Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Security Considerations in the Western Balkans: NATO's Evolution and Expansion

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Security Considerations in the Western Balkans: NATO's Evolution and Expansion

Article excerpt


Since 1995, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has reinvented and transformed itself from a regional security pact designed to protect Western Europe from a Soviet threat to an international security force with missions to combat international terrorism, prevent weapons proliferation, and provide for Europe's security. The Alliance has grown to 26 members and now includes nearly all former members of the Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO) as well as the Baltic republics of the former Soviet Union.

The Western Balkans remains the major exception to the growth and enlargement success. This region, now completely surrounded by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members, has the potential for reoccurring instability and insecurity in Europe. It is important for the future of NATO and the security of Europe that the Alliance formulate and execute in the reasonably near future a strategic concept and membership strategy to integrate these territories with the rest of Europe.

Evolution of NATO's Role and Mission 1989-1999

Since 1999, NATO has expanded to include ten additional members, including nearly all of the non-Soviet members of the Warsaw Treaty Organization and the Baltic republics of the former Soviet Union. While the growth in territory and population has been extraordinary, even more remarkable has been the extent to which NATO has been able to accommodate and adapt to rapid changes in the world and particularly the European environments. For example, the Alliance's current involvement in out of theatre operations such as Afghanistan, as well as NATO's turnover of responsibilities to a new European security force (EUFOR) in Bosnia and Macedonia, would have been unimaginable just ten years ago.

The change in the role and mission of the organization has not come easily to an organization designed to deal with a static threat from international communism on the European continent, and whose decisions are based upon consensual decision-making processes. The first such formal change in mission occurred with NATO's 1991 Strategic Concept, (2) which acknowledged the disappearance of the "monolithic, massive and potentially immediate threat which was the concern of the Alliance in its first forty years." (3) The 1991 Strategic Concept was focused on the deteriorating situation in the Soviet Union; the need for arms control and disarmament, particularly with the Soviet Union and Russia; promotion of partnerships in Europe with former WTO members and with Russia; reduction of standing armies; and preparation for crisis management. The 1991 Strategic Concept understandably did not foresee the strong desire and commitment of the former WTO members to join NATO, nor did it predict the debilitating consequences on European security from the breakup of Yugoslavia.

In the early 1990's, as the Yugoslav wars intensified with their ethnic cleansing, civilian casualties, refugee flows, and collapse of civil order, the issue of establishing a security framework within East and Central Europe consumed NATO decision makers and planners. It also became apparent that the Alliance had to develop a mechanism to meet the needs of the Central and East European nations to progress beyond the status of "former communist nations" and develop a more formal association with the Organization. (4) The central problem facing NATO, however, was to devise a structure and process that would simultaneously provide security in Europe, particularly in the former Yugoslavia, but not antagonize and isolate the Russian Federation. (5)

The 1999 Strategic Concept for NATO addressed the challenges that emerged following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and violent breakup of the Yugoslav federation. It recognized a new and uncertain strategic environment in Europe where "conventional aggression against the Alliance is highly unlikely." (6) In the current strategic concept, the military and nonmilitary risks to NATO now come from unpredictable regional crises at the periphery of the Alliance. …

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