The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was created in 1949 to counter the threat of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact to Western Europe. As a collective defense organization, it aimed to deter an attack on one member by stipulating that this could be interpreted as an act against all members. The end of the Cold War in 1989 brought an easing of relations between both camps and NATO lost its raison d'être. Without a powerful enemy to balance against, the organization sought to reshape itself.
In 1991, a New Strategic Concept was declared that led NATO to adopt a greater range of possible duties, including crisis management and peacekeeping. Member nations reduced their military deployments and expenditures to adapt to the changing circumstances. Central and Eastern European nations did not share their optimism. They anxiously desired to join the ranks of NATO for fear of losing their newly independent nationhood. It was hoped that membership would also lead to closer political and economic ties to Western nations. In extending membership to nations that once were on the other side of the iron curtain, NATO has seemingly found a new purpose of bringing closure to the Cold War by reuniting Europe.
This essay will argue that the first round of NATO expansion has been a success and that it should be mirrored in Eastern Europe.
The First Round
In 1997, the first round of NATO expansion became official: Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary were invited to join the organization. They were reportedly chosen because they had made the most progress in strengthening democratic institutions, converting their planned economies to free market economies, and to respecting the rule of law (Volker, 1998).
Justifications for expansion are varied. Some, such as Sharp (1999), see it as a way to enhance European security by peaceful integration through cooperative security agreements and institutionalism. Others, such as Kristol (1997), view it as an opportunity to redefine the geopolitical borders of Europe to reflect the end of the Cold War, namely by allowing the United States, through NATO, to fill the power vacuum left in Central and Eastern Europe.
The first round of expansion has been a resounding success. All three countries have taken important steps to conform to Western political, economic, and military standards (Sharp, 1999). Bringing them into the sphere of NATO serves to solidify these advances and guarantee them from external threats. In this sense, NATO serves as a stepping-stone for joining the EU (Morrocco & Taverna, 1999). The democratic peace and economic interconnections that are found in Western Europe will gradually be extended to the East with the end result of enhancing European security.
Kamp (1995) and Arbatov (1996) argue that the European Union (EU) and the Western European Union (WEU) would be more appropriate institutions to accomplish these tasks. The EU is certainly well placed to cement the democratic rule of law and economic standards, but it can only do so within a stable security context. As shown with its inaction concerning the
Yugoslavian civil wars, the European Union can only credibly act on military matters with the help of the United States. Furthermore, the presence of the US stabilizes the German and Russian poles of attraction. Were the enterprise conducted under the auspices of the WEU, for instance, then both Berlin and Moscow might destabilize the central and eastern region by vying for power and influence (Sharp, 1999).
The Balkans still retains a high level of possible ethnic strife. Expanding the NATO stability umbrella over these nations would do much to curtail such conflicts. Nations such as the Czech Republic and Hungary have taken important steps to improve relations with their neighbours. Even those that were not part of the first round expansion have taken similar actions in hopes of joining NATO in the future (Sharp, 1999). The first expansion has already proved to be a great success in this area, and will likely continue its achievements in the years to come as more nations join the alliance.
One might point out that Turkey and Greece waged war against each other despite both being NATO members. If the alliance could not prevent these two neighbours from going to war, then why presume it could in the Balkans? Turkey and Greece did go to war against each other but it was limited in scope. Without pressure from NATO and the United States, it would likely have been far greater in scope. In this regard, NATO did have a positive effect (Kamp, 1995).
Much of the criticism to NATO expansion is focused on the adverse Russian reaction it might foster. There are fears that this might encourage undemocratic nationalist forces within Russia to rise to power and lead to a more aggressive Russian stance (Pushkov & Polreich, 1994). However, such warnings have failed to materialize. The initial phases of expansion have proven to be a great success if we take into account the enormous amount of criticism that focused on Russia's antagonistic reaction. Six years after the official invitation was extended to Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary, there have been no such internal changes in Russia. Roskin (1998) points out that this is so because Russian nationalism is related to internal chaos and economic hardship, rather than foreign policy matters. The Russian public seems genuinely disinterested in this matter.
In sum, the first round of expansion has been a success in all respects. New members are now poised to join the European Union, building upon the political, economic, and legal reforms began under NATO auspices. The seriousness that has been shown to inviting new members in the alliance has had a multiplier effect in the region, spreading reforms and better inter-state relations.
The Second Round
In lieu of the success of the first round of NATO expansion, there is no reason why we might not proceed to round two. Indeed, there is every reason to extend the NATO stability shield as much as possible. As German Defense Minister Volker Ruhe put it, "if we don't export stability, we will import instability." The security of Europe depends on it.
The balance of power to protect one's security is no longer as relevant in Europe as it once was. With the creation of the EU, European nations have staked their security in cooperation through greater integration, rather than carefully calculated alliances. The institutional structures already in place will be strenghtened, resulting in greater stability and commonality within Europe and a more united front against those outside of it.
Some contend that Russia still remains a potential threat to European security. Such fears stem from the belief that the Russia will always remain the "bad boy" of Europe (Pushkov & Polreich, 1994). If security is best served through cooperation and integration, then Europe's ultimate goal should be to eventually fully integrate Russia into its institutions. This alone can cement European security. Balancing against an enemy that poses no current threat would not help Europe achieve this goal. More cooperation between Russia and NATO should be considered so as to present NATO as partner rather than a threat.
NATO is an important piece of the integration puzzle. As yet, there is no comparable organization within Europe (Sharp, 1999). The presence of US troops in Europe provides for a hint of hegemonic stability, especially in Germany's case. Without the foreign troops, Germany might feel less secure and therefore build up its military force. In turn, France might feel insecure and follow the same path. Without the US presence through NATO, a new security dilemma might spawn and destabilize Europe.
Extending both the EU and NATO to the east will provide the same prosperity, security, and stability that it has in the west. Some argue that expanding the European Union would be enough and serve the same purpose without "hollowing" NATO out (Kamp, 1995; Roskin, 1998). This would be a mistake. There can be no true economic and political integration if the security needs of the new nations are not met. Many of these nations believe that the presence of the US is absolutely required to guarantee this security, and thusly desire NATO membership.
NATO is no longer solely a collective security organization. By expanding east, the alliance is providing military security but is also helping build nations. The strict requirements required to join NATO has helped shape the new members into emerging liberal democracies. We must stop thinking of security only in terms of military security (Biddard, 1999). Prosperous and democratic nations in Central and Eastern Europe will enhance European security as a whole.
The first round of expansion has been a success and continued expansion to the east will extend this success not only to new member nations but also to the whole of Europe. NATO and the EU are the two most important European institutions. They should walk hand in hand in extending the sphere of security and prosperity, for both are inexorably linked. If the success of the first round of expansion can be repeated in future rounds, then NATO will likely be with us for another 50 years.
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This was initially an essay written for an introductory political science class. References have been left in the text so as to retain consistency.