Leading the drive to bring Eastern European nations into NATO is President Bill Clinton. Opponents include not only Russia but also to some degree other NATO members and many Americans, including former Senator Sam Nunn. Even the admission of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary was not unanimous among the NATO membership. All 16 members eventually agreed, after pressure from the United States, but 9 had wanted Romania and Slovenia admitted at the same time.
The opposition to NATO expansion has its basis in the rationale for the establishment of NATO in 1949: to contain Soviet expansion into Western Europe.
Now, with the Soviet/Russian military threat to Western Europe gone, the question can be asked, Why have NATO at all? Indeed, the first true operational deployment of combat forces under the NATO auspices is to the former Yugoslav provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Yet all NATO nations are not committed to that operation, while Russian troops are participating.
Within NATO itself, there are increasing military as well as political disconnects. Klaus Naumann, chairman of NATO's military committee, is warning that a "strategic disconnect" is opening between the United States and the European alliance. Noting the rapid U.S. moves toward new, high-tech weapons and information-warfare systems, Naumann said, "I am beginning to worry that one day we will wake up and find that our armies can no longer work well together."
The U.S. defense budget-and hence, rate of modernization-is declining, but the plight of Western European military organizations is even more severe. And the situation is critical for the three newest members of NATO. For almost 50 years, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary mainly have used Soviet equipment, tactics, communications procedures, and the Soviet approach to logistics and training. Thus, not only will the cost of bringing these countries (and future admissions from Eastern Europe) into the alliance be considerable, but the very culture of their military establishments must change.
The Eastern European nations cannot bear the monetary costs of a massive modernization and cultural revision of their military forces. A recent Clinton administration study has placed the cost for a 12-year NATO expansion at $27 billion to $35 billion, figures that many alliance officials claim are too low.
The share to be paid by the United States has not been decided, but it is unlikely that the other members of NATO will be able to afford a major share of the costs of bringing Eastern European states into NATO while needing to upgrade their own military forces. At the time of the Madrid conference in July, French President Jacques Chirac ruled out any increase in France's contribution to NATO to help support the new Eastern European members.
And, expansion costs should be considered in the context of supporting the continuing deployment of national air, ground, and naval forces in Bosnia under the auspices of NATO. NATO expansion holds great promise for former members of the Soviet bloc. Eastern European nations seeking admission to the alliance envision major financial-economic benefits to their membership as well as security against possible Russian resurgence. The question, however, is what will the cost be to the United States and other members of NATO in money and in commitments? Are they prepared (or in some cases, able) to pay these costs?
And what of the impact of NATO expansion on Russia? Will expansion lead to an isolation of Russia? Will Russia pull closer to former client states that are now considered outlaw or piranha nations? Or to states that are hostile to U.S. or NATO interests?
Jan Nowak, director of Radio Free Europe's Polish Service, recently wrote, "Moscow's policy is still guided more by considerations of prestige and nostalgia than by the interests of the Russian people." Should one expect anything else from a state that was one of two superpowers of the 21st century? Russia lost the Cold War; is NATO expansion also making it a loser in the post-Cold War era?