The questions of whether the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) should be enlarged and, if so, to what degree have been among the most difficult and sensitive issues facing the Alliance since the end of the Cold War. In shaping the US National Security Strategy regarding US interests in Europe and US NATO policy, President Clinton has declared his support for NATO membership for well-qualified democracies regardless of geography or history, including those in northeastern Europe.
US policy regarding NATO enlargement should seek to strengthen the Alliance as well as to bolster democratic advances, deter potential threats, and increase regional stability throughout Europe. However, by promoting a policy that supports NATO membership for the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the Administration is jeopardizing vital US national interests and undermining NATO's collective defense mission.  This article examines US strategy regarding NATO enlargement, assesses its strengths and weaknesses, and recommends changes to protect vital US interests in Europe while providing the Baltic republics with a security alternative to NATO membership.
NATO'S Strategic Concept and Enlargement
Beginning in 1989, unexpectedly rapid political, military, and social changes resulted in the end of the ideological and military stalemate in Europe and the breakup of the Soviet Union. Those changes and the regional instability caused by ethnic and religious conflict occurring within Europe prompted NATO to examine and adjust its policies, missions, and structures. NATO's new strategic concept, approved at the Washington Summit in April 1999, reflects the new security challenges and dangers extant in Europe. It also reflects the Alliance's increased commitment to coordinate and cooperate with other international institutions in supporting "out of area" operations (those conducted outside the territory of NATO member states).  However, despite NATO's increasing involvement in nontraditional operations, the Alliance's essential and enduring mission is to guarantee the territorial integrity, political independence, and security of its members.  It is that mission that has resulted in a flood of Central and Eastern European applicants seeking NATO membership.
Article 10 of the Washington Treaty provides that "the parties may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European state in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to this Treaty."  This commitment was reaffirmed by NATO leaders during the 1994 Brussels Summit, where they declared that membership in the Alliance remained open to those nations who could further the principles established in the Washington Treaty.  The strategic goals served by enlargement and the methods used to achieve enlargement were examined the following year. The product of that examination was the "Study on NATO Enlargement," wherein the Alliance's principles for accessing new members were documented.
The study concluded that the enlargement of the Alliance contributes to the stability and security of the Euro-Atlantic area. It also addressed the selection and accession of new members and confirmed that accession would occur in accordance with the provisions of Article 10 of the Washington Treaty, with new members receiving all the rights of Treaty membership.  However, when addressing the rights of new members, the study also designated their obligations by declaring that new members must be prepared to contribute to NATO's budget and support the Alliance's evolving missions and its fundamental collective defense role.  To ensure that new members are able to contribute to NATO's collective defense as well as benefit from it, the study states that before accessing new members, the Alliance will evaluate the effects of their admission to ensure that enlargement will not diminish NATO's military credibility. …