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"The Arms Control Association’s work is an important resource to legislators and policymakers when contemplating a new policy direction or decision."

– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
NATO Expansion: A Decision to Regret
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Jack Mendelsohn

The NATO allies, led by the United States, have taken the fateful decision to invite three nations—Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic—to join the North Atlantic alliance. Although the new members' formal accession is timed to coincide with the alliance's 50th anniversary celebration in April 1999, the prospects for U.S.-Russian arms control have already suffered as a result of NATO's move.

Since NATO first announced its intention to expand eastward, we have seen evidence of hardening of Russian security policy. Ratification of START II has been postponed indefinitely by the Russian Duma because of the persistent opposition to NATO expansion across the entire political spectrum, notwithstanding the promise of NATO-Russian cooperation, as laid out in the NATO-Russian Founding Act, and the five-year extension of the START II implementation schedule along with the further nuclear reductions to be negotiated in START III that were agreed to at the Helsinki summit in March.

If START II remains unratified, a host of other arms control issues will probably be adversely affected as well. Congress may call into question continued support for the destruction of weapons in Russia under the Nunn-Lugar program, which in turn will make it more difficult for the Russians to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention. Perhaps the most strategically significant repercussion from Russia's non-ratification of START II would be in the area of missile defense, where the U.S. administration's strongest argument against unnecessary and unconstrained national missile defense deployments—that it will interfere with START reductions—will become moot.

Sensing its deteriorating security situation, Russia has also abandoned its longstanding nuclear "no-first-use" policy and is in the midst of a debate over whether, given the deplorable state of its conventional forces, the lack of budgetary resources and NATO's creep toward Russia, it should increase its reliance on nuclear weapons. If Russia reemphasizes tactical nuclear systems, of which it has retained large numbers, it would make it more difficult to limit these weapons as envisaged in the Helsinki Joint Statement.

Russian re-emphasis on nuclear weapons could well be accompanied by an unsettling analogue within NATO. If collective defense continues to be NATO's primary function—and all indications are that it will—the alliance will be hard pressed to defend the longer borders of its three new members with fewer, less well-equipped conventional forces. And when NATO expands to the Baltics, which is clearly anticipated by NATO's "open door" policy, it will be unable to defend those countries except by threatening the use of nuclear weapons. As a result, NATO's military doctrine could well come to mirror Moscow's re-emphasis on nuclear weapons.

The Clinton administration has put forward a variety of arguments for NATO expansion, all of which are either unconvincing or irrelevant. The first is that expansion will foster democracy and market economies in the new member-states. But surely someone in the White House must realize that a defensive alliance facing the high costs of expansion and modernization, which the European allies have made clear they will not share and the new members can ill afford, is not an appropriate means for ensuring the growth of strong democratic market economies. If spreading democracy is the objective of the Western alliance, the European Union should have opened its doors to these nations instead of deferring the issue until at least 2002.

Another of the administration's principal arguments in favor of expansion is that it will "spread" security to Central and Eastern Europe. But as the "Open Letter to President Clinton" in opposition to NATO expansion notes (see NATO Letter), just the opposite is likely to happen. Rather than enhancing security in Europe, expansion has the potential to turn Russia against the entire post-Cold War settlement and put severe pressure on the emerging Russian democracy by giving a popular cause to the nationalist and communist opposition. Even the independent-minded General Alexander Lebed, the most popular political figure in Russia, has already expressed his view that "any partial revision of [the post-Cold War order in Europe] places in doubt all the other components, including the inviolability of national boundaries . . . ." [Emphasis added.]

The profound implications of NATO expansion for U.S. national security and U.S.Russian relations demand a rethinking of the policy by the Clinton administration, a wide-ranging public examination and a thorough hearing in both the Senate, which must approve the new members, and the House, which will have to fund the project. The nation deserves nothing less than a full-fledged debate before ratifying this unwise, and by no means pre-ordained, decision.