NATO's New Horizons


Not long after the end of a high-level meeting in Warsaw this summer, Robert E. Hunter, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, marveled at the historic changes taking place throughout the alliance. Quietly and with relatively little fanfare, NATO's senior ministers were engineering a dramatic restructuring.

Although just a few years ago many analysts questioned whether an alliance long-predicated on the Soviet threat even had a future, the 16 member-nations were now set to gamble that a NATO restructured to accept new members and undertake fresh missions could anchor peace in Europe well into the 21st century.

In June, at a landmark meeting in Berlin, NATO ministers agreed for the first time to create a framework for strictly European military operations that would be conducted under the aegis of NATO, moving Europe closer to a security and defense identity of its own.

In Bosnia, meanwhile, NATO forces are conducting the alliance's first ``out of area'' operation, which many specialists see as a model for future cooperative missions. Next spring, NATO ministers are expected to announce that the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland will become the first countries offered NATO membership since Spain in 1982.

Pausing on a busy Warsaw street, Hunter needed no reminders of how much was at stake. A few hundred yards away was the spot where in 1955 the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites formalized the Warsaw Pact, ushering in decades of Cold War. A few hours from the city is the Polish border crossing that German forces quickly breached to launch World War II. To the south in Sarajevo--flash point of World War I--NATO forces were overseeing an uneasy truce in the former Yugoslavia, a region seething with old rivalries and animosities.

``NATO is entering what is easily the most complicated period for the alliance since the early days of its founding,'' Hunter, who's been in the NATO post since July 1993, said in an interview. ``We're turning this great supertanker of an alliance 180 degrees from its former focus on the single challenge of the old Soviet threat.''

For the past several years, he continued, NATO has worked block by block to assemble a new security architecture for Europe. ``And in the next several months, we'll be making fundamental decisions in a number of key areas,'' Hunter said. ``We're truly at an extraordinary moment for NATO.''

Looking to the East

No decision will have a more profound effect on the future of NATO than the choices--expected to be made during a December ministerial meeting in Brussels but not formally announced until next spring--of which members of the Warsaw Pact to admit to NATO. Because the choices must be ratified by each member-nation, those decisions are expected to spark the most intense debate on the benefits, burdens and future direction of the Atlantic alliance since its inception shortly after World War II.

``We have to start thinking in terms of Gen. George Marshall's original vision of a united Europe stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals,'' Defense Secretary William J. Perry told a July conference of NATO and Western European Union (WEU) ministers in Washington. ``We certainly don't believe NATO should be an exclusive club that rejects qualified members who want to join. So I think we'll take decisive action to include new members early in 1997.''

That vision of a united Western and Eastern Europe will face a major test in the Senate next year. Republican presidential nominee Robert Dole has pushed for an even more rapid expansion of NATO than has the Clinton Administration, which along with the German government is viewed within the alliance as the strongest proponent of enlargement. Before adjourning this fall, Congress is expected to pass the NATO Enlargement Facilitation Act, authorizing $60 million to help the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland prepare for NATO membership.

Little has been said, however, about the long-term costs--and risks--associated with an expanded alliance. A March 1996 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study projected the estimated costs of admitting the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia at $61 billion-$167 billion over the next 15 years, depending on how robust a military posture the alliance assumes. Would, for instance, NATO simply provide intelligence and logistical support for its new members in time of crisis? Or would the alliance decide to rely on air and land reinforcements, or even station a number of forward-deployed divisions on former Warsaw Pact turf?

An August study by RAND, the California-based nonprofit think tank, puts the outlays at $10 billion-$60 billion, with the most likely option being a reinforcement scenario that would cost roughly $42 billion by 2010. Under traditional ``burden-sharing'' arrangements, such an approach would most likely require that the United States shoulder an additional $400 million-$700 million a year to support the expansion of NATO.

``We felt that an additional power projection capability to reinforce new members probably made the most sense, both because it would be enough to adequately assure allies of their security and at the same time hopefully not provoke Russia, and because it was relatively affordable,'' Richard Kugler, a senior RAND analyst and former Pentagon planner, said at an August press briefing. The $42 billion price tag to support a reinforcement scenario, he noted, is less than the roughly $60 billion required to field a single U.S Army division for 10 years. ``The greater danger is if you don't make these investments, which leaves you with new treaty commitments backed by a more hollow defense capability.''

There are significant responsibilities and risks, however, inherent in extending virtually to the borders of a wary Russia the ``all for one, one for all'' guarantees contained in article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty: ``An armed attack against one or more . . . shall be considered an attack against them all.''

Certainly, enlargement of the alliance could temporarily chill relations between Washington and Moscow.

``While there has been movement in Russia in the past few months away from its blanket opposition to NATO expansion, Moscow is likely to push for more restrictions on new military infrastructure for reinforcing Central Europe than NATO is likely to accept,'' said F. Stephen Larrabee, a senior RAND analyst who also contributed to the NATO report. ``Russia is also likely to want to cap new membership after this first round, which clashes with the Administration's stated desire to keep the door to NATO open.''

Whatever the effects of a larger NATO on U.S.-Russian relations, a ``no'' vote by the Senate would undoubtedly prompt bitter disappointment abroad, perhaps rivaling reaction to the chamber's refusal to support Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations after World War I. Yet some analysts maintain that the American public has little interest in assuming expanded defense responsibilities.

``Neither the Administration nor congressional leaders have addressed whether two-thirds of the U.S. Senate, in the present mood of the country, would agree to extend U.S. security obligations to the Polish-Ukrainian border,'' David D. Newsom, a University of Virginia international studies professor, recently wrote in the Christian Science Monitor. ``Without candidly addressing the Senate's role, Washington is moving toward a denouement that could damage U.S. credibility and cause disappointment among nations waiting in NATO's wings.''

A number of Senate supporters of enlarging the alliance, however, argue that a properly framed argument can prevail. ``The debate about NATO enlargement in the Senate will not only be about enlargement. It will be about the U.S. role in the post-Cold War world,'' Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., a member and former chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in Germany earlier this year. ``This will be the first time that this set of issues will be debated at the national level since the end of the Cold War, and this makes some of my colleagues in Congress nervous. They fear that the isolationists of the Left and Right will band together in some kind of unholy alliance. . . . In short, they fear that the NATO enlargement debate will kill NATO. I think they are wrong.''

A New Day, Old Suspicions

To understand the forces transforming NATO, it's important to remember that powerful tensions were always behind the alliance's facade of Cold War unity. Driven by competing national aims, NATO's members jockeyed for influence and position on virtually every important issue.

``People seem to think that because of the Soviet threat, everything went smoothly within NATO. In reality, every decision was the result of a compromise, and every adaptation was agony,'' Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution and a former State Department counselor and member of the National Security Council staff, said at a July conference organized by the European Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit policy group. ``You always had to balance the attitudes and interests of the member states.''

For its part, the United States, which always considered itself first among equals in NATO, viewed the alliance as its main structure for managing the Cold War and influencing events in Europe.

An American four-star general, for instance, always presides over the alliance's military command. Because of the difficult task of building consensus within NATO during the Cold War, U.S. officials thus tended to view other European alliances and multinational organizations as potential rivals, including the European Union (EU) and its defense arm, the WEU, whose full members all belong to NATO.

``While we supported a strong European pillar in NATO during the Cold War, we were highly ambivalent because of the need to centrally manage the East-West conflict, particularly in the realm of nuclear weapons,'' Ambassador Hunter said. ``For that simple and compelling reason, we wanted the European pillar to be highly responsive to American views.''

Often citing their ``special relationship'' with the United States, British officials tended to view positively the United States's strong-leadership role in NATO, at least partially as a counterbalance to economic powerhouse West Germany. For similar reasons, the British have been skeptical about the movement toward unification under the umbrella of the EU.

Under President Charles de Gaulle, France in 1968 withdrew from NATO's military structure, at least partly because of resentments about America's preeminence. Instead, France led the move toward European unification and a more independent European economic and security identity under the auspices of the European Union and the WEU.

Always a strong proponent of NATO and the European Union, West Germany saw both alliances as vehicles for tying its defense and economic fortunes to multinational institutions and thus diffusing historical suspicions and animosities. Those feelings only increased after German unification.

``When the unification of Germany came about, we realized that not all our neighbors and partners were absolutely happy,'' a senior German official said in an interview. ``We felt from the beginning that we had to avoid the historical situation of a big, strong Germany in the middle of the continent that is hard for our neighbors to digest, and they thus, as a consequence, form alliances to counter our power. And the only way to avoid that was to deepen our ties with these multinational institutions.''

After the Berlin Wall crumbled, however, a number of analysts speculated that with no Soviet threat to keep those dynamic tensions within the alliance in check, NATO itself would eventually disintegrate. Responding to demands for a domestic peace dividend, American military forces began a massive withdrawal from the continent; U.S. troop levels declined by more than two-thirds. Germany was preoccupied with the unexpectedly high costs of unification and an outbreak of right-wing violence that stirred deep-seated historical fears in Europe.

Britain and France locked horns on the pace of European unification and movement toward a common currency, even as both countries struggled with sluggish economies. Fledgling democracies in Central Europe, meanwhile, clamored for economic aid and security guarantees.

Many of the uncertainties of the initial post-Cold War years played out against a backdrop of war in the former Yugoslavia. While Europe struggled and failed to mount an effective collective response, Sarajevo was leveled. The symbolism was lost on no one. Far from tearing the alliance apart, the forces unleashed by the end of the Cold War thus drew nations toward NATO's promise of collective security and stability. As any NATO official will tell you, Bosnia changed everything.

``Politically, I think the most important lesson of the Bosnian experience is the critical value of the trans-Atlantic link,'' NATO Secretary General Javier Solana told a recent gathering of reporters in Washington. ``It showed once again that when the Europeans and Americans are on the same wavelength, there is practically nothing that we cannot do moving together. And when we're not on the same wavelength, everything obviously becomes much more difficult.''

`Big Daddy' Loosens Up

Perhaps the most dramatic sign that war in the former Yugoslavia and the general uncertainties of the post-Cold War era would reinvigorate NATO came last December, when France announced that its defense minister would once again join NATO's military committee. The quid pro quo for that rapprochement was the Clinton Administration's earlier support for developing a distinct European security and defense identity.

``This historic compromise means we're now firmly committed to developing a European security and defense identity within NATO, and not outside its structures,'' Danish Defense Minister Hans Haekkerup told a European Institute conference in Washington. ``It's also historic that France is moving closer to NATO structures, and hopefully in the near future will take full part in a new NATO.''

Peter Rashish, vice president of the European Institute, maintains that France is withholding full integration of its forces into NATO's military structure until Paris sees more-concrete measures moving the alliance toward a truly distinct European defense identity, including the capability to launch all-European military operations with borrowed NATO military equipment.

``France has said it no longer wants a fully independent European defense force outside of NATO, but they are holding out for a restructured alliance with the capability of the European partners to launch at least `soft-core' humanitarian relief, rescue and peacekeeping operations,'' he said. ``Once they see that 'Big Daddy' America is willing to let that happen, I think they'll fully reintegrate their forces into NATO's military structure.''

For financial and other reasons, U.S. officials have withdrawn long-held reservations about Europe's establishing a defense identity of its own. Without the galvanizing threat of the Soviet Union, the always-sticky issue of trans-Atlantic burden sharing was causing increased tensions. Of the $470 billion spent on national security in 1995 by the 16 alliance members, for instance, the U.S. defense budget accounted for 59 per cent, or $278 billion.

At the same time, America's early-September cruise missile attacks on Iraq reinforced Washington's contention that the United States will continue to act unilaterally whenever necessary. Britain and Germany immediately supported the action, while France declined to endorse it. All are in agreement, however, that the long-term security interests of both the United States and Europe remain in collective action within a NATO framework.

Still, recent decisions in Europe have caused concerns about the continued commitment to a strong defense even by NATO's core European nations--Britain, France and Germany. After an acrimonious debate, the German government recently decided to cut defense spending by $5 billion over the next four years; in 1995, German defense spending will amount to 1.7 per cent of gross domestic product (versus 4 per cent for the United States). Both France and the Netherlands recently announced that they would end military conscription. The emergence of a truly European defense capability within NATO, U.S. officials reasoned, would require a renewed commitment to national security spending among the European allies.

By firmly linking Europe to a structure of collective defense, a reinvigorated and expanded NATO may help avoid a repeat of the regional military imbalances and tensions that preceded the World Wars, when countries ``renationalized'' in an attempt to build their own independent defense capabilities.

``By promoting collective defense within an expanded NATO, we want to ensure that it will remain prohibitively expensive for any country in Europe to go it alone,'' Hunter said. As an example, experts point to the French decision to build defense forces that were independent of both Cold War military blocs. Today, France spends more per capita on defense than any other European member of NATO ($850 a year compared with $658 for Britain and $485 for Germany).

``For a number of reasons, the United States has essentially reversed itself, withdrawing our reservations about a more distinct European defense identity as long as it remains within NATO, and indeed we see a lot of virtues to having the Europeans take defense more seriously,'' Hunter said. ``They will need to support defense budgets; NATO will continue to be an additional multinational institution through which Germany expresses its future; it reassures Europeans that they have the capability to conduct operations if for some reason the United States doesn't want to participate; and it convinced France that instead of trying to create a military capability outside of, and in competition with, NATO, it would create something within NATO. So we're at an extraordinary moment in NATO, when on the central issues we're all singing off the same sheet of music.''

The devil of creating a ``separable but not separate'' European defense force within NATO, however, is likely to reveal itself in the details. To facilitate purely European operations, the defense ministers called for the establishment of a NATO Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) headquartered in the Netherlands. The CJTF would mirror U.S. joint task force headquarters that are routinely established to plan and execute military operations. The next hurdle, NATO officials say, will be to design procedures to allow military equipment and weapons pledged to NATO to be transferred to the operational and political control of the WEU and the CJTF.

Although U.S. officials play down the potential problems, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of that equipment--especially long-range transports and advanced communications and surveillance systems--resides in the U.S. arsenal. According to a Washington Post article, for instance, 46 of the 48 high-technology communication satellite channels used by the 60,000-member NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia are U.S. property.

``It's very important that we think through the types of missions and scenarios under which a combined joint task force under the political control of the WEU would need NATO assets, because we need to be very clear that these are primarily national assets,'' Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert G. Osterthaler, acting assistant Defense secretary for NATO affairs, told the European Institute conference. ``Realistically, agreeing on procedures for making NATO assets available for WEU-led operations--and connecting such military operations to the WEU political apparatus in a way that does not endanger the principle of unity of command--will not be easy tasks.''

U.S. officials insist that potential Europe-only operations will remain small in scope for the foreseeable future and that the United States would decide on the use of its assets for such operations on a case-by-case basis. Equally important from the American point of view is the advisability of having a standing combined joint task force for NATO's ``out of area'' operations such as Bosnia, widely viewed as a likely model for future operations. That is considered the second lane in the path toward ``double enlargement'' that many see as NATO's future.

``The phrase `double enlargement' captures the twin processes of reform that I believe must take place,'' Lugar said. ``NATO must enlarge eastward to integrate the new democracies, and it must expand its functional missions beyond border defense to include crisis management and perhaps peacekeeping beyond alliance borders.''

As a prototype of missions beyond NATO's traditional borders, many officials say, Bosnia has been instructive. ``Bosnia is a good example of how many of these trends can come together under the over-all roof of the United Nations, based on the military structure established within NATO, with broad participation by non-NATO nations such as former members of the Warsaw Pact and even Russia,'' John Kornblum, assistant secretary of State for European and Canadian affairs, said at the European Institute conference. ``So the core foundation of NATO, which is unique in history and includes an American engagement in Europe and a common commitment to collective defense, is being adapted to sustain a more visible and capable European identity within its structures, to new roles and missions through the CJTF concept, and internally to the prospect of new members in the next few years.''

Reassurances For Moscow

If the NATO Implementation Force in Bosnia is seen as a potential model for future deployments, the conflict itself is viewed as a cautionary warning against a future in which the historic animosities of Central Europe are allowed to ferment in a security vacuum. ``If you go through the Eastern region of Europe, what you find is something like 100 bilateral agreements between nations, most of them marked by a military imbalance,'' RAND's Kuglar said. ``That creates an instability all its own.''

Certainly that potential for instability is not lost on Polish officials, who find their nascent democracy emerging in a strategic ``gray zone'' between an unpredictable Russia on the one side and a reunited and increasingly powerful Germany on the other.

Poland's history of valiant defiance against both former oppressors--most recently epitomized by the Solidarity movement--has much to do with the fact that Poland is considered a lock to be invited to join NATO, most likely with two neighbors, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Because of social unrest, Slovakia is now considered a long-shot for the first round of NATO enlargement.

Poland's eagerness to join underscores a little-discussed but critical perceived benefit of NATO membership. Aside from simply committing its members to a common front against aggression, NATO has been successful for more than four decades in mitigating against conflicts between its members.

``Bosnia should be seen as a warning of what can happen if you do not incorporate Europe into a common structure that not only guarantees security, but also demands that its members observe a system of rules and values such as civilian control of the military and commitment to democratic institutions and human rights,'' Andrzej Jaroszynski, deputy chief of mission of the Polish Embassy in Washington, said in an interview.

``Certainly one of the fundamental reasons why we want to join NATO is that if problems do arise with our neighbors--a possibility that history will not let us dismiss--we are not having them between two countries, but rather as fellow NATO members. Things might long ago have gone worse between Greece and Turkey, for instance, if they hadn't been NATO members,'' he said. ``We feel that by admitting Poland, for instance, NATO will ensure that our historical problems with Germany will never arise again.''

While the desire to allay historical suspicions and surround itself with NATO partners has made Germany the most ardent supporter of a larger alliance, the far more immediate concern lies eastward with a Russia struggling with its transition to democracy and internecine warfare in Chechnya.

To help overcome Russian objections to a larger NATO, alliance officials assert that they have no plans to station nuclear arms in new member states. Privately, these officials point to Norway as a likely model, noting that NATO never permanently positioned either nuclear weapons or troops there.

What NATO officials also say they will never do, however, is go back on their stated intention of expanding the alliance or give Russia a de facto veto.

``There is consensus among the 16 member-nations that NATO will be enlarged, and we're approaching the moment of decision,'' NATO's Solana said. ``Just from a strictly moral point of view, if Poland is knocking on NATO's door, saying they want to be and should be a member, who will be the one to say they can't come in? Personally, I will not be the one to say no.''

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