Rethinking NATO’s post-Cold War enlargement – part II

Source: Der Spiegel

Source: Der Spiegel

Continuing from the first part

A “Partnership for peace”

Pressures to open up the Alliance to Eastern and Central Europe came, primarily, from the newly democratic government established in those countries. The former members of the Warsaw Pact, as instability arose in the former Soviet Union and a civil war broke out in Bosnia, started fearing their safety was at stake as well. The concerns related to a potentially explosive situation that could have mounted in the former Soviet bloc, had already gathered together the Atlantic Allies and those governments back in 1991, through the establishment of the aforementioned NACC. Yet, apparently, the kind of cooperation put into motion by the Council was not enough to address properly the anxiety of all its members: its “loose framework” failed to offer them any concrete “security guarantees nor membership in NATO”[1], a further step these countries were ready to make even though, still in 1993, the official stance of the US towards this option, expressed by the Secretary of State W. Christopher, was that to expand the Alliance’s membership was not in the administration’s agenda[2]. Nevertheless, the need to give a response to the further pressures coming from these NACC members, eventually met the willingness, showed by some “key people” within Clinton’s administration, to push the Atlantic Alliance towards a clear and firm commitment to open up its membership to these states. Among them, the President’s security advisor Anthony Lake, whose pressure was crucial in order to implement NATO’s extension as part of the “strategy of enlarging the community of democracies” he contributed to formulate[3]. The occasion to update, or at least clarify, the US position on the issue, was offered by a NATO meeting summoned in Brussels in January 1994, with the scope to assess the future of the Alliance. An interagency working group, composed by members of the NSC, of the State Department and the Pentagon, was then established, in order to evaluate whether or not, at this summit, the President should have openly and officially endorsed NATO’s eastward enlargement. Eventually, the proposal elaborated by Clinton’s administration was that of a Partnership for Peace, an initiative that would have offered NATO partners the possibility to develop practical bilateral cooperation with the organization, while pursuing the wider purpose of “expanding and intensifying political and military cooperation throughout Europe”[4]. This programme offered the participants, which had to commit “to the preservation of democratic societies” and “the maintenance of the principles of international law”[5], the opportunity to join sessions of the “political and military bodies at NATO Headquarters with respect to Partnership activities”[6]. Support towards this proposal was showed by the Pentagon’s officials, looking at the Partnership as the best way to deepen the collaboration inaugurated by the NACC before formally let its members to join NATO. On the other hand, Clinton’s Russian affairs’ expert, Strobe Talbott, was among those who early advised the President on the need to assume a cautionary approach towards this issue, arguing that such a “quick expansion” would have not been welcomed by the Russians, as to outline “criteria on NATO membership”, would have automatically excluded Russia and Ukraine[7]. Nevertheless, the messages launched by Clinton in Brussels, went way beyond the call for caution advocated by his officials. Although, until before the summit, Clinton argued that there was not the consensus to go through with the enlargement of the Alliance, the statements he made in Brussels envisaged that NATO’s membership extension could have occurred in a foreseeable future. The integration of those countries into the Western “fabric of liberal democracy, economic prosperity, and military cooperation”, through the PfP, was clearly deemed by the US President as “a process” that would have led to “the enlargement of NATO”[8]. The Partnership programme was a way to make the participants “capable of fulfilling their NATO responsibilities”[9], bringing considerable “advantages over proposals to offer full, immediate” membership to Eastern European countries[10]. Those declarations, made quite clear the position of the USA towards the possibility of expanding the Atlantic Alliance membership. Yet, probably, to let the Congress accept this pattern could have proved harder than in the past: as the “looming menace” coming from the USSR endured the Senate easily approved NATO membership of new countries, but now the Cold War was over this outcome was not so sure anymore[11]. To let other countries access the Alliance, would have meant to introduce “new and potentially far-reaching security obligations”, not to mention the related financial costs[12]. Still, eventually the Congress acknowledged that the “security of all Europe” was still a vital security concern for US politics, a one the enlargement of Alliance would have contributed to preserve[13]. Therefore, it endorsed NATO’s accession of Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic in 1999. This support encompassed also a further review of the Alliance strategic concept. The 1999 Strategic Concept confirmed, as usual, “the Alliance’s essential and enduring purpose” of safeguarding the security of its members “by political and military means”[14]. The document, moreover, reaffirmed that, “while the threat of general war in Europe” had “virtually disappeared”, there were “other risks” the Allies had to face, as “ethnic conflict, the abuse of human rights, political instability and economic fragility”[15]. Therefore, the “comprehensive approach” adopted by 1991 Strategic concept needed to be empowered through “the maintenance of effective military capabilities” and widened through a system of “crisis management” and cooperative “partnership”, and “enlargement”[16]. The 1999 Strategic Concept, indeed, confirmed that “no European democracy”, would have been “excluded from consideration for membership of the Alliance”[17]. Rather, “further invitations to accede” should have been expected in the future[18]. Yet, if the scope of an extended NATO was that of ensuring the safety of this enlarged group democratic governments, the expansion of the Alliance’s membership almost at the borders of the Russian Federation, could have had risky consequences on Europe, the very core of the liberal-democratic world.


[1] P. Dunay, “NATO and the East: a sea of mysteries.” World Policy Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 3, 1994.

[2] J. M. Goldgeier, “NATO Expansion: The Anatomy of a Decision”, Washington Quarterly, Vol. 21 Issue 1, 1998, p. 86.

[3] Ivi, p. 85.

[4] “Partnership for Peace: Invitation Issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council held at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, on 10-11 January 1994,”

[5] “Partnership for Peace: Framework Document”,

[6] “Partnership for Peace: Invitation Issued..”, op.cit.

[7] J. M. Goldgeier, op. cit., p. 90.

[8] W. J. Clinton: “Remarks to the North Atlantic Council in Brussels,” January 10, 1994. Online by G. Peters and J. T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

[9] Ivi.

[10] L. Aspin, “New Europe, New NATO”, NATO Review, Vol. 42, No. 1, February 1994;

[11] J. D. Rosner, “NATO Enlargement’s American Hurdle: The Perils of Misjuding Our Political Will”, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 75, No. 9, 1996, p. 9.

[12] A. Perlmutter, T. G. Carpenter,NATO’s Expensive Trip East. The Folly of Enlargement”, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 77, No. 2, 1998, p. 2.

[13] J. D. Rosner, op. cit., p. 10.

[14] A. Cragg, “A new strategic concept for a new era”, NATO Review, Vol. 47, No. 2, Summer 1999.

[15] Ivi.

[16] Ivi.

[17] Ivi.

[18] Ivi.

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