Point of View, by Sabina Auger

NATO and EU Enlargement: Where Do We Go from Here?

Feb 05, 2003

Beyond extending the security borders of NATO and Europe further east, the dual expansion of the Euro-Atlantic institutions also alters the internal dynamics of both the Alliance and the European Union, while bringing with it the new members' respective baggage of incomplete transitions. Most important, both enlargements occurred without addressing some key institutional, capability, and cultural gap questions that have been hanging over the Euro-Atlantic organizations since the fall of communism.

What is the ever-expanding NATO purpose in today's drastically changed security environment, with the varying strategic capabilities of its old and new members? How can both institutions adapt to accommodate new missions, roles and expanding memberships while maintaining relevance in the continent? Can NATO and the European Union work together effectively to meet the security challenges of the 21st century? NATO's Prague Summit left all of these fundamental issues unresolved and, consequently, the Alliance runs as much a danger as before of becoming irrelevant, especially for American policy.

With NATO's latest round of expansion, the Alliance's direct involvement in peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia and its evolving role in the war on terrorism, NATO's traditional mission as the primary defense alliance against Soviet aggression has shifted toward a focus on security-building. The key tasks for the United States and NATO will now be to ensure that the Alliance's enhanced presence in the region actually furthers stability and security for new members and those still excluded, and to adapt structurally and administratively to accommodate its expanding role and membership.

Across the region, instead of extending stability and security, the enlargement of NATO and the EU appear to have sharpened the uneven rate of progress and transition to democracy and free market systems, while ignoring the explosive potential of the Balkans. The recent decisions of both NATO and the EU to enlarge, but exclude for the time being much of Southeastern Europe, intensifies the dangers and pitfalls for those states that have been omitted from immediate membership and underscores the continuing problems and challenges for the region as a whole. The United States and its European allies remain confronted with the challenges of implementing the dual enlargement processes without drawing new lines of division within Europe and undermining those not admitted - particularly the countries of Southeast Europe and Turkey - while simultaneously fighting terrorism, crime, and threats of bio-chemical warfare globally as well as confronting an ever-widening cultural gap between Europe and America.

For its part, the EU enlargement process is also problematic. No fewer than 10 states of Central and Eastern Europe have either completed, or will soon complete, accession agreements with the EU. But will the EU actually have the institutional capacity to take on such a huge task while stabilizing its Eurozone and giving substance to its Common Foreign and Security Policy? Will the new “Schengen border,” which establishes specific external boundaries of EU jurisdiction, serve to once more underscore the old east-west division of the region? Some candidate Central East European countries have already imposed visa restrictions in an effort to fall in line with EU regulations. Such tight border controls are having severe implications for both potential members’ traditional trading partners and the shared national minorities living in the neighboring countries excluded from the first round of EU eastern enlargement.

Unless both structural and region-wide cooperative/inclusive mechanisms are developed that comprehensively address these unresolved administrative, capability and cultural issues, NATO and the EU, as the key Euro-Atlantic institutions, are in danger of evolving into mere discussion clubs.

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Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Kristina N. Terzieva // Program Assistant
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant