Why NATO Should Grow


This fall, groups of military officers and diplomats from the sixteen memberstates of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization plan to visit Warsaw, Bucharest, Vilnius, and Kiev, among other capitals throughout Central Europe and the former Soviet Union, venturing into what only six years ago was enemy territory. These Western emissaries will offer the defense and foreign ministries of the former communist countries the most detailed explanation so far of NATO’s decision, made in January 1994, to take in new members.

Some post-communist governments are eager to have the briefings and are impatient to join NATO as soon as possible. The Central European countries that believe they would be the first new entrants—Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia—want the Alliance to set an early date for opening its membership. Others are ambivalent, skeptical, or suspicious about the very idea of enlarging NATO. They worry that if they are not in the first group admitted, or the second, or the third, they will end up on the wrong side of a new Iron Curtain. In Russia, ultranationalists condemn the decision to expand as nothing less than the declaration of a new cold war; and many reformers fear that precisely this sinister view will strengthen anti-democratic elements in Russian politics.

In view of the complexity of the issue and the immensity of the stakes, the future of NATO will continue to be a subject of debate in the United States as well. In the Senate, which must eventually ratify by a two thirds majority the extension of American protection, including a nuclear guarantee, to any new NATO member, Sam Nunn of Georgia, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, has recently raised questions about the need for enlarging the Alliance. A number of Republicans in both Houses are urging that the process of admission move more quickly than it has so far. They have criticized the administration for excessive caution.1 The issue is bound to grow more contentious as the 1996 US elections draw closer.

It is against this background that the NATO teams will begin their briefings this fall. Their message will be the same everywhere. During the coming years, the Alliance will admit new members gradually, country by country. Candidates for membership will be judged according to the strength of their democratic institutions, and their willingness and ability to meet the considerable obligations that come with membership. The process will be “transparent”—that is, there will be no surprises, no backroom deals, no secret list of countries to be admitted early, no blacklist of countries to be excluded—and it will continue to unfold one step at a time.

The first step was taken by the heads of state and government of the Alliance at their January 1994 summit meeting in Brussels. At the urging of President Clinton, the leaders agreed that the Alliance should expand. But which countries will enter, and at what pace, will be decided only after NATO has completed the coming briefings, which are…

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