NATO Enlargement: Illusions and Reality

NATO Enlargement: Illusions and Reality

NATO Enlargement: Illusions and Reality

NATO Enlargement: Illusions and Reality


NATO enlargement reflects a failure on the part of policymakers to recognize new strategic realities--and that failure could have dangerous unintended consequeces.


The decision to expand NATO by inviting Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary to join the alliance is a fateful undertaking. Advocates of enlargement insist that it will foster cooperation, consolidate democracy, and promote stability throughout Europe. But an enlarged NATO is a dubious idea. Instead of healing the wounds of the Cold War, it threatens to create a new division of Europe. Even worse, it will establish expensive, dangerous, and probably unsustainable security obligations for the United States.

There are four major drawbacks to NATO enlargement. One is that, if enlargement is not merely an empty political gesture but is intended to provide meaningful security to the new member states, it is certain to be expensive. A 1996 study by the Congressional Budget Office concluded that the costs could run as high as $125 billion by 2012. Subsequent RAND Corporation and Pentagon studies have produced far lower figures, but those calculations are based on the assumption that Europe's security environment will remain quiescent for at least the next 15 years. They further assume that an enlarged NATO can meet its obligations merely by upgrading Central European defenses and by creating a small rapid-reaction force. The RAND analysts estimate the probable costs of enlargement at between $30 billion and $52 billion over 10 to 15 years. The Pentagon's figures are even lower—$27 billion to $35 billion.

Basing cost projections on a rosy scenario is dubious methodology. There is no guarantee that Europe's strategic environment will remain placid for 15 years. One need only recall how different that environment looked 15 years ago to appreciate how rapidly radical transformations can occur.

The comment of a “senior U.S. official” following the release of the Pentagon report reveals much about the underlying motives of advocates of NATO enlargement. “There was a strong political imperative to low-ball the figures, ” admitted the official. “Everybody realized the main priority was to keep costs down to reassure Congress, as well as the Russians.”

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.