Proponents of extending NATO membership to the Visegrad countries -- Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia -- can be divided into two camps. Those in the first camp assert that the purpose is solely to promote democracy and free markets in central Europe and has nothing to do with the military power and political aspirations of any other country. For the second group, NATO expansion has everything to do with the threat from Russia.
On their point of disagreement, the second group has the stronger argument. NATO expansion is about Russia. But on the policy they commonly advocate, both are unpersuasive. NATO expansion, under present circumstances and as currently envisioned, is at best premature, at worst counterproductive, and in any case largely irrelevant to the problems confronting the countries situated between Germany and Russia.
If NATO is to be a vehicle for the promotion of democracy in the post-Cold War world, and, judging from Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke's recent article ("America, a European Power," Foreign Affairs, March/April 1995), this is the position of the Clinton administration, there is no reason that all the formerly communist countries of Eurasia should not join. Certainly, if the promotion of democracy is NATO's new mission, then the expansion under consideration does not reach far enough to the east. For the countries under active consideration are precisely those best placed to make a successful transition to democracy and free markets without NATO membership. It is in Russia and Ukraine that the development of Western political and economic systems will be most difficult, where failure would be most costly for Europe, and where, therefore, success would have the greatest benefit.
In fact, however, NATO is not an effective instrument for promoting either free markets or democracy. In the second half of the 1940s, when the fate of democracy and free markets in Western Europe was the preeminent international issue, the principal response -- and an extremely successful one -- was the Marshall Plan. The
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