NATO Enlargement


Karen Volker

It was a historic moment when, on July 2, 1997, the sixteen members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) invited Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to join. After more than 40 years under Soviet domination, these new democracies had lobbied hard for the opportunity to join the North Atlantic alliance.

If ratified by all NATO member states, this will be the first expansion of NATO in over 15 years.1 Although a total of twelve countries have announced their desire to join NATO, only the three mentioned above were invited to join in the first wave. The other “would be” NATO members include the three Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia), Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

The decision of NATO member countries to invite only Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to join NATO was based on the perception that only these three countries had gone the furthest in establishing free, democratic societies based on free markets and the rule of law. By contrast, other “would-be” states were seen as having a long way to go to meet these standards.


Background on NATO

In 1949, fearing Soviet military domination of Europe, the United States joined eleven other nations in signing a commitment to defend their common values and civilization against outside threats. According to the preamble of the North Atlantic Treaty, the Parties reaffirmed:

“their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments.”


“determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.”


“to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area.”


and resolved:

“to unite their efforts for collective defense and for the preservation of peace and security.”

The text of the North Atlantic Treaty, negotiated in just over a year, is remarkably clear and concise. The treaty—essentially a collective defense arrangement—had a decisive impact on American diplomacy for the remainder of the 20th century. With this treaty, the United States broke its 150 year-old policy of avoiding peacetime alliances with European nations.

Although NATO troops were not called into action during the Cold War, by creating a latent military capability, the treaty was successful in deterring military aggression. In fact, NATO never had to use its military forces throughout the entire Cold War. The first real NATO military operation was in 1995 to implement the Dayton Peace Accords in Bosnia.


The Expansion Debate

According to the U.S. Constitution, before the President can ratify a treaty, he must first obtain the advice and consent of the Senate. In the case of NATO enlargement, the Senate must also give its advice and consent because the Protocols of Accession fundamentally change the treaty obligations of the United States.

Prior to the current expansion, NATO had increased its membership three times before—adding Greece and Turkey in 1952, Germany in 1955, and Spain in 1982. On each of these occasions, an overwhelming majority of the Senate supported expansion, arguing that it would decrease the defense burden of the United States and, at the same time, add to the security of Europe. On none of these occasions did the debate consider whether NATO itself was necessary.

By 1997/1998, however, the situation had changed. With the Cold War having ended in 1989, some Senators indeed questioned NATO’s continued existence. Others questioned whether adding three new countries would in fact enhance the security of Europe.

Those who opposed NATO enlargement also argued that expansion could play into the hands of ultra-nationalists in Russia and would cost more than claimed by the proponents of expansion. What’s more, because it could disturb Russia, many opponents of expansion argued that inclusion of these countries in NATO would decrease, rather than increase, stability in Europe.

The Clinton Administration and other supporters of expansion, however, argued that an expanded NATO would, in the words of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “make America safer, NATO stronger, and Europe more peaceful and united.” Others saw the inclusion of the three Central European countries as the natural extension of the Cold War, arguing that this (protecting freedom) is “what we fought the Cold War for.”

The arguments in favor of expansion are inevitably premised on the belief that Europe is vital to U.S. security and that NATO is and will continue to be an effective tool for promoting stability in Europe. The Clinton Administration argued that not only is NATO still an integral part of the United States’ national security policy, its function would be enhanced by the inclusion of the three new members.

On April 30, 1998, after several days of floor debate, the Senate voted to approve NATO expansion by a vote of 80 to 19, 13 votes more than the two-thirds majority necessary for ratification. (This ratio is remarkably similar to the vote in favor of the creation of NATO in 1949: 83 for and 13 against.)

During the course of the Senate debate, several resolutions were debated and defeated. Among other things, these resolutions sought to delay entry of the three countries into NATO until they become members of the European Union (EU), tried to put a three year moratorium on any further expansion of NATO, attempted to link NATO expansion to a Congressional vote on keeping U.S. troops in Bosnia, and sought to keep NATO from taking on military missions beyond mere defense of its members. One resolution that did pass states that it is the sense of the Congress that the Senate needs to authorize any spending on NATO enlargement beyond a predetermined amount.

Forty-five Republicans and 35 Democrats voted in favor of NATO enlargement. Nine Republicans and 10 Democrats voted against. One senator (Jon Kyl, a Republican from Arizona) did not vote. Those voting against NATO enlargement were:


n Republicans: Ashcroft, Mo.; Craig, Idaho; Hutchinson, Ark.; Inhofe, Okla.; Jeffords, Vt.; Kempthorne, Idaho; Smith, N.H.; Specter, Pa.; and Warner, Va.


n Democrats: Bryan, Nev.; Bumpers, Ark.; Conrad, N.D.; Dorgan, N.D.; Harkin, Iowa; Leahy, Vt.; Moynihan, N.Y.; Reid, Nev.; Wellstone, Minn.; and Wyden, Ore.


To help students better understand what NATO means and the significance of NATO enlargement, the entire text of the NATO treaty is presented on pp. 254-255.



First, have the students indicate on a map the old boundaries between NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries. Next, have the students identify on a map the original and current members of NATO. (Remember to add in East Germany!) Now have them add the three new countries to those belonging to NATO. How many members will there be if all three of the current invitees join NATO on April 4, 1999, which is the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the NATO treaty?

Have the students write a paragraph summarizing the main arguments for or against NATO enlargement. In a second paragraph, have them state whether they agree with the way one of the state’s senators voted on NATO enlargement. Why or why not?

After reading the text of the NATO treaty, have the students answer the following questions:

n Which article of the treaty allows NATO to expand?

n Why is Article V considered to be the heart of NATO?

n What are the main points of the preamble to the treaty?

n What is significant about April 4, 1999?

n Which article implies that member countries will provide assistance to each other in maintaining military readiness?

n Where is the original of the treaty kept?

n Does Article IV allow NATO to take on operations other than self-defense?


Have the students interview someone born before 1970 to obtain that person’s views about NATO and NATO expansion. What new or different perspectives did the student gain from conducting this interview? v



1. It is hoped that NATO member states will ratify the latest expansion by April 1999, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the original treaty. The twelve original members of NATO were: The United States, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom.


Karen Volker is a career foreign service officer. With the support of a grant from the Una Chapman Cox Foundation, she has written four comprehensive foreign policy modules based on primary source materials for use in high schools, which will be distributed by the Center for Teaching International Relations at the University of Denver ( Views and opinions expressed in this article are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of State.


The Parties to this Treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and their desire to live in Peace with all peoples and all governments.


They are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.


They seek to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area.


They are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defense and for the preservation of peace and security.


They therefore agree to this North Atlantic Treaty:



The Parties undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international dispute in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered, and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.



The Parties will contribute toward the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening their free institutions, by bringing about a better understanding of the principles upon which these institutions are founded, and by promoting conditions of stability and well-being. They will seek to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies and will encourage economic collaboration between any or all of them.



In order more effectively to achieve the objectives of this Treaty, the Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.



The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.



The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all, and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually, and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.



For the purpose of Article 5, an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack:

– on the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America, on the Algerian Departments of France, on the territory of Turkey or on the islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer;

– on the forces, vessels, or aircraft of any of the Parties, when in or over these territories or any area in Europe in which occupation forces of any of the Parties were stationed on the date when the Treaty entered into force or the Mediterranean Sea or the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer.



The Treaty does not affect, and shall not be interpreted as affecting, in any way the rights and obligations under the Charter of the Parties which are members of the United Nations, or the primary responsibility of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security.



Each Party declares that none of the international engagements now in force between it and any other of the Parties or any third State is in conflict with the provisions of this Treaty, and undertakes not to enter into any international engagement in conflict with this Treaty.



The Parties hereby establish a Council, on which each of them shall be represented to consider matters concerning the implementation of this Treaty. The Council shall be so organized as to be able to meet promptly at any time. The Council shall set up such subsidiary bodies as may be necessary; in particular it shall establish immediately a defense committee which shall recommend measures for the implementation of Articles 3 and 5.



The Parties may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to this Treaty. Any State so invited may become a party to the Treaty by depositing its instrument of accession with the Government of the United States of America. The Government of the United States of America will inform each of the Parties of the deposit of each such instrument of accession.



This Treaty shall be ratified and its provisions carried out by the Parties in accordance with their respective constitutional processes. The instruments of ratification shall be deposited as soon as possible with the Government of the United States of America, which will notify all the other signatories of each deposit. The Treaty shall enter into force between the States which have ratified it as soon as the ratifications of the majority of the signatories, including the ratifications of Belgium, Canada, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States, have been deposited and shall come into effect with respect to other States on the date of the deposit of their ratifications.



After the treaty has been in force for ten years, or at any time thereafter, the Parties shall, if any of them so requests, consult together for the purpose of reviewing the Treaty, having regard for the factors then affecting peace and security in the North Atlantic area, including the development of universal as well as regional arrangements under the Charter of the United Nations for the maintenance of international peace and security.



After the Treaty has been in force for twenty years, any Party may cease to be a Party one year after its notice of denunciation has been given to the Government of the United States of America, which will inform the Governments of the other Parties of the deposit of each notice of denunciation.



This Treaty, of which the English and French texts are equally authentic, shall be deposited in the archives of the Government of the United States of America. Duty certified copies will be transmitted by that Government to the Governments of the other signatories.


The Treaty came into force on 24 August 1949, after the deposition of the ratifications of all signatory states.