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New NATO Member States: The Benefits and Drawbacks of Enlargement

September 15, 2010

At NATO’s 3–4 April 2009 60th Anniversary Summit in Strasbourg and Kehl, the heads of state and government of NATO member states tasked the NATO Secretary General to develop a new NATO Strategic Concept. The current Strategic Concept dates back to 1999, when only 19 member states belonged to the alliance, and the same year that NATO completed its first round of enlargement to include Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. With Albania’s and Croatia’s admission on 1 April 2009, the number of NATO member states currently totals 28.

The new NATO Strategic Concept, scheduled for release in November 2010, will address the alliance’s fundamental purpose of collective defense within the context of new and emerging threats. During the Cold War, the threat was clear: a potential Soviet land offensive that would threaten the security of Europe and its closest ally, the United States. With the end of the Cold War and the increasingly irregular form of conflict that has taken its place, member states have sought answers to the question of the type of role NATO should play in providing for collective defense. The 2010 Strategic Concept is an attempt by NATO members to establish a framework for when, why and how member states should collectively respond to the new range of irregular threats that require nonconventional action in increasingly “out-of-area” geographical locations. While a new Strategic Concept will redefine on paper NATO’s position in the 21st century, what assets do its member states have to contribute? Have NATO’s newest member states adequately transformed their defense structures in ways that allow them to be of value to the alliance?

Regardless of how NATO is defined by the 2010 Strategic Concept, the alliance is only as strong as its members. A decisive factor for NATO’s role in the future is the ability of its member states to contribute to the collective security capabilities required for NATO to remain a credible defensive alliance. NATO cannot assume new responsibilities to counter new threats without the ability to draw upon the material resources possessed by its members. A longstanding point of contention between the United States and its European partners has been the capabilities gap, as from the American viewpoint “presentday Europeans have become altogether stingy when it comes to raising and equipping fighting armies.”1 While this criticism is not entirely unfounded,2 it is difficult to compare contributions from European members directly with that of the United States, especially 2 when considering some of the smallest members such as Slovenia, a country roughly the size of New Jersey with a population only slightly over two million. To ensure that new member states contribute to NATO’s core functions of common defense and do not serve as factors of insecurity, all new member states have been granted admission only after fulfilling the alliance’s membership criteria.

As NATO has extended membership and partnership programs to Eastern states, it has emphasized the importance of building capabilities suitable to addressing the current nontraditional and global forms of security threats.3 Thus the armed forces of NATO’s newest member states have undergone transformation and modernization aimed at reducing in size and professionalizing the conscript forces that traditionally characterized Eastern European and Warsaw Pact armies. Initial discussion on the need to improve NATO’s operational capabilities began at the Washington, D.C. Summit in April 1999;4 the Prague Summit expanded upon this objective in November 2002, identifying the need for NATO to adapt its military structures and concepts to most effectively address emerging irregular threats and the operational challenges that accompany them. The decision to create a NATO Response Force (NRF) was made official in Prague, with the intent that the NRF would function as “a catalyst for focusing and promoting improvements in the Alliance’s military capabilities.”5 Following a leaner and more efficient approach to military command structure, NATO formed Allied Command Transformation (ACT),6 a strategic command headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia, to focus solely on transformation. Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), the central command of NATO military forces (based in Casteau, Belgium), has since 2003 served as headquarters for Allied Command Operations (ACO) and functions as NATO’s other strategic command responsible for all Allied operations worldwide.7 The 2002 Prague Summit also produced the Prague Capabilities Commitment (PCC), whereby NATO leaders committed themselves to improving the individual and collective operational capabilities of their armed forces.8 The PCC resulted from the realization by NATO Defense Ministers9 that efficient, effective execution of future alliance missions would revolve around four fundamental areas:

• defending against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks;

• ensuring command, communications and information superiority;

• improving interoperability of deployed forces and key aspects of combat effectiveness; and

• ensuring rapid deployment and sustainability of combat forces.

By recognizing the need to improve collective NATO capabilities, alliance leaders pledged to enhance individual national capabilities. Initially, progress on reforms varied widely among member states due to a lack of benchmark setting; however, the 2002 PCC established deadlines for achieving national targets for reforms and thus resolved the disparities.

The Prague Summit did not only establish military and defense transformation goals for existing NATO members. Aspiring Alliance members were also expected to adhere to timelines for reform. In Prague, NATO Heads of State and Government extended 3 invitations to Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia to begin accession talks. While the Prague Summit Declaration stated the belief that the addition of these seven new states as members would contribute to the security and stability of the alliance, the aspiring members were expected to adhere to individual and realizable timetables for reform laid out during the process of accession talks, in letters of intent, and in accession protocols.