NATO Enlargement to the East

By Celeste Wallander | 1997-03-01 12:00:00

I would like to make several points about NATO enlargement, but first an observation. Many people attribute Russian opposition to NATO enlargement to the more nationalist and assertive foreign policy of recent years, in contrast to the Westernizing and "civilizing" Russian foreign policy pursued by the previous foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev. I can confidently assure you that this is completely incorrect. I spent most of 1992 interviewing Russian government officials, politicians, and analysts about European security and international institutions. At that time, NATO as it stood was viewed mostly with equanimity by those who thought it was on its way out, and sometimes positively by those who saw value in keeping the US involved in European security and keeping Germany integrated and benign.

At the same time, NATO enlargement in 1992 was seen by all whom I interviewed as a terrible idea: either as a real military threat, or as excluding Russia from crucial decisions of European security, or as playing into the hands of extreme nationalists and communists.

I say this because I am tired of hearing the self-satisfied Am-erican view that Rus-sian opposition to NATO enlargement is either not genuine or is thoughtless, and attributable to Rus-sian extremists and Neanderthals. The Neanderthals may be out in force, but Russian concerns are genuine and long held. It's now time to find a solution acceptable to all parties, and we are not going to succeed unless we understand the depth, breadth and seriousness of Russian concerns.

Now, back to my points.

First, while I think it true that enlargement will proceed in the sense that there will be invitations in July to Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, that does not necessarily mean that there will be new members, or that we know what form NATO will take a year from now. Remember that all 16 of the member states have to ratify any change in the NATO treaty. Think about what happened with the Maastricht Treaty on European Union, which failed initially in Denmark and nearly failed in France. Enlargement is far from a done deal.

Second, a lot of the discussion on enlargement focuses on discerning the "real" reason for enlargement. The two obvious reasons are deterrence against Russia (or insurance against Russia) and spreading integration and stability in Central and Eastern Europe. Other reasons raised include: offering NATO membership as a substitute for E.U. membership to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (the former is undesirable to current E.U. members who do not want to hurt their own economic interests and domestic constituencies); advancing the interests of the American arms industry, which will be able to sell to the new members; advancing the interests of the political and military bureaucracies within NATO members and in Brussels; playing American electoral politics to please Eastern European communities in democratic states.

Debating the motives is useless. NATO enlargement is popular precisely because all of these things are probably true. Different people and different groups support the policy for different reasons. That is why there is such strong support for the policy within the US government in the face of strong and compelling criticism. Policies are usually not adopted for one single, logical reason but because disparate coalitions, which are sufficiently large and powerful, have interests served by the policy. Just because we are able to identify narrow and selfish interests which would be served by enlargement is irrelevant to the more important fact that there are serious and important reasons to consider NATO enlargement, if not good enough reasons to do it.

Both sides of the debate are missing its single most important aspect. NATO is not just a military alliance. And NATO is not just an association of free democracies, unified in common defence and security. It is and always has been both. NATO's creation and its success hinged on its functioning both as an impressive military alliance against the Soviet Union, and as a framework for reconciling Germany with its enemies.

So it does not at all help to declare that NATO is a military alliance, observe that it has no enemy or faces no threat, and conclude that it should be disbanded. Especially for Europeans, NATO has always been much more: it has been the way to keep peace after centuries of European war. They are right. There are very good reasons to preserve and adapt NATO.

But it also does not help to declare NATO a group of benign democracies. NATO is a military alliance. Although its doctrine has been revised and its military forces reduced, it is an impressive military organization, especially in comparison to the Russian military in the aftermath of the Soviet break-up, failed economic reform, and Chechnya. Any national leader of a non-member state would be derelict in her duties if she did not take seriously the enhancement of the military capabilities of such an organization in which it had no say.

What we should be asking ourselves is, what are the problems in European security? They are not a Russian threat. The problems are mistrust, misunderstanding, regional conflicts, ethnic conflicts, religious and cultural conflicts, minority rights, migration, weapons proliferation, economic dislocation, the difficult path of democratization. None of these are particularly severe problems in Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, so why is it urgent to include those countries in NATO? One gets the impression that NATO enlargement is not designed to deal with real security problems, but to avoid them.

NATO has proved its worth in dealing with these problems with regard to Germany, and post-WW II peace in Europe. NATO membership also reinforced the incentives for civilian and democratic rule in Spain, Greece, and Turkey. But to expect NATO to address the simultaneous security problems of a larger set of countries is unwise. During the Cold War, expectations were lower. The current focus on NATO to solve all of Europe's security problems threatens to overwhelm and undermine this extremely important institution.

This brings me to my final point: what is to be done? First, we must consider Russian political membership in NATO. We must also consider amending Article 5 of the NATO treaty to make it clear that the security problems facing European countries are risks and misunderstandings among them, not external threats to them. [Article 5 is the core of the collective defence identity of NATO. It states that an attack against any NATO member shall be considered an attack against them all and obligates members to assist the attacked party, individually or collectively, through whatever means they deem necessary, including the use of armed force.]

The contributions that the Organi-zation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Western European Union (WEU) could make to European security deserve more attention. The OSCE and the WEU are looser, more political, and more economic than NATO-this is their strength. We must recognize the contribution of such institutions to the daunting range of security problems in Europe, or risk destroying NATO by expecting too much of it.

The enhancing of NATO's military capabilities for internal missions must continue. This will be expensive, and it will require that the United States relinquish its obsession with being in control of all NATO military operations. The realities of European security require this shift from external defence to the development of multilateral, flexible, modern military forces.

The chances of ratification in 16 member countries will improve if the terms of enlargement address Russian security concerns and are developed in consultation with all the European states. One could call this the "stop shooting ourselves in the foot" rule. The citizens of NATO member countries want their governments to enhance security, not return us to a new cold war. Have we learned nothing from the peaceful end to the Cold War, which was accomplished through respect for Soviet concerns, skillful leadership, negotiations, and cooperation-all while holding to our principles? Fortunately, this process is beginning, as NATO members consider seriously negotiating with Russia and also Ukraine.

Celeste Wallander is Associate Professor of Government and Faculty Associate at the Davis Center for Russian Studies and the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University.

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1997

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1997, page 6. Some rights reserved.

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