SEBESTYEN L. v. GORKA is an International Research Fellow at the NATO Defense College.
With a decisiveness uncommon in international politics, the Clinton administration publicly committed NATO to expand by "one or more" countries in the year of the alliance's fiftieth anniversary. The political momentum of that commitment so galvanized the machinery of the alliance that by the Madrid Summit of July 1997, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic, after more than five years of lobbying, were finally invited to join the alliance. NATO, now coping with radical internal reforms spearheaded by its latest Secretary General and with its operational christening in the former Yugoslavia, has itself afforded little effort to the question of what happens after Madrid. The advocates of expansion are vindicated, but the eight other states that have applied for full alliance membership were disappointed at Madrid. What does fate hold for them?
Given the best case scenario, the NATO expansion negotiations with the three states of the first stage of expansion--Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic--would proceed smoothly. These three states would do everything possible to meet NATO's demands and to further the success story that is the Euro-Atlantic area. The anointed three would then sign the Washington Treaty on the fiftieth anniversary of the alliance in 1999, as called for by President Clinton. In the intervening two years, the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program would be radically enhanced to communicate clearly to the likes of Romania, Slovenia, and the Baltic states that they, too, are on the road to NATO membership. Moreover, the special relationship created with Russia by the signing of the NATO-Russia Founding Act would flourish as the two sides came together to discuss matters of mutual concern on the continent. This interaction would go a long way toward solidifying the "democratic experiment" of Russia, while aiding the further development of an independent and viable Ukraine.
This depiction of the next few years in alliance affairs--the vision that can be inferred behind all the communiques and diplomatic declarations--may sound like a fantasy, but what has just been portrayed is the way things should develop as declared by the alliance. As all good diplomats know, the representation of reality is more important than reality itself. The current reality is not as favorable as some visionaries would have us believe. It includes such touchy and still unpredictable issues as Kaliningrad, Romania's relations with Moldova and Ukraine, Yeltsin's health, and the political vulnerability of the Baltic states. Whatever the eventual ramifications of the Madrid Summit, they will be many and varied.
With its official decision to expand, NATO has irrevocably committed itself to a fundamental change of character. It has finally become the "open international organization" laid out in Article Ten of its founding charter, the Washington Treaty, in the sense of "open" defined under international law as the ability to expand given the consent of existing member states. It has underwritten this reality in a fashion denuded of the forced logic of previous expansions, which occurred under Cold War imperatives or by way of the back door. NATO has finally moved beyond collective defense as the exclusive motivation for expansion: the three, newly independent countries of the first stage of expansion were among the enemies from whom it was ultimately supposed to have protected itself. This momentous event of redefinition has, however, been presented in a rather different light.
None of the 16 existing NATO states were at first prepared to define the standards for membership by which aspirants to NATO membership could measure themselves. Only when pressure from certain Central European quarters coincided with a need for the first Clinton administration to look decisive on foreign policy did the existing guidelines enshrined in the early PfP program emerge as the long-awaited objective scale of suitability. …