This paper will examine North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Expansion—looking at the real benefit of NATO growing. Does it provide leverage that shapes the political and economic development of European countries where democracy and free markets are not yet taken for granted or still growing? As discussed in our regional studies elective on Europe NS 2206, in order to win a NATO membership, the candidate countries must agreed to long agendas of reforms, ranging from ensuring free press and fair elections to protecting minorities and acting against drug trafficking and corruption.
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Currently NATO is comprised of twenty-eight members, with additional candidates awaiting approval (i.e. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro). NATO had twelve founding member nation they were the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Belgium, France, Iceland, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Norway. Although membership in to NATO is rather difficult to achieve, NATO has added new members through six expansions since its founding in 1949. Throughout NATO’s history it has established different programs with the intent to create greater regional cooperation between NATO and its neighbors. These programs include the Partnership for Peace, the Mediterranean Dialogue initiative, and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. From these programs NATO has established relationships that have led to new NATO members.
With the collapse of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, NATO has experienced something of an identity crisis. NATO was originally conceived as a military alliance to deter Soviet expansion into Western Europe, the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union forced NATO to reassess its once clear objective. A former Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Joseph Ralston once said that, “For most of NATO’s history the strategic problem was easily defined: we could predict where we might fight and under what conditions….But today we have a much different problem…. We do not know who the enemy might be, and we do not know where we will fight.” [i] As the political and military circumstances changed in Europe, many member nations believed that NATO should adapt and reflect these changes.
In 1995, the NATO Alliance published the results of a Study on NATO Enlargement that considered the merits of admitting new members and how they should be brought in. [ii] It concluded that the end of the Cold War provided a unique opportunity to build improved security in the entire Euro-Atlantic area and that NATO enlargement would contribute to enhanced stability and security for all. [iii] The Study further concluded that enlargement would contribute to enhanced stability and security for all countries in the Euro-Atlantic area by encouraging and supporting democratic reforms, including the establishment of civilian and democratic control over military forces; fostering patterns and habits of cooperation, consultation, and consensus-building characteristic of relations among members of the Alliance; and promoting good-neighborly relations. [iv] The Study also concluded that enlargement would strengthen the Alliance’s ability to contribute to European and international security, strengthen, and broaden the transatlantic partnership. [v]
In 1997, the United States Clinton Administration led efforts to invite three former Eastern bloc communist countries, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland to join NATO. Since their invitation in 1997, there have been a number of further invitations for membership to newly democratized states seeking membership into one of the greatest military alliances in the world. After this fourth enlargement in 1999, the desire to become a member of NATO spread rapidly both into the Baltic and seven East European countries and they lobbied for NATO membership. Seven of these countries joined in the fifth enlargement in 2004. Albania and Croatia joined in the sixth enlargement in 2009. This pushed NATO’s boundaries further east than they had ever imagined.
In November 2010, NATO members adopted a new Strategic Concept at the Lisbon Summit. They reaffirmed the Alliances commitment to keep NATO’s door open to any European country in a position to undertake the commitments and obligations of membership, and contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area. [vi]
This NATO expansion is accomplished by each new potential member nation through a Membership Action Plan (MAP) mechanism. This is a procedure where the current members review new member’s formal applications. The mechanism was approved in the 1999 Washington summit. A nation’s participation in MAP entails the annual presentation of reports concerning its progress on five different measures: (1) willingness to settle international, ethnic or external territorial disputes by peaceful means, commitment to the rule of law and human rights, and democratic control of armed forces; (2) ability to contribute to the organization’s defense and missions; (3) devotion of sufficient resources to armed forces to be able to meet the commitments of membership; (4) security of sensitive information, and safeguards ensuring it; and (5) compatibility of domestic legislation with NATO cooperation. [vii]
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The question of NATO enlargement has not been made without it debate by its member nations. They have debated the arguments for and against expansion. An expanded NATO, they argue, may provide the military security and political integration necessary to aid the development of these young democracies. [viii] Furthermore, these experts contend that enlargement will help secure a more stable and peaceful future for Europe, which is crucial for U.S. interests. [ix] Critics of expansion contend that enlarging NATO risks diluting both its military effectiveness and capabilities. They argue that the new alliance will lack the cohesion and clearly defined purpose that made NATO in its previous incarnation the most successful military alliance of modern times. [x] Opponents of expansion also insist that the economic price of enlargement far outweighs its benefits. Furthermore, these experts fear that an enlarged NATO threatens to divide the world into coalitions, not to mention the very real possibility of isolating Russia and fanning the flames of the hard-line forces that still threaten Russia’s democratic development. [xi]
The six large expansions have made NATO change policies and organizational structure in order to accommodate the newly added states. Some members nations as well as members of the United States Congress have asked what will further expansion cost; who will pay for the costs; is it necessary; how should enlargement be conducted; what is an expanded NATO’s purpose? Mr. Sarwar A. Kashmeri tries to answer these questions in his new book NATO 2.0: Reboot or Delete? He provides some insights stating, ” America has underwritten the security of Europe for over sixty years. It is not a state of affairs that I believe the increasingly pressured American taxpayer will look upon favorably any more. Especially considering that the European Union’s gross domestic product now exceeds America’s and the combined defense budget of the Member States of the European Union of around â‚¬200 billion (over $300 billion) is not appreciably smaller than America’s defense budget – after removing the expenses of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and subtracting the expenses of America’s world-wide responsibilities, a global role that Europeans seem to have no desire to underwrite or assume.” [xii]
These costs are in effect a return on NATO’s investment in these new member countries. The NATO alliance’s enlargement has promoted stability in Europe by providing a secure environment for new members for further consolidation of democracy and open markets. The progress made in a few years by the latest members to NATO such as Albania and Croatia have been impressive and deserves reward. These countries spent more than eight years in rigorous preparation for NATO membership. Today, Croatia has the most impressive economic performance, and real estate prices, of any country in southern Europe. [xiii] In recent years, Albania has contributed more soldiers to missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and international peacekeeping than most NATO allies. [xiv] These new members have made the trans-Atlantic alliance stronger.
Philip H. Gordon, Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at Brooking Institute, said it best in his statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 11, 2008 when he stated, “that NATO enlargement has contributed to security and prosperity in Europe. The incentive of NATO membership has led aspiring countries to reform their political systems, liberalize their economies, root out corruption, resolve territorial disputes with neighbors, rationalize their military establishments, and improve minority rights. Once in the alliance new members have contributed troops for vital NATO missions in the Balkans and in Afghanistan and many sent forces to join the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. In turn, NATO membership has reassured their populations of political and military solidarity with the United States and members of the European Union, enabling them to focus on improving the well-being of their citizens rather than worrying about the types of military threats they had lived with for centuries.” [xv]
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