Enlarging the Euro-Atlantic Space

Feb 05, 2003

At the November 2002 meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Prague, the Alliance offered membership to seven East European nations-Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia. When added to the three countries admitted in 1999-Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland-East European countries will soon comprise 10 of the total 26 NATO members, roughly 40 percent of all members. In December 2002, the European Union (EU) then followed suit, issuing invitations to eight East European nations-Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, and Slovakia-with full integration expected by May 2004.

To address these developments and encourage debate on these issues, The East European Studies program, in conjunction with the Euro-Atlantic Initiatives program of the Stanley Foundation, initiated a two-phase project in mid-2002, titled, "Enlarging the Euro-Atlantic Space: Problems and Prospects for Northeastern and Southeastern Europe."

The first phase of the project culminated in a regional conference in Budapest, Hungary, in September 2002. There, a core group of U.S. and regional experts met to discuss the increasing tensions and divergences among the United States and its European allies as well as the impact the enlargement processes are expected to have on the mission and structure of the Alliance and the EU as institutions. The final phase of the project-a conference on December 19 held at the Wilson Center-focused on the implications of the decisions made at the Prague and Copenhagen summits for U.S. foreign policy and for Euro-Atlantic relations.

Enlargement Concerns
Numerous recommendations came out of the September conference in Budapest. First, participants concurred on the need for serious debate among Alliance members on NATO's new purpose and mission in the post-September 11 security environment. In addition, greater coordination and consultation between Europe and the United States is needed to reverse the gap in risk assessment and security perceptions.

The experts recommended that NATO should establish an assessment and review mechanism to ensure that new member countries fulfill their membership obligations and requirements. The panelists also advised that NATO revise its decision-making process to replace the current consensus-based approach, and to ensure that the enlarged organization functions effectively. Additionally, the experts recommended that the international community must engage the former Yugoslav countries in broader regional cooperative efforts beyond the NATO and EU enlargement processes to address the unsolved and unfinished reforms in Kosovo, Macedonia, and Bosnia as well as cross-boundary issues such as crime and corruption.

On November 14, EES sponsored a seminar at the Wilson Center to launch the policy bulletin resulting from the Budapest conference. All three panelists expressed concern that, as the experience of the three members admitted in 1999 illustrated, NATO will lose leverage over the seven invited Central and East European states to implement reforms once they become full members. An enforcement mechanism within the Alliance, they said, could help counter this prospective problem.

Panelist Jeffrey Simon, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies of the National Defense University, pointed to the growing divergence between American and European viewpoints on security issues and military capabilities, particularly as they relate to the war on terrorism and Iraq.

Panelist Andrew Michta then questioned the military contributions that the seven new members can offer to the Alliance. Michta, a professor of international studies at Rhodes College and former Wilson Center public policy scholar, argued that the new states could contribute only marginally to NATO, but that their actions constitute important political gestures. He said, however, that once these nations become NATO members, their focus will turn toward gaining EU membership, thereby directly drawing on already limited available resources and allocating priorities away from meeting NATO obligations. These states likely will find it difficult, he said, to balance NATO commitments with their efforts to meet EU admission requirements.

Yet another concern, as pointed out by the third panelist, Ronald Linden, is the exclusion of the Balkan nations-except for Bulgaria and Romania-from this round of NATO expansion. Linden, a political science professor at the University of Pittsburgh, highlighted that NATO retains more than 50,000 peacekeeping troops in the countries of the former Yugoslavia. In addition, Romania and Bulgaria could provide much-needed support to the Alliance should a war erupt against Iraq.

NATO's Evolving Role
At the December 19 NATO conference at the Wilson Center, panelists debated NATO's relevance as it expands eastward, particularly its ability to fight terrorism and its relations with the European Union. Several panelists argued that NATO is becoming more of a political and less of a military defense organization, reinforced by the fact that military performance seems no longer to be among the criteria for membership. This trend, warned one European panelist, Ann-Sofie Dahl, could be viewed as a sign that the United States is becoming less interested in NATO as a serious military partner. Dahl, an associate professor of political science at Lund University in Sweden and founder of the Swedish Atlantic Council, also remarked that no permanent agreements exist between NATO and the EU. But, she emphasized, such treaties are needed to prevent overlap of duties and structures and to ensure that the EU and NATO complement each other in terms of assets and capabilities.

In his prepared paper,
Sean Kay also underscored the need for NATO-EU coordination. Combining the political, economic, and multinational police capabilities of the EU with the military might of NATO is essential for coordinating counter-terrorism efforts. Kay, associate professor of politics and government and chair of the International Studies Program at Ohio Wesleyan University, noted that NATO does not require new members to contribute to a collective defense against terrorism. Europeans, he said, do not view terrorism as huge a threat as America does, and they differ on the policies needed to combat it. Europeans prefer to employ civilian means and police efforts, whereas the United States, he said, prefers to apply sanctions and military action. All panelists concurred that NATO must be able to adapt to the changing security concerns and new threats of today to prevent the Alliance from becoming irrelevant and obsolete.

Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy
Most new NATO candidates have strong bilateral relations with the United States and support U.S. policy toward Europe. But relations between the United States and Europe as a whole are fraught with growing policy differences and general mistrust, said panelist John Hulsman at the December 19 Wilson Center conference. Hulsman, a research fellow for European Affairs at the Davis Institute for International Studies of the Heritage Foundation, stated his belief that a marginal Europe fragmented on major policy issues serves long-term U.S. interests. He said that the United States, recognizing Europe's political disunity, economic stagnation, and military weakness, should devise its transatlantic foreign policy based on what he calls "cherry-picking." That is, "engaging coalitions of willing European allies on a case-by-case basis...it provides a method of managing transatlantic drift while remaining engaged," he said.

However, Hulsman and other panelists emphasized that unilateralist U.S. behavior only serves to underscore the decline of NATO as the region's primary defense and security alliance, while further undermining the unity and purpose of the transatlantic relationship.

The general consensus of the Conference was that NATO and the EU, as the two major pillars of the transatlantic relationship, must continue to work together, and not at cross-purposes, to ensure security and stability in Europe. The panelists emphasized that the United States and Europe can, together, meet the new threats and challenges confronting the international community. In this process, the new members from Central and Eastern Europe will find themselves playing a key role, but often torn between the conflicting demands and obligations of both organizations.

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant