Washington, April 30 (RFE/RL) - Expanding the NATO alliance to include the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia as full members will be an expensive proposition for the United States and its 15 NATO partners, a U.S. study says.
The U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says expansion of NATO might cost between 61,000 million dollars to 125,000 million dollars. The costs are totals for a 15-year period through the year 2010. That is the amount of time the CBO estimates would be needed to complete the integration of the four Central European nations into the alliance.
The amount needed for expansion also depends upon which of five suggested options the alliance uses.
The options presented by the CBO study are: one, strengthen the defense forces of the four nations and improve the ability of NATO to send reinforcements to those countries in the event of attack; two, establish air bases in the four countries for NATO air forces to operate in an emergency; three, move some NATO ground forces eastward in addition to air units for use in a crisis; four, move stocks of military equipment to bases in the four countries, and five, permanently station a limited number of NATO troops in the four countries.
The study provided detailed cost breakdowns only for adding four new NATO members. An appendix to the report concludes that costs would be much greater and NATO's resources would be even more heavily taxed if the alliance expanded even further east. NATO would encounter much greater economic and tactical problems by taking in Romania and Ukraine, for example, or Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
The CBO study was released earlier this month. The Congressional Budget Office is a non-partisan government-funded institute that provides members of Congress with analyses of the economic aspects of issues. The Congress has periodically discussed the issue of NATO expansion ever since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Two years ago, it passed a resolution calling for the immediate inclusion of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.
The NATO alliance has formally adopted a policy of expansion. However, the alliance has said there will be no expansion before 1997 and that full membership including defense in case of attack would come only after a prospective member meets NATO standards.
U.S. President Bill Clinton and the State Department have made it clear repeatedly that they favor a gradual program of expansion, starting with membership in the Partnership for Peace program that increases cooperation but stops short of security guarantees. Clinton has also made clear that the U.S. has no "preferred list" of potential full members. In addition, the U.S. cannot unilaterally decide which countries will be made full members in the alliance and which nations will not.
The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are frequently spoken of as the most likely new members because they are said to have made the most progress in the transition to democracy and free market economies.
However, sentiment about Slovakia may have changed in the U.S. in recent months. The State Department's 1995 human rights report was critical of some human rights practices in Slovakia. It expressed concern about what the U.S. saw as a concentration of power by the government and some threats to press freedom. Slovakia disputed the U.S. findings.
In addition, some members of Congress are reportedly discussing a draft of a resolution that would call upon the President to expedite full membership only for the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, with Slovakia relegated to possible members that could be accepted later.
The CBO did not discuss political or economic trends in the four nations and made no mention of human rights or other social and political issues.
The CBO study says the first option of strengthening the defenses of the central european states would be the cheapest for the U.S. and the other NATO members. The study says this option would cost about 61,000 million dollars over 15 years, and it assumes that the four new members would provide 42,000 million of the total.
That is the base sum that CBO estimates expansion would cost. Each of the other four options adds new costs to that total.
The second option, setting up bases in Central Europe for use by the alliance in event of war, would add 18,600 million dollars to the cost of the first option over the same 15-year period. It would be more costly for the U.S. and its allies than for the new members. Adding ground forces and air units, option three, adds another 30,000 million to the basic cost, and makes the total cost of expansion more than 90,000 million dollars, the study says.
The fourth possible choice, building storage depots and maintenance facilities to enable NATO to stockpile equipment in the central european states, would only add another 2,000 million to the basic cost, the CBO says.
The fifth option, permanent basing of NATO troops in the four countries, adds 14,000 million to the basic cost. The CBO says it analyzed costs only for the stationing of nearly three divisions of about 12,000 troops each and two air force wings.
The CBO concludes that, "the costs to the United States and its current allies of expanding alliance membership might be manageable, but only if new members paid a substantial portion of the expenses."
This might be a serious problem, the CBO says. It says current NATO members, including the U.S., seem reluctant to increase defense spending, while at the same time, the central european states may not be able to afford the added financial burden of NATO membership.
The CBO says this issue of financing expansion should be thoroughly studied before NATO considers taking in new members.