Eastward-ho for NATO expansion

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Series Details Vol.7, No.29, 19.7.01, p9
Publication Date 19/07/2001
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Date: 19/07/01

It is virtually certain that further eastern enlargement of NATO will precede any expansion of the EU. Dick Leonard says it is no longer a question of whether and when the alliance will grow, but how

Despite the objective proclaimed at last month's Göteborg summit that EU enlargement negotiations with some of the candidate countries will be completed by the end of 2002, it is still very much touch-and-go whether this target will be met, to enable the new member states to enter by 2004.

By contrast, it is now virtually certain that a further eastern enlargement of NATO will have taken place well before then.

The last doubts on this score were removed by President Bush's speech in Warsaw, when he spoke of expanding the NATO security system "from the Black Sea to the Baltic", and rejected the Russian thesis that there was some "red line" which NATO should not cross.

Even before then, Jamie Shea, NATO's director of information and press, had gone on record, saying "at least one country, and possibly many more" would be invited to join at the next NATO summit, scheduled for Prague in the early autumn of 2002.

So the issue is no longer one of whether and when, but of how new members should be admitted. The whole question was given a thorough airing in Brussels last week at the European Security Forum, organised by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) and attended by scholars from Russia and Ukraine, as well as from the US and Western Europe. Three possible scenarios were discussed at the forum, based on a paper presented by Professor Stephen Larrabee of the Rand Corporation. The first was a minimal one, envisaging the admission of only one, two or, just possibly three, new members.

Of these, Slovenia is regarded as a virtual certainty, being politically, economically and militarily better prepared than any of its rivals. Its entry would also close an awkward territorial gap between Italy and Hungary, which opened up when the latter country, together with Poland and the Czech Republic, was admitted in 1997.

Slovakia, which would certainly have joined at the same time as its Czech neighbours had it not been for the deplorable human rights record of the former Mecir government, has now been given a clean bill of health and can also expect to receive the red-carpet treatment.

Much less certain would be the admittance of "one Baltic state", probably Lithuania, as a token to emphasise that Russia could not claim a veto over the destiny of former component parts of the Soviet Union.

Scenario number two, described as "The Big Bang", envisages that all nine of the applicant states should be admitted simultaneously. This would add Estonia, Latvia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and Croatia to the list, an improbable outcome, given the wide disparity between their levels of preparation for membership.

The third possibility is "staggered membership", with the acceptance in principle at Prague that all the applicants would be included, but that invitations to those who were less prepared would be deferred to the subsequent summit in 2005, or even later. In practice, the maximum number of countries with a realistic chance of early entry is seven, with at least Albania and Croatia being consigned to the antechamber.

Whatever the scale of the next enlargement, it seems certain to provoke less controversy than the 1997 exercise. This is a tribute to the smoothness with which this event proceeded, with few, if any, of the earlier misgivings proving justified. Certainly, there is less evidence of reluctance by the US Congress to enlarge the security umbrella, and the European NATO members seem less divided over the relative merits of the candidate countries. (French President Jacques Chirac came close to vetoing the 1997 enlargement because of the exclusion of Romania). The Russian government will be no happier this time than last at the prospect of NATO's frontiers moving east, and will be especially upset if any of the Baltic states achieves entry. Yet there is evidence, confirmed by

Russian participants in the Security Forum, that the government feels it belaboured its opposition last time, and may well conclude that, though it does not like the prospect of a second enlargement, it had better learn to live with it and exrt what leverage it has to secure concessions on other issues. It may even reflect that its relations with Poland have vastly improved since that country joined NATO, and the same could happen with the Baltic states once it had finally been accepted they had left the Soviet sphere.

It is, however, incumbent on NATO to do whatever it can to assuage long-term Russian fears of isolation, and to start thinking seriously about the conditions under which the once-unthinkable prospect of eventual Russian adhesion to NATO might become possible.

It is virtually certain that further eastern enlargement of NATO will precede any expansion of the EU. Columnist says it is no longer a question of whether and when the alliance will grow, but how.

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