Expanding alliance: the impact of the NATO Madrid summit.
Gorka, Sebestyen L.V.
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Name: Harvard International Review Publisher: Harvard International Relations Council, Inc. Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Business; Economics; Law; Political science Copyright: COPYRIGHT 1998 Harvard International Relations Council, Inc. ISSN: 0739-1854
Date: Spring, 1998 Source Volume: 20 Source Issue: 2
Organization: North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Geographic Scope: Europe Geographic Name: Europe

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SEBESTYEN L. v. GORKA is an International Research Fellow at the NATO Defense College.

With a decisiveness uncommon in international politics, the Clinton administration publicly committed NATO to expand by "one or more" countries in the year of the alliance's fiftieth anniversary. The political momentum of that commitment so galvanized the machinery of the alliance that by the Madrid Summit of July 1997, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic, after more than five years of lobbying, were finally invited to join the alliance. NATO, now coping with radical internal reforms spearheaded by its latest Secretary General and with its operational christening in the former Yugoslavia, has itself afforded little effort to the question of what happens after Madrid. The advocates of expansion are vindicated, but the eight other states that have applied for full alliance membership were disappointed at Madrid. What does fate hold for them?

Given the best case scenario, the NATO expansion negotiations with the three states of the first stage of expansion--Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic--would proceed smoothly. These three states would do everything possible to meet NATO's demands and to further the success story that is the Euro-Atlantic area. The anointed three would then sign the Washington Treaty on the fiftieth anniversary of the alliance in 1999, as called for by President Clinton. In the intervening two years, the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program would be radically enhanced to communicate clearly to the likes of Romania, Slovenia, and the Baltic states that they, too, are on the road to NATO membership. Moreover, the special relationship created with Russia by the signing of the NATO-Russia Founding Act would flourish as the two sides came together to discuss matters of mutual concern on the continent. This interaction would go a long way toward solidifying the "democratic experiment" of Russia, while aiding the further development of an independent and viable Ukraine.

This depiction of the next few years in alliance affairs--the vision that can be inferred behind all the communiques and diplomatic declarations--may sound like a fantasy, but what has just been portrayed is the way things should develop as declared by the alliance. As all good diplomats know, the representation of reality is more important than reality itself. The current reality is not as favorable as some visionaries would have us believe. It includes such touchy and still unpredictable issues as Kaliningrad, Romania's relations with Moldova and Ukraine, Yeltsin's health, and the political vulnerability of the Baltic states. Whatever the eventual ramifications of the Madrid Summit, they will be many and varied.

With its official decision to expand, NATO has irrevocably committed itself to a fundamental change of character. It has finally become the "open international organization" laid out in Article Ten of its founding charter, the Washington Treaty, in the sense of "open" defined under international law as the ability to expand given the consent of existing member states. It has underwritten this reality in a fashion denuded of the forced logic of previous expansions, which occurred under Cold War imperatives or by way of the back door. NATO has finally moved beyond collective defense as the exclusive motivation for expansion: the three, newly independent countries of the first stage of expansion were among the enemies from whom it was ultimately supposed to have protected itself. This momentous event of redefinition has, however, been presented in a rather different light.

None of the 16 existing NATO states were at first prepared to define the standards for membership by which aspirants to NATO membership could measure themselves. Only when pressure from certain Central European quarters coincided with a need for the first Clinton administration to look decisive on foreign policy did the existing guidelines enshrined in the early PfP program emerge as the long-awaited objective scale of suitability. These qualities, ranging from a country's proven ability to exercise effective democratic and civilian control of its military to the vague requirement for a serious commitment to the rules of "market democracy," became a collective yardstick. The failure of some existing NATO members to meet these criteria, in addition to the strong arguments stating that other countries beyond the three were just as developed, democratic, or stable, were discarded as small technicalities. The US administration, given the need for Congress to ratify the summit decision post-Madrid, announced three as its limit. As the Madrid Summit approached, the United States lost patience with dissenting alliance members and declared that it would support three additions--no more, no less.

Although the momentum was enough to push the decision through, the three candidates are still far from final admission to the Alliance. All of the existing 16 must ratify the Madrid agreement. For Hungary, the Czech Republic and to a lesser extent, Poland, a number of issues must first be resolved.

Barriers to Entry

The first hurdle will be the successful completion of NATO-invitee negotiations. Although some states have been less convincing in their performance than hoped, it is nearly impossible to imagine that any country will disqualify itself during this first stage of negotiations. Even if one of the countries were completely incapable of presenting its case properly, the fallout for NATO of stifling expansion so early in the process would be devastating. A legitimate threat to expansion is likely to arise only in the subsequent series of negotiations and consultations conducted at expert levels. Diplomats may be unable to reconcile the disparity between what each applicant state presents as its indigenous defense capability and the political, military reality.

In the case of Poland the differential will be minimal. Of the three, Poland is the only state with a military comparable in size to the "big" states of NATO. With a defense budget comprising two percent of GDP, Poland possesses a large military that surpasses those of some current NATO members, a history of commitment to peace-keeping (ranked last year as seventh among the UN states) and a general environment in which being a soldier is still viewed positively, it will not be hard for the Poles to prove the substance behind the rhetoric of their "contribution to collective defense."

One cannot say the same thing for the other two aspirants. Hungary may soon have an army smaller than its national police force. As a result of the Freedom Fight of 1956, Hungary lost Moscow's trust, and consequently received military equipment which was two or three generations behind the technologies available to more trustworthy Slav forces. As a further result of the Soviet regime, military service is not respected in Hungary--the average pay of a lieutenant is less than half that of a private sector secretary. In general, there are only two types of people working in the defense sector: those few who truly love the job and feel that they can make a difference, and those without an alternative place in the harsh post-1989 market forces. Hungary's defense capacity has suffered as a result.

The military capability coefficients are much the same for the Czech Republic. With the disappearance of the Soviet threat, the dislocation of Slovakia (the portion of the country which could most negatively affect the prosperity of Prague), and the geographical security of neighboring Germany, most Czechs perceive no danger at all. The resulting low popular support for the armed forces makes championing defense a politically dangerous platform. None of the above conditions bode well for an integrated armed force which feels itself part of and supported by society. In both of the smaller countries it will be exceedingly difficult to procure the necessary funds to achieve the Shangri-La of interoperability with the armed forces of NATO.

Preventing a "Hot Peace"

It should be noted that all of the above problems are solvable. Low expenditures on armed forces and a low regard for the military have not stopped some existing members of the alliance from signing the Washington Treaty and gradually becoming valuable members. Nevertheless, the problems need to be addressed. If they are not, the expansion may still happen but the resultant NATO will not benefit from the full scope of possibilities that standing at 19 members as opposed to 16 would afford it. Given all the permutations, Poland will most likely be a strong contributor to the alliance, and Hungary and the Czech Republic will be as good, if not better contributors than Portugal is now, each designating at least one or two rapid reaction brigades for NATO duties. Additionally, Hungary will most likely be asked to extend the existing agreements it has with NATO regarding the use of staging posts in southern Hungary for operation in the Balkans. This in itself is not an inconsequential contribution if one considers the fact that these bases have been used to deploy in excess of 100,000 troops into and out of Bosnia in the last 20 months.

There remains, however, a much-mentioned stumbling block that should be addressed regarding the entry of these three states. In the heady days before Madrid, as commentator after commentator put forward an argument either vociferously for or vehemently against NATO expansion, one image was used by almost all those that opposed its expansion. Amongst their caveats was an almost unanimous concern regarding the re-division of Europe that expansion would symbolize. The re-Yaltification of the continent would lead to eruptions of ethnic conflict like that in Yugoslavia, but this time all over eastern Europe. If this did not happen, at best, the argument went, we would have a new Cold War, or "hot peace" of NATO "haves" and "have nots."

Whatever the implications, NATO has committed itself to expansion and subsequently, given a bit of effort and a dose of luck, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic will be signatories before the next millennium. Fears that the Madrid conference would prove irreversibly divisive need not be taken seriously. If one notes that all the states to the immediate east of the three have either applied for NATO membership, or in the case of Russia are signatories to the PfP framework document, then it is clear that it is in each of their interests to have the best possible relations with all states present in the North Atlantic Council, NATO's highest body. After 1999, this council will include Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. It would be inaccurate to dismiss Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) as just another powder keg, akin to the Balkans. With almost all of the CEE and Baltic states screaming for European Union membership and NATO integration, it is unimaginable to posit armed conflict between those states. The possibility remains, however, that those PfP states most needy of membership following the three may feel that their courting gestures will go unrequited by Brussels, a message that should be avoided if NATO truly intends to execute subsequent stages of expansion. This problem must be addressed primarily by the existing engineers of expansion and the Big Four of NATO, but Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic can play a crucial role as intermediaries in hastening integration.

Historically, the world has never seen the likes of what is currently underway in the newly independent states of Europe: a whole group of states attempting to democratize and move towards market economies. The magnitude of the populations involved is completely new. With the Western states already well entrenched in their respective structures, who better to provide advice and assist the less fortunate than those three states which for various reasons of history, culture, and luck have come furthest since 1989?


This is not the first time that the nature of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been a subject of debate. Since its inception in 1949, NATO has been in a constant state of flux. Aside from its dynamic membership, questions about the exact role of the alliance have been raised for decades:

1945 - At the Yalta Conference at the end of World War II, tension begins to grow between the Allied Powers regarding the German and Austrian treaties, leading to the birth of the so-called communist world (led by the Soviet Union) and the free world (led by the United States).

June 5, 1947 - US Secretary of State George C. Marshall, at the Harvard University commencement, announces his plan to aide Europe "against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos" in light of the burgeoning Soviet power.

September, 1947 - Communist governments create the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform), providing the framework for economic and political cooperation between the communist states. This framework was consolidated in 1955 with the creation of the Warsaw Pact.

April 4, 1949 - With support of President Truman and the Senate resolution to achieve "progressive development of regional and other collective arrangements for individual and collective self-defense," the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in Washington by the US, Canada, Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Iceland, Britain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxemburg.

October 22, 1951 - NATO admits Greece and Turkey.

May 9, 1955 - West Germany is accepted into NATO.

March 10, 1966 - France sends a memo to the other 14 NATO members declaring that there no longer exists serious threats to European safety, as the center of all international conflict now rests between the two nuclear superpowers, the US and the USSR. On March 18, the remaining members reiterate the importance of the alliance as an instrument of "defense and deterrence." France continues to be an administrative member of NATO, despite its lack of military cooperation.

May 30, 1982 - NATO admits Spain.

April 1992 - With the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the Soviet Union in 1991, dignitaries from NATO and from the former communist states agree on long-term military cooperation. In light of the increasing conflict in the former Yugoslavian federation, NATO develops its new role as an international peacemaker.
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