Washington, 5 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Both supporters and opponents
of NATO expansion have tended to discuss the issue in terms of its
impact on Russia. And as a result, their increasingly heated debate
has failed to pay much attention to the other purposes that the
Western alliance has served and also the purposes that the prospect
of expansion have promoted.
Supporters of expansion typically have argued that the Western
alliance should expand now to provide an insurance policy for
countries in Eastern Europe in the event that Russia should regain
its strength and revert to the often aggressive ways of the past.
Opponents of any growth in the alliance, on the other hand, have
suggested that the Russian threat to Europe has disappeared along
with the Soviet Union and that any expansion would undermine Russian
reform at home and Russian cooperation abroad.
Unfortunately, this focus on Russia and Russia alone has obscured
the multiple reasons that lay behind NATO's founding in 1949, the
multiple roles it has played and continues to play in a variety of
spheres, and the enormous contribution that the prospect of expansion
has made to laying the foundation for a more stable and peaceful
NATO was established, as more than one commentator has observed, to
keep the Russians out of Europe, the Americans in, and the Germans
down. During the Cold War, attention to the first often obscured the
other two. Indeed, by preventing Soviet expansionism, NATO helped its
member countries to focus on domestic development rather than on
defense as they often had in the past.
But during the discussions on forming the alliance, most of its
future members were far more worried about the two other factors: the
possibilities of a resurgence of German militarism and of an early
American exit from Europe as happened after World War I.
And that has continued to be so. By rooting Germany in a broader
security arrangement, NATO has made an important contribution to the
rapprochement of Berlin and Paris and to the construction of a more
united Europe. And by creating an institution that linked America's
fate to Europe's, NATO has served to limit the reemergence of
traditional isolationism in the United States.
But NATO has done far more than that. By promoting cooperation and
interoperability among the military and political elites of its
members, NATO has allowed them to explore their common interests and
overcome their past suspicions. And in times of crisis, this ongoing
cooperation has allowed the West to act, as in the Gulf War, more
quickly and easily than would otherwise have been the case.
And over time, NATO has done even more. It has helped to promote
democracy in members such as Turkey and Spain. It has integrated the
military industries of its members in ways that limit the ability of
any one of them to act unilaterally. And it has even contributed to
the economic growth of all by eliminating many of the fears behind
More recently, the possibility of the expansion of the alliance has
made yet another contribution to European stability. It has led the
countries that hope to be included in the alliance to try to resolve
some of their historic quarrels. Among the pairs of countries that
have done so are Hungary and Romania, Poland and Lithuania, and most
recently Ukraine and Romania.
Moreover, and precisely because NATO leaders have made it clear that
any country hoping to join must demonstrate a commitment to
democracy, human rights and a free market, all the countries seeking
to get in have done more in this direction than their past records on
these issues might have led anyone to expect.
Indeed, historians may ultimately conclude that these developments
represent some of NATO's greatest achievements. But this prospective
contribution of the alliance will only survive if its current members
in fact demonstrate that they will include new members not only now
but in the future.