NATO: Origins of the Enlargement Debate in Central Europe

At the December 1994 NATO Ministerial meeting, the Clinton Administration will propose that the allies begin to draw criteria for possible new members. Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Slovenia are the likely initial candidates. Russia is not under consideration. Proponents of NATO expansion, or "enlargement," believe that it could serve to stabilize Central European states seeking to build democracies and free-market economies; promote U.S. investment and trade in the region; lend stability to the whole of Europe; and serve to contain Russia, should it become increasingly unstable and assertive. Opponents of NATO enlargement believe that Russia must first be engaged constructively. They believe that expansion near Russia's borders, instead of bringing stability, would be seen as a provocative act in Moscow. They also contend that incorporating an unstable Central Europe would dilute NATO's political resolve and military capabilities, and that enormous costs would be required to raise the level of Central Europe's defense posture. Russia, having traditional interests in Europe, opposes any extension of the alliance near its borders, a view held not only by nationalists but by centrist democrats and the Yeltsin government. NATO is continuing to define a mission that moves away from collective defense and towards more political objectives. Though few observers believe that Russia is a threat today, the North Atlantic Treaty's Article V commitment to mutual defense will remain important until the appearance of a stable, democratic Russia. Central European governments express different levels of desire to enter the alliance, but all believe the Article V commitment to be central to their consideration of eventual application for admittance. Criteria for entry will be central to any debate. Those believing that NATO's political objectives are the key to its future would require only that new members have functioning democracies and market economies. Those stressing the need for NATO to maintain a capable collective defense capacity contend that new members must also build strong militaries, an expensive undertaking that could tax both current and future members. Some Europeans believe that the European Union (EU), instead of NATO, should guide the effort to bring stability to Europe. In this view, because the Cold War is over, political and not military institutions should lead the effort to build security; and the European Union is more well- placed to promote democracy and economic growth in the region, in part because it is not seen by Moscow as a potential military threat.