Courtesy Reuters

NATO Enlargement's American Hurdle: The Perils of Misjudging Our Political Will

As the debate over the merits and implications of extending NATO to include Central and Eastern Europe rages on, a critical question has largely been ignored: will Congress and the American people support the initiative? Adding new members requires the unanimous approval of the current allies, and the hurdle for ratification is highest in the United States. The other 15 alliance members need to muster majorities in party-disciplined legislatures, but American consent requires two-thirds of the notoriously independent Senate. With hardly a dissenting voice, the Senate approved membership for Greece and Turkey in 1952, West Germany in 1955, and Spain in 1982, but those votes were cast in the Cold War's shadow. With that looming menace gone, it is worth leaving aside for the moment the advisability of enlargement and asking simply whether enlargement is possible given the shifting terrain of U.S. domestic politics.

Like many post-Cold War foreign policy initiatives, NATO enlargement has scrambled traditional partisan and ideological blocs. Supporters of enlargement include balance-of-power conservatives apprehensive about rising Russian nationalism and intent on further embedding Germany in Europe's security edifice, idealists who seek to bolster democratic and economic reform in Central and Eastern Europe, and natophiles who see enlargement as a way to preserve the alliance and its unique military structure. The anti-enlargement faction is equally diverse. It embraces isolationists opposed to further security commitments, internationalists who see enlargement as antagonistic to Russia and unnecessary for the region's political and economic development and security, and hawks who worry that the additional states will weaken the

alliance's defenses, strain the current members' shrinking military resources, and risk leaks of sensitive information.

Even more striking than these motley coalitions are their antithetical predictions for the proposal's fate in Congress. Opponents have generally concluded that a new tide of isolationism dooms the idea. European security expert Charles Kupchan writes that U.S. ratification would require a "feat of magic" given "skin-deep" political support among a public and Congress that were reluctant to deploy troops in Bosnia

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