Center for Strategic Decision Research


New Direction for NATO and the Case for Enlargement

The Honorable John P. White
United States Deputy Secretary of Defense

Just after VE Day in 1945, when George Marshall was U.S. Army Chief of Staff, he sent his biennial report to Congress with an unusual comment. He said, "If man does find the solution to world peace, it will be the most revolutionary reversal of his record we have ever known."

After years of world war, no wonder Marshall was skeptical. But he was also a man of hope. In the years that followed World War II, he helped to usher in not one but two solutions to bringing peace to Europe--the Marshall Plan, which helped to revive and rebuild the economies of Western Europe, and NATO, which protected Western Europe from aggression during the Cold War.

During this period of peace building, President Truman said that "Individuals make history and not the other way around. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better." Progress did occur because of the leaders who helped to build a new transatlantic community of free nations a half-century ago. And it is occurring today, at another turning point in history. Today we have the opportunity to complete Marshall's vision of a Europe whole and free. In order to achieve that vision, we must summon the courage and skill needed to extend the transatlantic community of free nations.


There is no better place to address this future than here in Prague. Thirty years ago, during the "Prague Spring," tanks rumbled down these streets to crush the stirrings of liberty. Now, liberty is blooming throughout Eastern and Central Europe. NATO and Russia have signed the Founding Act, which commits us to a future of cooperation, not confrontation. We are transforming NATO into an alliance for the 21st century, with new missions and new partners. NATO is now ready to take the historic step of inviting new members to join the Alliance by 1999, its 50th anniversary.

NATO has come a long way. But in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, some said there was no longer a threat, so there was no longer a need for NATO. These same people wondered why the United States should maintain its commitment to European security.

We still need NATO; it is essential for both European and North American defense and security. Over the past four decades, NATO has been a unifying force for stability in a fragmented, unstable world. The United States remains committed to NATO because if Europe is in danger, America is in danger; when Europe is secure, America is secure. That is why U.S. forces, along with Allies and Partners, are helping to give peace a chance to endure in Bosnia. And that is why America is committed to building a new NATO to face the security challenges of the 21st century.


Since our last workshop in Warsaw, we have made great progress in building this new NATO together. We are launching the enhanced PFP and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, which will bring NATO and its Partners even closer together with more intensive military exercises, planning, consultations, and other activities. These outreach programs will also pave the way for further NATO enlargement and offer a role to European democracies that do not seek formal membership in the Alliance. We are also making great progress in changing NATO's internal structure to create a stronger European defense identity.


Most importantly, we will soon invite the first round of new members into NATO. In June 1996, in a speech to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, President Clinton outlined the four key reasons why NATO enlargement is crucial to European security:

  • NATO enlargement will strengthen the Alliance's ability to meet the security challenges of the 21st century. Collective defense is better than going it alone. Enlarging NATO will enlarge the circle of like-minded nations able to protect one another from threats of the new world order, including ethnic conflict, regional aggression, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Some have asked whether adding new members will dilute NATO's military strength. The answer is an unmitigated no. Every new member of NATO will be a contributor of security, not just a consumer of it. That means their forces will be able to fight alongside NATO's and help protect NATO territory.

  • Enlarging NATO will help secure the historic gains of democracy in Europe. NATO membership will provide new democracies with the security to become even stronger democracies in the 21st century, just as it previously provided Western European nations such as Germany, Italy, and Spain with the security they needed to establish and cement strong democratic principles.
  • Enlarging NATO will encourage prospective members to resolve their differences peacefully. By enlarging NATO, we enlarge the zone of stability NATO provides. In the past, NATO membership has helped to reconcile France and Germany and has provided a forum for resolution of tensions between members such as Greece and Turkey. Today, NATO's open door is providing a powerful impetus for Central and Eastern European nations to resolve past disputes and to enact a series of unprecedented agreements to ensure stable borders, promote cooperation, and address mutual concerns about the treatment of ethnic minorities. These agreements include the Polish-Lithuanian treaty of 1994, the Hungarian-Slovakian treaty of 1996, the agreements between Poland and Ukraine, and the 1996 treaty between Hungary and Romania. I applaud our Czech hosts for their 1996 agreement with Germany concerning the Sudeten and other issues.
  • Enlarging NATO will erase the artificial line that divided Europe during the Cold War. The prospect of NATO membership is like a magnet, drawing our nations closer together. Taken with the Partnership for Peace, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, and the NATO-Russia Founding Act, enlargement is serving to connect our capitals, coalesce our militaries, and bridge our differences. Just the mere act of discussing, consulting, and negotiating the future of European security has erased the mental dividing lines, replacing them with growing trust, understanding, and cooperation. Our nations are also erasing the old divides from the ground up as our forces serve together in Bosnia.


There is overwhelming evidence that enlarging NATO will be good for the North Atlantic community. But the question for NATO is which new members to invite first. After extensive discussion with Allies and candidate countries, members of Congress, and members of his administration, President Clinton decided that the United States will support Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic for the first-round invitations based on the fact that these three countries have demonstrated the necessary level of progress on military, political, economic, and social reform. The United States also recognizes the impressive strides made by Slovenia and Romania and views both as strong candidates for future NATO membership.

The United States has adopted its deliberate approach to enlargement because accession is a highly important action, carrying heavy obligations for both new and old members. The prudent course is to defer accession invitations to countries that are on the right path but need more time, a course that is all the more appropriate because the door to membership is going to remain open.

There are some advantages to limiting the number of initial invitations. For one, the problems and costs of enlargement will be diminished if only a limited number of countries are assimilated into NATO's operations at one time. Also, a small initial group underscores the point that there are really going to be additional rounds. In making its decision, the United States took into consideration the view that for so momentous a decision, there ought to be a strong consensus of support, and therefore it was right to support only countries that received that widespread support, leaving others for later action.


A basic premise of U.S. policy is that there should be a clear commitment by the Alliance that further rounds of membership will follow soon. The Alliance should also make an unequivocal commitment to keep the door open, continue dialogue focused on membership issues, explicitly reject the notion that any European democracy will be excluded from membership solely on the basis of geography, and regularly review the progress of applicant nations toward readiness for membership. In addition, we must attach great importance to implementing the measures the Alliance has planned to strengthen the links between NATO and Partner countries whether those countries are seeking membership or not.


It is not enough for us to shake hands and sign papers in the relative privacy of our capital halls and conference rooms. NATO enlargement cannot occur--and indeed, should not occur--without the consent of the people of our nations and their elected legislative representatives. As President Clinton said, "Because [enlargement] is not without cost and risk, it is appropriate to have an open, full, national discussion."

As democracies, we have learned that public support for government actions, particularly actions involving national security, legitimizes those actions. As Thomas Jefferson said in 1799, "Citizens have a right to full information in a case of great concernment to them. It is their sweat which is to earn all the expenses of war, and their blood which is to flow in expiation of the causes of it."

So we need to have "open, full, national discussions" about the costs and benefits of enlarging NATO. And we must have these discussions not just in the 16 NATO nations, but in every nation that would join NATO. That is the proposition I make. Together, we must begin to build public support in Europe and America for NATO enlargement.

Fifty years ago, George Marshall faced a similar challenge with the Marshall Plan. In his Harvard University commencement address outlining the need for the plan, he said, "The very mass of facts presented to the public by press and radio make it exceedingly difficult for the man in the street to reach a clear appraisement of the situation." Marshall spent the next year trying to remedy that problem. He traveled across the United States promoting the plan to labor unions, farmers, journalists, local politicians, women's groups, veterans, and others. In the end, the U.S. Congress approved the plan. And President Truman later said that Marshall "would be the first to agree that [the plan] is more than the creation of statesmen. It comes from the minds and hearts of all of the people."

The new NATO must also be more than the creation of statesmen--it must come from the minds and hearts of all of the people. It is our responsibility as democratic leaders to make a clear and compelling case for it, explaining the costs, the benefits, and the modalities of enlargement.


In closing, let me congratulate our hosts, President Havel and the people of the Czech Republic, for their efforts to integrate their nation into the Europe that George Marshall envisioned 50 years ago. They demonstrate the good that comes when people focus their energies on the future.

President Havel once told a story that exemplifies this way of thinking. Sometime after he became president, he was approached by a man who had interrogated him during his last spell in jail in 1989. The man had a bold favor to ask: Would President Havel put in a good word for him so he could stay with the police as an interrogator? The President said yes, and he did it.

That generosity of spirit is what the new Europe is all about. It is the spirit of George Marshall extending America's hand across the Atlantic. It is the spirit of hands today reaching across the old divides in Europe. If this generosity of spirit continues, we can realize Marshall's vision for a North Atlantic community with a new Europe, whole and free.


Top of page | Home | ©2003 Center for Strategic Decision Research