With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) found itself at a difficult juncture. Its core mission - the defense of Western Europe from the USSR - had become an historical anachronism, and many wondered what purpose, if any, NATO should serve in the post-Cold War world. NATO responded to the collapse of its central mission by proposing a major expansion into Central and Eastern Europe. The Clinton administration has wholeheartedly embraced this policy, and made NATO expansion one of the primary foreign policy goals of its second term.
It is the view of the Council for a Livable World that the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to include Central and Eastern Europe would be a grave mistake. As the Cold War came to a dramatic end nearly a decade ago, Americans were told that this reduction of tensions heralded the birth of a new international system in which the United States would reap a "peace dividend" to be invested in alleviating its budget crisis. Instead, Americans now find their government on the verge of a massive extension of its global security commitments. Rather than providing a peace dividend, these expensive commitments would instead complicate America's struggle to balance its budget without slashing much needed domestic programs. In addition, by exacerbating Russian feelings of insecurity, the expansion of NATO may endanger attempts to finally rid the world of nuclear weapons - reviving the arms race and creating a new division of Europe.
Any country admitted to NATO will immediately receive the guarantee of collective defense contained in the North Atlantic Charter. According to this treaty, an attack on any one member of NATO is construed as an attack on all members. This guarantee of defense includes the extension of the nuclear umbrella to protect all members of the alliance. The proposed expansion of NATO, therefore, would constitute the commitment of U.S. troops and nuclear forces to the defense of all new members in Eastern Europe. Yet these nations are not likely to face external security threats of the type that NATO is equipped to counter. More likely, they will face internal or ethnic challenges to which the NATO guarantee of security may become extremely controversial at best, and costly and ineffective at worst. Moreover, the American public has shown itself to be extremely wary of U.S. military operations overseas over the last several years, and endorsed instead an increased reliance on the United Nations to mediate international conflict. Seen in this light, the Clinton administration's rush to expand and revitalize a Cold War alliance - whose strength is derived primarily from U.S. military might - is puzzling.
The expansion of NATO not only commits U.S. troops and nuclear forces to the protection of new member states, it also commits the U.S. treasury to this endeavor. While the Clinton Administration recently produced a "low ball" estimate of the potential costs of expansion, last year the Congressional Budget Office conducted an independent study. This analysis found that the cost of expansion into the first group of likely new member states - Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovenia - would be between $61 billion and $125 billion over the 15 year period from 1996 to 2010. The U.S. portion of this tab would run between $5 billion and $19 billion. A concurrent Rand Corporation study, sponsored in part by the Defense Department, estimated the cost of expansion to be between $14 billion and $110 billion.
Two important aspects of these estimates should be noted. First, both studies limit themselves to the first round of expansion - should expansion continue beyond this point, costs could increase dramatically. Second, these estimates assume that both new member states and other NATO members would be willing and able to pay their share of the costs of expansion. This may not be the case.
The states which are likely to be accepted as new members face severe economic crises brought on by their efforts to adopt market economies. It is highly improbable that they will be able to shoulder much of the burden of expansion. Current NATO members, which are facing harsh budget constraints due to the pressures of European unification, may also be unwilling to take on the additional expenses of facilitating NATO expansion - a policy which many feel was foisted upon them by the United States and Germany. It may come to pass, therefore, that a disproportionate portion of the cost of expansion would be paid by the United States.
Even if the United States decides that it is willing to shoulder this heavy burden, it is highly questionable whether NATO expansion would be able to achieve its desired effect. The official rationale for the expansion of NATO is to encourage the development of free markets and democracy in Eastern Europe. An expanded NATO, it is claimed, would provide the stability and security that are required for democratic and free market reforms to prosper in the former Soviet sphere of influence. When examined closely, however, this rationale does not hold up. The most likely new members - Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovenia - are the Eastern European states in which such reforms require the least encouragement and protection. The countries where such reforms are needed the most - Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, the Baltic states and Slovakia - are the countries which have been excluded from the first round of the expansion process. Clearly, if the encouragement of democratic and free market reforms is the goal of expansion, the means of achieving it are not adequate.
In the eyes of most analysts, the true motivation for expansion (in addition to providing NATO with a new mission) is to counter a perceived Russian threat to the region. Russia's recent actions in Chechnya and the ascendance of nationalist politicians such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky are seen by some observers as evidence of resurgent expansionist tendencies. These observers feel that a strong NATO would serve as a deterrent to Russian aggression.
In fact, while some elements in Russia might harbor aggressive impulses, NATO expansion may only increase the likelihood of their ascendance by aggravating Russia's historic fear of foreign invasion. Numerous statements by high-ranking Russian officials have made it clear that even moderates in Russia see NATO expansion as a threat. These officials have stated that expansion may cripple efforts to revise the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and imperil the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention. More importantly, many knowledgeable Russians - officials and otherwise - have suggested that Russia's economic weakness will drive it to emphasize dependence on nuclear weapons as its only affordable response to NATO expansion. This view is reflected in Duma resistance to ratification of the START II Treaty, in talk of retaining and possibly expanding tactical and theater nuclear capabilities as a response to NATO expansion and in the abandonment of Russia's no-first-use policy. Seen in this light, it seems clear that instead of cementing the West's victory in the Cold War, NATO expansion would instead revive the arms race, produce a new division of Europe and restore the very Cold War tensions that we wish to disappear permanently.
In spite of the increasing momentum of the expansion process, the issue has yet to receive serious public attention in the United States. While NATO expansion is extremely controversial within the foreign policy community, this debate has been limited primarily to academics, pundits and former diplomats. The general public seems to be largely unaware of the details and importance of the issue. Congress has passed several resolutions encouraging expansion, but there has been very little floor debate on the issue, and, according to a recent study by the Carnegie Endowment, most Members of Congress know little about the issue. Yet the process of expansion will soon become virtually unstoppable As the July summit to announce which countries will be offered NATO membership grows closer, the expansion of the alliance becomes a near fait accomplis. The debate will then change to one of reneging on a NATO commitment, rather than a decision about the wisdom of NATO expansion itself. We need an immediate, comprehensive debate regarding the pros and cons of NATO expansion, lest the United States find itself having made a dangerous, expensive, and potentially counter-productive international commitment without thoroughly analyzing its many drawbacks.
March 13, 1997
Council for a Livable World
John Isaacs, President
Council for a Livable World
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