Academic journal article East European Quarterly

NATO Enlargement: All aboard? Destination Unknown

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

NATO Enlargement: All aboard? Destination Unknown

Article excerpt

The formal study of international relations endeavors to describe, explain, and, ideally, predict global events. While descriptions can be direct, explanations tend toward controversy and invite intense debate. Predictions are at the frontier; and, though centrally important to the field, predictions are fraught with uncertainties, as the issue of NATO enlargement makes abundantly clear.

November 2002 will find the NATO powers in Prague, the Czech Republic, where the permanent members will invite a number of new states to join the Alliance. The states seeking to join the Alliance include Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Prior to September 11, 2001, even the most astute observer of the enlargement process would have had difficulty ranking the prospects of the various aspirant states. But in the aftermath of the attacks on the United States, the mist has risen from the field. Two years ago, Slovenia was the only aspirant that appeared non-controversial and a likely candidate for invitation. The Baltic states, particularly Lithuania, had made significant progress in complying with NATO's membership criteria, but Russian objections to Baltic membership cast a cloud over the region. The Balkan states were all far from meeting the organization's standards and were not seriously discussed as possible candidates for NATO's second round of enlargement. (1)

But the world has changed. Early summer 2002 finds the NATO permanent governments setting the stage for membership invitations to all the aspirant states, save Albania and Macedonia. This decision and process will have a dramatic impact on the Alliance, the member-states, and regional and global politics in the years to come. The NATO that the East Europeans hoped to join was the Cold War NATO, which is to say, a military alliance based upon the tenets of collective defense. Though NATO would symbolize their integration into the West's political and economic system, these states fundamentally sought a security guarantee, primarily directed against Russia. However, as the following analysis illuminates, throughout the 1990s, NATO transformed itself into an organization that has more in common with collective security than collective defense. Indeed, since September 11, 2001, a strong argument can be made that NATO is once again being transformed. The emerging trends of the past year lead one to ponder if NATO will survive as either a collective defense organization or a collective security system. The war in Kosovo and the war in Afghanistan demonstrate that Washington views NATO as primarily a political body designed to sanction and foster U.S. foreign policy goals and considers multilateral military operations with NATO as a virtual hindrance to the execution of American military strategies. Despite American assurances to the aspirant states of Eastern Europe, NATO's future is in doubt.

In order to consider the future, this article continues with a brief review of the radical transformation that NATO has undertaken since the end of the Cold War. In the past year, I have traveled to Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Russia researching how the Baltic and Balkan states have positioned themselves for NATO membership. In addition to reporting the findings of this research, I will assess the competing perspectives emanating from the American, Russian, and European capitals. Finally, I raise several of the more salient issues NATO must confront in the near future, including identification and prioritization of new missions, and the critical questions associated with the military capabilities gap that divides the United States and Europe.


When the Soviet Union came to an end in the closing hours of December 1991, NATO was hailed for the contributing role it played in the collapse of the Soviet empire. …

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