The end of the cold war has left Nato with a diminished role. Will extending Nato to central Europe help revitalise the organisation and stabilise the new democracies? Or will it unnecessarily aggravate Russia and endanger those countries not in the first wave of enlargement?by Philip Gordon / April 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Published in April 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
In both central Europe and Russia, there is hardly any debate about the extension of Nato to Russia’s borders. Virtually all central Europeans want it, and virtually all Russians are opposed to it. But in the west there are three strongly contending positions. Supporters of enlargement assert that opening Nato to the new democracies will give the organisation a new mission and project stability; it will consolidate democracy in central Europe, help protect against rivalries among the new countries, and provide a useful hedge in case Russia turns expansionist. Opponents of enlargement think that it is not only unnecessary, but will help bring extreme nationalists to power in Moscow, draw a new dividing line across Europe, dilute alliance decision-making, and cost billions of dollars. A third group is sceptical about both of the above. Nato “agnostics” see enlargement as a diversion from the real issues of European security-securing control of the former Soviet nuclear arsenal, ending the Bosnian war, containing radical Islam in north Africa, and so on.
Proponents, opponents and agnostics can be found in all Nato member states, spread out on both the left and the right. Students of Russian politics, the old Sovietologists, generally oppose enlargement, while those who interact with central Europe have more sympathy for the enlargement cause.
With the Russians and central Europeans so unambiguously opposed to one another on this issue, it will be impossible to avoid paying at the very least a diplomatic price. Nato can either take in new members and enrage the Russians; not take in new members and offend those kept out; or continue to waver between the two, alienating all involved. The impossibility of resolving this dilemma cleanly is one reason why Nato has spent five years on the problem without deciding what to do; why vigorous debate and lobbying still goes on despite the official Nato position that enlargement will definitely take place; and why, even if Nato does take in one or two new members before the end of the century, doing so will only provoke more agonising about who else gets in, when, and under what terms. The Nato enlargement dilemma is likely to be around for a very long time.