assuage Russian concerns, President Bill Clinton signed the 1997 Founding Act, claiming that it gave Moscow "a voice, not a veto" in NATO matters. Before ratifying NATO enlargement, the U.S. Senate should reaffirm the importance of keeping the permanent NATO-Russian Council separate from the North Atlantic Council, NATO's supreme decision-making body.

Critics also charge that adding three new members to the alliance will dilute its focus, but estimating the likely impact of NATO enlargement should not be reduced to an arithmetic calculation. Such an approach ignores the broader context. The three countries currently being considered for membership have deep historical and cultural ties to the West. Since the end of the Cold War, these formerly communist countries have demonstrated a clear commitment to democratic values.

Maintaining NATO's Mission
Congress must insure that an enlarged NATO does not lose its sense of purpose or focus. NATO's core mission should remain collective defense, not collective security. Europe does not need another forum for talk about security; it needs NATO's unique war-fighting capabilities to deter external aggression. NATO's regional orientation has been a source of strength, not weakness. Furthermore, NATO's involvement in Bosnia should be considered an exception, not a precedent.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union has not eliminated the need for NATO. Future threats to European security will not necessarily resemble past ones. New dangers may assume novel guises, appear more rapidly than in the past, or emerge from unpredictable sources. An enlarged NATO would offer insurance against unexpected threats in the future.

Enlargement is not risk-free, but the costs of continued inaction are greater. Failure to enlarge NATO would:

  • Freeze the alliance in a Cold War posture;

  • Undermine America's credibility as leader of the alliance; and

  • Reward Russian extremists for their opposition.

Congress cannot afford to fumble NATO enlargement. Washington has interlocking political, economic, and military interests in protecting Western Europe' territorial integrity; by providing insurance against future threats, an enlarged NATO would protect these bedrock interests. After reaffirming the integrity of the North Atlantic Council from Russian influence, Congress should move swiftly to approve enlargement.

James H. Anderson is the former Defense and National Security Analyst at The Heritage Foundation.

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