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Debate: NATO expansion

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Should NATO Expand to the East ? Will the proposed NATO expansion consolidate or eliminate stability in Europe ?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Rob Weekes. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.


Background and Context of Debate:

The decision whether to enlarge the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation from its present membership of 19 States to include the States of Eastern Europe, the Baltic and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) stems from the admission of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary at the Madrid summit of the alliance in 1997. The subsequent 50th anniversary summit in Washington DC in April 1999 brought strong statements of support for NATO enlargement. In adherence to the pledge made in the Republican Party’s ‘Contract for America’, President Bush has maintained the impetus for enlargement through speeches made during his official trip to Europe in June 2001. In response, NATO Secretary General George Robertson has affirmed that NATO expects to proceed to further enlargement at the November 2002 summit in Prague.However, the debate has received more critical attention in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Russia holds a pivotal role in the alliance against terrorism and President Vladimir Putin has evinced significant willingness to cooperate with American strategy in Afghanistan. The question is whether the US and NATO States are prepared to risk this novel alliance for the enlargement of their Cold War one. The discussion turns on the persuasiveness of the threat posed by Russia now and in the future, and conversely the view taken of the stability of the myriad republics of the CIS.

Argument #1


The dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the protracted collapse of the Soviet Union into the Commonwealth of Independent States did remove the overwhelming threat of the USSR against Western Europe. However, the threat persists in a different form. The newly independent republics remain vulnerable to the vast political and military influence of Russia. The new threat is the destruction of stability of the new republics, and thus Russian expansion that is hostile to both the republics and the Western European states in their proximity. The solution is pre-emptive expansion in the other direction. The broadening of NATO to include the Eastern republics shall offer a bulwark against Russian expansion. NATO shall continue to perform the role of a defensive alliance against a putative military threat.


Russia no longer presents a credible threat to Eastern Europe or the existing NATO States which NATO expansion could counterbalance. Russia can no longer offer the conventional military threat of the Cold War. The acceptance of this reality by the US is evidenced by the fact that there are no longer 300,000 troops stationed in Germany. The indebted and demoralised Russian infantry is presently overstretched in the persistent conflicts in Chechnya and Tajikistan. The combination of the weakness of Russia’s conventional forces and the antagonism that would be created by the deployment of NATO troops on its borders in the new republics would be dangerously counter-productive. Russia would be obliged more than ever to depend on her nuclear arsenal. Therefore, expansion is not only unnecessary but it is also likely to increase the threat of nuclear conflict in Western Europe.

Argument #2


The opportunity of NATO membership creates the incentive for the newly independent republics to achieve internal stability. The criteria for NATO membership include stable democracy ; civilian control of the armed forces ; a sufficient military capacity to make a meaningful contribution to collective security ; and the absence of active disputes on or within the borders of the State. This incentivisation is critical given the indication from the European Union at the Cologne conference that the majority of these countries will not be permitted to accede to EU membership within the coming decade. NATO membership will help these fledging States to help themselves.


The objectives of creating stability in these fledgling democracies could be better achieved under the existing ‘Partnership for Peace’ (PFP) programme. The policy that received strong support under the Clinton administration involves regular consultations, exercises and opportunities for education that seek to professionalize the civilian and military institutions of the republics of the former Soviet Union. This policy of genuine aid is preferable to the wish-list of democratic ideals that compose the criteria for NATO membership. Paradoxically, were one of the republics actually able to achieve all the criteria delineated, the necessity for their NATO protection would be marginal. Conversely, were the republics predictably unable to realize these goals, the protection of NATO through expansion or PFP would be genuine. Yet, it is in these situations of tenuous stability that States will be denied proper civilian and military aid from NATO.

Argument #3


The increasing trend towards Russian nationalism can be attributed to the weakness of the economy and the continued conflict in Chechnya, rather than the possibility of NATO expansion. The Russian people are concerned about hardship and hazard within their own borders rather than without. Moreover, now that the promise of NATO enlargement exists, a failure to offer the promised protection would raise grave doubts regarding the steadfastness of the NATO States. Moreover, the nationalism and belligerency of the Russian parliament would be implicitly rewarded. NATO should not be teaching Russia the lesson that hostility in Eastern Europe gets results that lessen the security of all.


The promise of NATO expansion has already antagonised Russia. The realisation of this policy shall only serve to manufacture the expansionist demon that NATO fears. The election of the ultranationalist Duma in 1996, the choice of the hardliner Yvegeny Primakov as foreign minister, and the failure of the reformist party ‘Russia’s Choice’ under Yegor Gaidar even to clear the 5% hurdle for Duma membership can be attributed, in whole or in part, to the Russian sense of isolation from Western Europe. This sense is dramatically emboldened by such provocative actions as threatening to station NATO troops on its borders. The Russian people are unlikely to consider that the forward deployment is not directed against them, but instead is only designed to maintain internal stability in the neighbouring republics. By inflaming Russian nationalism, NATO expansion is obstructs democratic development for Russia and undermines the security of its neighbouring republics.

Argument #4


. It ought to be accepted that the NATO alliance is already diluted. It should not be perceived as a standing military force, but a holding company whose individual members can draw upon a collective infrastructure and military support in the event of intervention in and around Europe. The expansion of NATO should be the opportunity to re-examine the current force deployment and strategic capability of the alliance. For example, the US maintains significant permanent deployment of infantry, aircraft and armour in Germany that could possibly be transferred to a more active role in protecting the borders of the newly independent republics. Similarly, the NATO ‘After-Action’ report into ‘Operation Allied Force’ in Kosovo highlighted the dependence of the offensive on the US capacity for strategic airlift. The acquisition of the requisite air transport by the Western European States would allow more credible guarantees of security throughout Europe. Forward deployment of NATO troops into the new republics is not a prerequisite for expansion. The core of the alliance is the pledge to protect which is undiminished by the addition of new members.


NATO expansion can only lead to the overstretching of the organisation and thus the undermining of stability for the entirety of Europe. The credibility of the commitment of article V of the NATO Charter in which every member pledges to come to the defence of another has already been undermined by the inclusion of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. NATO runs the grave risk of becoming so large and diverse it resembles a political organisation rather than a military alliance. The military contribution of the new members would be by definition limited. Were these republics already capable of providing sufficient security to their borders, there would be no necessity for NATO membership. At the point where the NATO commitments become more declaratory than real, the security of every State including the new members is called into question. Thus NATO expansion might in fact assist any State eager for its own expansionism in Eastern Europe.

Argument #5


The expense of NATO expansion is marginal when compared to the defence budgets of the major NATO States. The US defence expenditure alone for the fiscal year 2002 is $344 billion. Further, the correct equation is not between the expense of stationing troops in these new States and the current saving from non-deployment. The balance is between the expense of forward deployment or other military investment and the prohibitive cost in dollars and lives from a conflict between NATO and Russia, or a conflagration in any of the Eastern republics. NATO expansion is nothing more than a cost-effective insurance policy against a very real risk.


The costs of NATO expansion are prohibitive at a time when the Western European members are scaling back their defence budgets and the reducing the size of their conventional forces. It is estimated that expense of ten years of protecting the borders of Eastern Europe are between $10 and $50 billion. Moreover, the bill for stationing forces permanently in the territory new Eastern European members would likely exceed $100 billion per decade. Given the fragile economies of the new republics, the existing NATO States will be obliged to absorb the expense of expansion. The proper question is whether the taxpayers of the US and Western European States wish to pay to protect citizens of distant republics from phantom threats.



  • This House Supports NATO Expansion
  • This House Would Expand to the East before Russia
  • This House Believes that Bigger is Better for NATO

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