Washington, 25 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Central European countries that will be be invited this year to join NATO may, in the envious eyes of some, be gaining access to an exclusive club. But they will have to pay dearly to cross the threshhold.
A new study of the costs of NATO expansion compiled by the U.S. State and Defense Departments says the new NATO members will have to finance a considerable part of the entry costs from their own budgets.
Over a period of 13 years, they will be required to cover the expenses of modernizing their forces and equipping themselves with the extras required to be equal NATO partners.
The 32-page report estimates that altogether NATO enlargement will cost up to $35 billion and the new members will pay roughly half of that.
The report was submitted to the U.S. Congress Monday and afterwards released to reporters at a joint State and Pentagon press conference.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Kornblum said it is the first comprehensive, U.S. perspective on the strategy and costs of NATO expansion.
The report never identifies the soon-to-be new member states or even specifies how many countries will be offered membership. Kornblum said the study bases its figures on admission of "a small group" into NATO.
It's widely anticipated that this will include Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and possibly Slovenia.
U.S. officials have said repeatedly and say it again in the report that none of Europe's emerging democracies should feel consigned to a security grey zone. The study stresses that "the door will remain open," and the "the first to enter shall not be the last."
It says the process of NATO enlargement is to continue until the year 2009. It's not clear from the public version whether it will take that long just for this small group to meld with the alliance or whether the calculations include the costs of additional new members.
But considerable space is devoted to the rationale for NATO expansion and a justification of the costs.
Much of the report seems intended to convince legislators that the United States is not going to have to contribute huge sums and in any case it would be money well spent. Congressional support is vital for the expansion project to succeed.
Adding new members to NATO requires ratification by the U.S. Senate and the approval of both chambers of Congress of the resources to implement the program. Legislatures in the 15 other NATO member-states also have to ratify the new NATO treaty.
According to the study, it would be far better to approve money for NATO expansion now, then finance a costlier conflict later.
And similar points are made about the cost to the new members -- that they have to modernize their forces regardless of NATO expansion and that a collective defense is cheaper and safer than facing hostilities alone.
Several Central European countries have already begun modernizing and restructuring their armed forces, financing the project mostly themselves, with a little help from the Americans.
The report assumes this will continue. It projects modernization will cost the new member states up to $1 billion a year from 1997 until the year 2009.
The study says the United States has given some "modest" support to these efforts but expects "the bulk of the cost of modernizing new members' forces will need to be borne by the new members themselves."
More U.S. assistance for modernizing Central European forces is not ruled out but the report leaves the decision to others.
It says "the United States might be expected to pay...an undetermined portion of the cost of restructuring the militaries of new members, contingent on decisions by NATO, new member states and the U.S. Congress."
The main costing principle for the study seems to be that the cost of improvements benefiting one country are borne by that country while common or shared facilities are pro-rated among the NATO allies using them.
The new members will also have to pay for communications facilities and other extras required to work with NATO partners on an equal footing.
The report calls this item "direct enlargement enhancements" and projects they will cost a total of up to $11.7 billion.
The new NATO members would be expected to pay more than a third, or as much as $4.5 billion.
America's current NATO partners would pay half the total costs in this category (up to $5.5 billion) and the United States only 15 percent, or at the most $2 billion).
Another category of expenses to upgrade regional capabilities of current NATO partners is estimated at as much as $10 billion. It would be carried mainly by America's European NATO allies because the report says U.S. forces already meet most of the standards.
Thus America's share of the total for expansion would be in the vicinity of $2 billion, leading the study to conclude that "the costs are affordable."
It estimates this to be less than one tenth of one percent of what the U.S. defense budget is expected to be over the next 13 years.
But two separate earlier studies of the costs of NATO expansion projected a much larger U.S. contribution compared to this report.
Kornblum says the various studies differ in their perception of a possible threat of aggression. One study still sees a military threat in Russia and projects higher costs for a stronger NATO military capability to meet it.
The report released Monday sees a milder international environment with Russia posing practically no threat at all in the next ten years, Kornblum said.