Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Pushing the Envelope Too Far? Technology's Impact on NATO Expansion

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Pushing the Envelope Too Far? Technology's Impact on NATO Expansion

Article excerpt

Global expenditure on military research and development is about U.S. $49 billion, of which U.S. $43 billion is accounted for by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.(1) "The most notable development [over the 1996 fiscal year] was the continuity in policy among the most important technology bases despite several elections and defense reviews."(2) On 8 July 1997, NATO officially invited three Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries to become members of the alliance: the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. How will NATO's massive investment in the research, development and implementation of technology affect the process of expanding the alliance as a whole and the individual nations involved?

Since the end of the Cold War, the transatlantic security environment has changed dramatically--the danger of a full-scale attack no longer exists, threats are now defined as "multi-faceted and multi-directional in nature."(3) NATO is attempting to adjust to these changes by integrating its military structures in order to make the alliance more flexible. Accordingly, NATO believes that technological innovations will facilitate a shift in the alliance's focus toward "out of area missions."

This case study explores the technological aspects of NATO expansion in the wider context of international security arrangements in order to assess the benefits and limitations of technology from a strategic, logistical and economic standpoint. It will emphasize that, while technological improvements have been suggested by the alliance to facilitate its changing role in the post-Cold War world, it may be impossible for current and future NATO members, with different levels of technological capabilities, to achieve intra-alliance comparability.

Although NATO has now lowered its cost estimates significantly, it is unclear how the price of ensuring that all members are compatible with each other will be covered.(4) Regarding the new cost study, Secretary of Defense William Cohen has noted that "[i]t is clear that all the NATO countries must have the need to provide for consistent capability for rapid deployment and mobility ... there would be additional costs for all members."(5) Given the transition toward market economies that Central and Eastern European countries are currently experiencing, it is highly unlikely that new members will be able to cope with the financial burden of allocating precious resources to pay for defense technologies.


NATO was founded with the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty on 4 April 1949. The aim was to bolster the economic aid of the Marshall Plan with a sense of security for anxious and war-weary Western Europeans, who felt threatened by the menacing presence of the Soviet Union and its newly acquired European satellite states. For the United States, security in Europe was also important as it stood to gain a strong economic foothold in Europe and build upon its excellent position as an international trading partner. For more than 40 years, the often quoted words of NATO's first Secretary General, Lord Ismay, succinctly defined the purpose of NATO: "to keep the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down."

However, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, reunification of Germany and the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO appeared to have become an anachronism.(6) No significant threat to the alliance has existed since then, thereby rendering existing technologies and strategies outdated or obsolete (e.g., using tanks to enable NATO forces to frustrate an all-out attack by Warsaw Treaty Organization forces).(7) However, NATO clearly believes that it has undertaken the process of adapting the alliance to reflect profound changes in the post-Cold War world. At the NATO Summit meeting in London on 5 and 6 July 1990, the alliance mandated a review of NATO strategy and later produced a "new strategic concept" that was approved in Rome the following year. …

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