In a completely new security context after Russian agression against Ukraine NATO is reviewing all fundamental principles, which has driven its decisions over the last two decades. Enlargement, the Alliance’s primary policy to realise the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace, should be — and has been — no exception.
With the first post-Cold War enlargement in 1999, which included Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, NATO acted on its commitment to the Open Door Policy. Based on Article 10 of the Washington Treaty, the new policy was launched in 1994 in parallel with a new Partnership Policy.
Since then the Alliance has grown to 28 members, overcoming the post-Yalta divisions of the European continent into spheres of influence.
Justifying Enlargement: Evolving Accents
All NATO nations remain committed to the Open Door Policy. The policy is defined as a process by which
- a) European nations that are not members of NATO, if willing to do so, can move closer to the Alliance and eventually,
- b) upon fulfillment of the membership criteria and
- c) based on a political judgment by NATO nations, are allowed to become members of the club. The relative value of these considerations has evolved over time.
While the first post-Cold War round of enlargement was driven by political motivations, all subsequent rounds were based on a more systematic approach. This was embodied in the elaborate structure of the Membership Action Plan (MAP), which was inaugurated at the very 1999 Washington summit that marked the entry of the first three nations of “new Europe”: the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.
The MAP, covering political, economic, defence, resource, security and legal aspects, reflected the understanding that the growing number of applicants had to be better prepared for membership, particularly in reforming the defense sector and enhancing interoperability, based on a systematic feedback from NATO.
In the technical logic of the MAP, the political aspect, while present, was less clear. Perhaps it was also perceived as less necessary in a more benign strategic environment, which called for out-of-area “wars of choice” rather than territorial wars of survival.
Hence, before the NATO summit in Warsaw in 2016, the allies are confronted with a new security paradigm and face a strategic dilemma: how to reconcile the commitment to the Open Door Policy with the political and military reality in which Russia remains an important partner for many Western countries but at the same time may pose a grave threat for NATO.
Old Criteria, New Context
- The current debate over NATO enlargement has seen a full-scale renaissance of the third condition for membership, the political-strategic question of whether the accession of new countries would benefit the security of the Alliance. Thus, NATO has come full circle not only in refocusing on its original mission of collective defence with a strong emphasis on territorial defence, but also in thinking about its future enlargement.
- In the new age of confrontation with President Putin and the regime elites the “Russia factor” permeates NATO’s discussions with renewed vigour. It is inevitable that the impact of NATO’s enlargement will have a negative influence on the relations with Russia.
The opponents, vocally represented by Germany, are concerned that taking in new members or moving candidates closer to membership, especially from the post-Soviet area, would provoke Russia and cause unforseeable countermeasures on the part of Moscow, whose impact on NATO might be more severe than in the past.
The argument goes that the Alliance should take a double-track approach to Russia. On the one hand it should stick to values and be ready to defend itself, but on the other it should avoid confrontation which would affect border states; and at the same time maintain the ability for pragmatic cooperation with Russia in areas of common interests.
The proponents of enlargement, including Poland, point to the fact that delaying progress on enlargement, far from placating Russia, may actually validate its policies and invite more aggressive behavior. At the same time, the “NATO efficiency” argument, which has traditionally militated against hastive enlargement, has gained renewed currency.
It seems quite natural, that NATO’s necessary rebalancing from crisis management and cooperative security towards collective defence, will require clear political will and operational ability to defend any new member state.
It will also require that new member states are security producers, not consumers. Overextension must be avoided: an overly ambitious enlargement may deepen the already diversified threat perceptions within the Alliance and in time of serious crisis will make it even more difficult to assure smooth and timely political decisionmaking based on consensus.
This could be further aggravated if countries are allowed to join the Alliance despite the opposition from public opinion and the lack of political consensus.
While serious in their nature and laudable in their intention, these arguments should be weighed carefully in each case. It is therefore useful as a next step to study the candidates as they have lined up ahead of NATO’s next summit in Warsaw, as well as the political and military realities in the regions which they find themselves in.
Montenegro has only 2000 active military personnel, relies on outdated equipment and spends 1.2% GDP on defence. However, it has put peace support operations high on the agenda to increase its chances for membership and demonstrate it can be a security provider.
It contributed up to 45 soldiers to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan and symbolic numbers (1-3 individuals) to EU NAVFOR Operation Atalanta, EU Training Mission in Mali (EUTM) and EU Force in Central African Republic.
These arguments certainly have their weight. NATO must try to make sure that the positive dynamics created by pre-accession efforts continue. It did so with the past candidates by requiring government-approved reform action plans and other political commitments. Indeed, the White House also called on Podgorica to ensure that reforms continue and public support rises further.
Even if Montenegro offers little military added value for NATO, its accession would have a significant and positive political effect. Podgorica’s successful bid for NATO is of strategic regional importance in that it can attract Serbia closer to the European Union, strengthening the long term stability of the whole Western Balkans. Without such a move, Russia is sure to fill the vacuum, which will sooner or later bring further instability to a region that in the past has repeatedly undermined the security of the whole continent.
Georgia is NATO’s most passionate and most controversial candidate. It was one of the first former Soviet republics to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme in 1994.
Although at their 2008 Bucharest summit NATO leaders were unable to find consensus on granting Georgia MAP status, they nevertheless made a political commitment that it will become a member of the Alliance in the future.
Just a few months later, in August 2008, Moscow’s blitzkrieg left Georgia with one fifth of its territory occupied by Russia. Georgia’s case thus illustrates NATO’s long-term dilemma perfectly: Will the accession of Georgia enhance or jeopardize NATO security?
The issue at hand, however, is whether or not to graduate Georgia into the Membership Action Plan. By the Warsaw summit in 2016, Tbilisi will have spent 10 years in the Intensified Dialogue, a precursor to the MAP.
It has passed the democratic elections test, reformed its military and provided major support to ISAF, becoming the largest non-NATO contributor (1560 troops) and demonstrating that it can be security provider.
It also maintains a rather substantial military force with 37,000 active personnel (more than Finland), of which 10,000 are trained to the highest NATO standards, and earmarks a hefty 2.3% GDP on defence (more than most NATO members in terms of GDP percentage). It also reformed its command and control systems and invested in new types of armaments, thereby significantly enhancing its ability to defend national territory, which by itself should have a certain deterrent effect against Russia.
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