Washington’s push to limit the first wave of NATO expansion to only three countries, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, provides a tell-tale sign of the inner contradictions that bedevil the enlargement project. Financial considerations played an important part in the Clinton administration’s decision to invite fewer countries to join the Atlantic alliance than demanded by its European allies.
In fact, concern over the costs of the alliance’s enlargement in the US gave rise to a sense of skepticism about expansion even before president Clinton left for Paris for the sigining of the Founding Act on May 27. At the time, administration officials warned of an impending hard struggle to win support of an increasingly isolationist senate once the NATO alliance starts admitting new members.
On the eve of Clinton’s Paris trip, Strobe Talbott, the deputy secretary of State, was quoted by the New York Times as saying: ‘This is not a slam-dunk. This is not going to be easy. And it shouldn’t be easy precisely because of the stakes involved.’
In an effort to ward off potential opposition, the Clinton administration designed a public relations campaign aimed at persuading leery lawmakers and public opinion to stomach the costs of expansion. This effort included the establishment of a new office headed by Jeremy Rosner, a special assistant to both the president and the secretary of State, whose mission is to generate public support for NATO’s expansion.
The American lawmakers’ concern about the costs of the enlargement comes at a time when accumulated financial problems have engendered an erratic search for fiscal priority between military and civilian aims. Over the last few years, lack of funds has placed the lawmakers in the unpopular position of scaling back numerous domestic programmes while the pentagon had to resort to base closings as well as to cuts in military personnel and hardware.
Preliminary projections produced by the pentagon estimate the total cost of enlargement to range between US$28 billion to $35 billion over a decade, with the US footing a total of about $2 billion of the bill. The pentagon’s projections, however, assume that no American troops or nuclear forces would be stationed in the new NATO member countries.
Yet other projections produced by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate that the cost could go as high as $125 billion. The CBO projections were based on a worst-case scenario that envisions more military support for new members and a major regional war.
Interestingly, these cost estimates assume that only three new members will be admitted. There has been little effort to estimate how the costs of a future second wave of expansion would be met. Indeed, with the intractable troubles facing their economies, the ability of both the US and its West European allies to meet the costs of a further expansion is rendered increasingly difficult.
Assurances given at congressional hearings in June by secretary of State, Madeleine K Albright, that new members would have to bear the costs of modernization of their militaries to meet western standards are far from convincing. Such assertions amount to mere flights of fancy as they dodge the question of how the financially strapped and economically troubled countries of Eastern Europe could provide enough funds to restructure their armed forces and to replace their arsenal of old Soviet-era arms.
Interestingly, East European leaders do not seem to be seeing eye-to-eye with Albright as far as the costs of expansion are concerned. Arguments presented by East European leaders in support of NATO expansion completely ignore the costs or responsibilities that such an eventuality entails.
Instead, with economic survival uppermost in their minds, they have been pushing the idea of NATO expansion as a panacea for their economic woes. Clearly, NATO as a security-oriented organization is ill-suited to deal with the enormous difficulties facing East European countries as they seek to relieve the frustrated expectations of their populations.
In addition to the issue of costs, the transformed European scene, with all its attendant new security problems, presents NATO with a different set of challenges and threats than that which confronted it during the cold war. The specter that is haunting Eastern Europe today is that of ethnic conflict and disintegration of the nation-State. As demonstrated by the breakup of Yugoslavia, responding to such challenges can cause dissension among transatlantic allies.
With its decision-making mechanism that requires consensus, NATO is an inappropriate vehicle for the swift action required to handle such problems. The Yugoslav case has also made clear how reluctant NATO members are to bear the costs - economic, financial, human, military, etc - of quelling ethnic warfare in Central and Eastern Europe.
In light of the foregoing, the viability of the NATO apparatus to deal with the emerging problems in a post-Soviet Europe or to achieve the declared goals of its enlargement appears as highly frayed. Besides, the logic underlying the idea of an expanded NATO seems to be at best weak, at worst oxymoronic.
Surprisingly, despite all these ominous signs, US foreign policy and security decision-makers continue to advance NATO as a robust guardian of European security in a post-Soviet Europe. If anything, with the Warsaw Pact dissolved and the Russian Army in disarrary, such a posture is indicative of their willingness to maintain a dominant American role in Europe’s military future.
However, holding fast to such a position in light of the recent historic changes on the European scene suggests a seriously deficient understanding of the relationship between military force to political and economic power. While during the cold war, the traditional overweening hegemony of the US in NATO was seen by the Europeans as a bulwark against real or perceived Soviet military threat, such a hegemony will be increasingly looked upon as inappropriate or even oppressive as Europe marches into the twenty-first century.
Muslimedia - August 1-15, 1997