By Wade Boese
At a November 21-22 summit marked by invitations to seven countries to join the alliance, NATO endorsed disarming Iraq, creating a military force capable of fighting anywhere in the world on short notice, and studying missile defenses against all ranges of ballistic missiles. Perfect harmony eluded the summit, however, as Germany and the United States squared off over what happens if Iraq refuses to disarm.
Meeting in Prague, the 19 leaders of NATO members invited Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia to begin accession talks immediately with the goal of becoming full-fledged members by May 2004. Since its 1949 creation, NATO has expanded four times, the last being the 1999 addition of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland.
The seven new invitees combined have roughly 227,000 active military personnel and military budgets this year totaling $2.8 billion, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. By comparison, U.S. active duty strength numbers more than 1.4 million troops, and the Pentagon’s budget for fiscal year 2003 is $355 billion.
President George W. Bush downplayed concerns that the seven new members might be unable to contribute much militarily to the alliance’s collective defense due to their small and mostly non-Western forces, saying November 18, “I do believe they can contribute something really important, and that is they can contribute their love for freedom.”
While moving the alliance closer to Russia’s borders and including for the first time a remnant of the former Yugoslavia—Slovenia—the new round of expansion was most notable because of the invitations to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the three Baltic countries of the former Soviet Union. The summit was the first time that NATO invited any country of the former Soviet Union to join the alliance.
Russia, NATO, and CFE
Moscow, which vigorously protested NATO’s last expansion and wrung pledges from the alliance in May 1997 that it had no intentions or plans to deploy nuclear weapons or permanently station substantial numbers of armed forces on new members’ territories, seemingly resigned itself to the latest expansion, issuing only periodic and muted objections.
Russia’s most common criticism was that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are not party to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, which limits the deployment and stationing of conventional weaponry in Europe for 30 countries, including the United States. The three cannot join the CFE Treaty, however, because it does not allow countries to accede. Washington contends that NATO membership and CFE participation are two separate issues.
Nevertheless, the Baltic countries have reportedly indicated that they would favorably consider acceding to an updated version of the CFE Treaty negotiated in 1999 once it enters into force. But that treaty’s entry into force is stalled because NATO members have conditioned their ratification of the revised treaty, which requires all current CFE members to ratify it for it to become legally binding, on Russia fulfilling past pledges to shut down bases and withdraw its forces in Georgia and Moldova. The Kremlin is behind schedule in completing those commitments. (See ACT, September 2002.)
In their November 21 summit communiqué, NATO leaders appeared to suggest to Moscow that future Baltic CFE participation depended upon Russian compliance with its withdrawal commitments. The NATO statement read, “We welcome the approach of those non-CFE countries, which have stated their intention to request accession to the Adapted CFE Treaty upon its entry into force.” It further stated, “We urge swift fulfillment of [Russia’s] commitments on Georgia and Moldova, which will create the conditions for Allies and other States Parties to move forward on ratification of the Adapted CFE Treaty.”
Hosting Bush in St. Petersburg a day after the expansion announcement, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented that Russia did not believe NATO enlargement was justified, but he added, “We do not rule out the possibility of deepening our relations with the alliance.”
NATO repeated that it would keep its door open for other European democracies to join and that Russia is no longer an enemy or threat, but Moscow has said it has no interest in becoming a member. Albania, Croatia, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, however, were passed over on their membership requests.
United Front on Iraq for Now
Although largely devoted to expansion, much of the summit discussion focused on Iraq. NATO issued a statement declaring its support for UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and calling on Iraq to comply “fully and immediately.” The leaders further stated that NATO would take “effective action” to support the UN mission.
But fissures appeared in NATO’s stand, most sharply between the United States and Germany, regarding what would constitute effective action. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said November 21 that effective action would be “whatever it takes to make sure that Saddam Hussein is disarmed.” German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, however, said Germany would not support military action.
U.S. officials downplayed the rift, arguing that the important point is that all NATO members currently agree Iraq must disarm, and Rice said that “we’re not yet at the stage of talking about military action.” Just minutes earlier, however, Rice had told reporters that “the United States is at this point talking to countries, consulting about what might be necessary, what capabilities might be necessary if military action takes place.”
Preparing NATO to Fight
Despite the lack of unanimity over employing military force against Iraq, NATO leaders supported a U.S. initiative to create a roughly 21,000-troop NATO Response Force (NRF) capable of fighting around the globe on as little as seven days’ notice. Use of the force would require consensus by NATO’s decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council.
Expected to be initially ready by October 2004 and fully operational by October 2006, the force is to be comprised of sea, air, and ground assets and be able to operate independently for up to a month. NATO will rotate troops through the new force every six months.
Establishment of the NRF stems from the alliance’s shifting focus of defending against a massive conventional attack from the east to the more disparate and asymmetrical threats posed by rogue states and terrorism.
Also reflecting its changing threat assessment, NATO agreed to study missile defenses against all ranges of ballistic missiles. Before the U.S. June 13 withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that barred defenses against strategic ballistic missiles, key NATO members had publicly opposed U.S. missile defense plans to protect against long-range ballistic missiles, but there is now growing acceptance of the concept.