Wilson Center Addresses Issues of NATO and EU Enlargement

Nov 20, 2002

At the NATO summit in Prague, the heads of state of the current NATO member countries made several historic agreements that will dramatically affect the future of security in Europe as well as U.S. interests on the continent. On November 21, NATO issued invitations to seven new member states - Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria. NATO is also expected to create a brand new 21,000-strong rapid reaction force, drawing upon the troops of many of these new members as well as U.S. forces and those from traditional allies such as the the UK and France. The rapid reaction force will deal with emergency situations outside of Europe and sustain itself for periods up to one month.

One month later at its summit in Copenhagen, Denmark from December 12-13, the European Union will announce that it is extending invitations to ten new members - including eight from Central and Eastern Europe - with the expectation that they will become full members of the Union by mid-2004.

To address these historic changes and challenges and encourage debate on these issues, the East European Studies program, together with the Euro-Atlantic Initiatives program of the Stanley Foundation, organized a two-phased project entitled "Enlarging the Euro-Atlantic Space: Problems and Prospects for Northeastern and Southeastern Europe."

The first phase of the project culminated in a regional conference in Budapest in September 2002, which brought together a core group of U.S. experts and prominent regional experts from Europe. The findings and recommendations of the Budapest conference resulted in the publication of a Policy Bulletin summarizing the challenges. The bulletin was launched at a public session at the Wilson Center on November 14, where a distinguished panel of experts debated the problems of the two impending enlargement decisions. To view a summary of the November 14 meeting meeting, click here. To view the policy bulletin click here.

The second phase of the project will consist of a conference at the Wilson Center on December 19 to discuss the implications of the decisions of the Prague and Copenhagen summits for U.S. foreign policy; for Euro-Atlantic relations; and for relations with non-member countries.

The conclusions of the Budapest meeting focused on the increasing disconnect between the United States and its allies on NATO and the impact the enlargement process will have on the purpose, mission and structure of the Alliance and the EU as institutions.

The conference also highlighted the following:


  • Greater coordination and consultation between Europe and the United States is necessary to reverse the growing perception in Europe that the U.S. is downgrading the importance of its traditional allies.

  • There is a visible, dangerous, and growing divergence between European and U.S. perceptions of security, threats, global interests, and definitions of collective defense.

  • A growing disconnect exists between the U.S. and European allies over the central role of NATO as the primary defense institution - a development that greatly concerns the European allies and candidate countries.

  • The U.S. unilateralist behavior of "going it alone" only serves to underscore the decline of NATO as the region's primary defense and security alliance.



Most participants agreed that unless a serious discussion occurs on both sides of the Atlantic, clearly defining NATO's new role and mission, NATO as a functional defense alliance will cease to exist, replaced instead by a "political discussion club for post-Communists."

The Budapest participants also stressed that Europe needs to understand that for NATO to remain important to the U.S., and in particular to the U.S. Congress, the Alliance needs to retain its collective defense capability.

Recognizing that several of the newly invited NATO candidate countries will not have fulfilled the expected military and political requirements for membership, the Budapest experts emphasized that NATO should establish an assessment and review mechanism to ensure that new members fulfill their obligations and requirements as member countries.

In addition, it was suggested that NATO revise its decision-making process to replace the current consensus-based approach.

Finally, the Budapest panelists emphasized that NATO and the EU need to assure other candidate countries not on the current list of invitees that the enlargement processes will not constitute a new Yalta. The international community needs to engage the former Yugoslav countries and Albania in broader regional and cooperative efforts not only to get these countries ready for eventual membership, but to better address cross-boundary issues threatening Europe, such as crime and corruption.

Related Links

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
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant