When Soviet power collapsed in Eastern Europe in 1989, an intense debate developed over the roles Europe's security institutions should play in the new era. Some, led by Moscow, favored abolishing both the Warsaw Pact and NATO and giving primacy to a pan-European collective security organization, perhaps in the form of a strengthened Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Others, led by Paris, believed that NATO was still needed, but that primacy should be given to European institutions such as the Western European Union and the European Community, which became the European Union (EU) when the Maastricht Treaty on European Union went into effect in November 1993. Still others, led by Washington and London, believed that direct American engagement in European security affairs was still indispensable and that NATO, which provided the organizational framework for American engagement in Europe, was indispensable as well. According to this line of thinking, NATO needed to be preserved, reformulated, and made the centerpiece of Europe's new security architecture.

By the mid-1990s, it had become an article of faith in west European policymaking circles that U.S. engagement in Europe was still an essential part of the European security equation. As a result, NATO came out on top in the debate over the relative merits of Europe's security organizations. Unfortunately, NATO's mission has been reformulated in ways that will undermine the alliance's effectiveness, credibility, and long-term durability.


It was natural and inevitable that NATO would change in some respects when Soviet power crumbled. The alliance was created to deter a Soviet attack against Western Europe, and, if necessary, to defend against such an attack. Suddenly, and in fundamental ways, the military balance in Europe changed from 1989 into the early 1990s, with the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, the unification of Germany, the signing of the treaty on conventional forces in Europe, and the withdrawal of Soviet forces. Moscow was no longer in a position to launch a surprise attack on western Europe. This meant that forward defense of the Federal Republic of Germany became much less of a military challenge. Consequently NATO made deep cuts in its conventional forces in Germany. The United States also made deep cuts in its nuclear arsenal in Europe.

The alliance's transformation, however, was not limited to changes in its force structure: NATO's leaders also changed its mission. The process began in 1990, with a campaign to soften the alliance's image in order to get Moscow to go along with German unification on the West's terms -- as a member of NATO. With this unification problem in mind, the alliance's leaders announced at their July 1990 summit that they would develop a new military strategy that would de-emphasize forward defense and enable NATO to play a more "political" role in European affairs.

This strategic review culminated in the production of a new "strategic concept," or mission statement, which was unveiled at the NATO summit in Rome in November 1991. The new strategic concept stated that NATO would henceforth have four "fundamental security tasks" -- listed in the following order. The alliance's first task would be "to provide one of the indispensable foundations for a stable security environment in Europe . . . in which no country would be able to intimidate or coerce any European nation." Second, NATO would continue to serve as a "transatlantic forum" on security issues. Third, the alliance would "deter and defend against any threat of aggression against the territory of any NATO member state." Fourth, it would work to "preserve the strategic balance" in Europe.

This restatement of NATO's mission constituted a dramatic break with the past. To begin with, NATO's leaders expanded the alliance's area of geographical concern: they declared that they would henceforth be worried about the continent as a whole, not just the NATO area. They also stated that threats to stability would be defined in much broader functional terms: they maintained that, in addition to traditional military problems, NATO would also address territorial disputes, ethnic rivalries, and political and economic problems throughout Europe. The traditional concerns of NATO -- collective defense and preserving the balance of power in Europe -- were relegated to the bottom of the new priority list.

The rationale behind this new agenda was that, with the end of the Cold War and the diminishing importance of the collective defense mission, the alliance would have to address security problems throughout Europe if it was to survive. If NATO was unwilling to take on these problems, it was said, its relevance to European security as a whole would diminish and its demise would be inevitable: NATO, the mantra went, must go "out of area or out of business."

The alliance's new "expansionist" agenda led to the development of two new missions: promoting stability in non-NATO Europe, and promoting stability in central and eastern Europe by developing new institutional links with states in the region.

The first of these new missions, promoting stability in non-NATO Europe, was put to the test almost immediately: war broke out in Bosnia in early 1992, killing tens of thousands and displacing millions. Astonishingly, NATO's leaders continued to insist that promoting stability in non-NATO Europe was one of the alliance's most important post-Cold War missions, even as they failed year after year to take effective action in Bosnia.

The alliance's second new mission was the development of new links with states in central and eastern Europe, which the alliance's leaders maintained would promote democracy and stability in the region. This led to the signing of Partnership for Peace agreements between NATO and states throughout Europe and the former Soviet Union and, more recently, to the incorporation of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland into the alliance itself.

In the run-up to the alliance's April 1999 summit, American officials argued that NATO's expansionist agenda had to be extended and that yet another new mission had to be added to the alliance's repertoire. The United States, they maintained, was spending a lot of money on power-projection capabilities to stabilize Europe, but NATO's European members were not developing capabilities that would enable them to help the United States address its security concerns outside of Europe. The result, they argued, is that Europe has been getting a free ride. They contended that this state of affairs could not be sustained in the long run because the American public and the U.S. Congress would not tolerate it.

These "globalists" argue that a new transatlantic bargain is needed to keep the alliance alive. If the United States is to stay in Europe, they say, NATO's European members must help the United States address its global concerns: NATO must go out of Europe or out of business.

Both new agendas, however, the expansionist and the globalist, are wrong and dangerous for the alliance. They are wrong because they emphasize highly problematic missions. And they are dangerous because changing NATO's main mission has made the alliance's demise more likely.


Enlargement of NATO is simply unnecessary. The alliance's leaders contend that bringing in central and east European states will promote stability and democracy in the region, but none of the leading candidates for NATO membership has internal stability problems; indeed, this is a condition for membership. Central and east European states that have domestic problems -- Albania and Slovakia, for example -- have dropped to the bottom of the list of applicants. The case for "promoting stability" in new member states is therefore specious: the countries that are at the top of the list to join NATO are already quite stable, and the countries that have stability problems have been relegated to the bottom. In any event, NATO -- which is fundamentally a military organization -- is not well equipped to help new members promote political stability, advance democratic reform, and address ethnic problems.

Moreover, NATO enlargement could be counterproductive because it could trigger a backlash in Russia. The alliance's leaders insist that the diplomatic overtures made by the United States and NATO (such as the creation in 1997 of a NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council) have pacified the Russian leadership and that NATO's Russia problem has now been solved. This is wishful thinking. Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his advisers came to recognize that NATO was committed to bringing new members into the alliance, and that Russia could not stop this from happening. The Russian government consequently struck the best deal available under the circumstances. It does not follow that Russian policy will henceforth be accommodating.

Expansion could cause serious problems in the alliance's relations with Russia, and these problems could reverberate for years to come. Now that NATO's leaders have brought new members into the alliance, Russian nationalists and political opportunists have another weapon to use against pro-Western factions in Russia's domestic political arena. At a minimum, this will push those who would like to engage the West constructively to adopt tougher policies toward neighboring states and on arms control. For example, NATO expansion could undercut U.S. efforts to deal with the dangers posed by nuclear leakage from the former Soviet Union -- the possibility that nuclear weapons and fissile material could find their way to North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, or terrorist organizations. Preventing nuclear leakage is important for U.S., European, and international security, but progress will be more difficult if NATO enlargement changes Russian calculations about the value of cooperating with the West.

The worst-case scenario is that embittered nationalists or opportunists will come to power and adopt much more aggressive policies toward Europe and the United States. A new East-West confrontation could develop. Although the fate of Russian reformers will depend mainly on developments in Russia itself, developments in Europe -- such as NATO enlargement -- will undoubtedly have some influence on Russian domestic politics and foreign policy. The emergence of a kinder, gentler Russia is far from certain, but it is not in the interests of the United States or NATO's European members to take steps that would make Russian authoritarianism and belligerence more likely.


The new mission of promoting stability throughout Europe is also highly problematic. Members of NATO will rarely be inclined to intervene in ethnic conflicts or other kinds of civil disturbances even in the heart of Europe, let alone in remote corners of the continent. Even if they are inclined to act, they will have trouble defining clear political objectives and effective military strategies. Pulling together "coalitions of the willing" -- subsets of the alliance as a whole -- will always be difficult. Getting every member of the alliance to participate in a joint operation will be even harder.

The sad saga of American and west European policy toward the wars in Yugoslavia and Bosnia should serve as a warning. For four years, from the summer of 1991 through the summer of 1995, American and west European leaders failed miserably in the Balkans: they failed to prevent war from breaking out in 1991; they failed to prevent war from spreading to Bosnia in 1992; and they failed most shamefully to stop genocidal slaughter from being carried out in Bosnia. They failed to act because they had limited national interests at stake, because they were unable to decide on a clear and coherent set of objectives, because they were unable to reach a consensus among themselves about what to do, and because they lacked the will to use military force in a firm and sustained way.

Bosnia was a place where the need for outside intervention was clear-cut: Bosnian Serbs were engaged in a genocidal campaign against the civilian populations of their adversaries, who committed atrocities of their own. Civilian casualties were consequently high, and refugee problems posed difficulties for neighboring states. Moreover, the Bosnian crisis was seen as a test of NATO's ability to carry out its new mission and promote stability in non-NATO Europe. As a result, NATO's reputation was on the line. For these reasons, Bosnia was an easy test for NATO's leaders, but it was a test they nonetheless failed.

Significantly, they also failed to take effective action in Kosovo in 1998. For years, American and west European leaders had said that Kosovo was a region of great concern because the outbreak of violent conflict there could lead to a wider Balkan war. American leaders stated over and over again in 1998 that the United States was adamantly opposed to Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic's vicious crackdown in Kosovo and that the United States and NATO would use military force, if necessary, to bring the carnage to an end. Again and again, Milosevic called the West's bluff, and American and west European leaders backed down. By the end of 1998, Milosevic's onslaught had destroyed 15,000 houses and displaced almost 300,000 Kosovars, 50,000 of whom were without shelter as winter set in.

This does not bode well for the future. Central and eastern Europe will undoubtedly experience many stability and security problems in the years ahead. The potential flash points are well known. Most of these problems will pose difficult challenges to American and European leaders. In all probability, they will be harder to handle than Bosnia and Kosovo because they will involve ethnic conflicts in yet-more-distant lands. American and European leaders will always have trouble defining their political objectives and the parameters of military missions in cases such as these. They will always be divided because they will have different views of the conflicts and different stakes in the conflicts. They will always be reluctant, for domestic reasons, to send their military forces into harm's way. And the prospects for success will always be uncertain: ethnic conflicts are often nasty, brutish, and long.

It is naive to think that American and west European leaders can be counted on to respond to security problems in central and eastern Europe: if they failed to stop genocide in Bosnia and open warfare in Kosovo, they will undoubtedly waffle when it comes to dealing with equally complicated ethnic conflicts in places even farther away.

It was a big mistake for NATO's leaders to link the alliance's raison d'etre to the promotion of stability in central and eastern Europe because NATO is unlikely to be successful in carrying out its new missions. Democracy may or may not flourish in that region but NATO will have little impact one way or the other because it is not in the democratization and ethnic conflict business. The alliance is unlikely to conduct very many military interventions or peace operations in central and eastern Europe because it will rarely enjoy the degree of consensus needed to undertake such operations. Unfortunately, NATO's reputation will suffer if stability problems develop or democracy falters in new member states, and it will suffer each and every time its leaders fail to tackle out-of-area security problems. The alliance's leaders have created unrealistic expectations about what they are likely to do. This will undermine NATO's credibility and weaken its long-term prospects.

These problems are compounded by the fact that the new missions do not engage important U.S. national interests. Members of Congress and American voters will wonder why problems in remote parts of Europe are important to the United States. If U.S. participation in NATO continues to be defined in these terms, one has to wonder how long the United States will stay engaged in European security affairs and how long NATO will survive.


The globalist conception of the alliance is even more problematic. There are three main problems with this vision of the future.

First, it will not provide NATO with a solid foundation based on important U.S. and west European interests. The essence of the new bargain is that the United States will agree to help out in a part of Europe it does not care about, in exchange for west European help in parts of the world west Europeans do not care about. It is hard to see how a deal that links two sets of secondary concerns will create a strong, sustainable foundation for the alliance.

Second, given these different interests, it is highly unlikely that U.S. and west European leaders will be able to agree on courses of action when problems arise in other parts of the world. The alliance's inability to develop a common policy to deal with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's interference with U.N. arms inspections in Iraq in 1997-98 is telling. The United States and its European allies were unable to act in concert to deal with a challenge posed by a ruthless totalitarian leader who has slaughtered his own people, invaded two neighboring states, and pursued a determined campaign to develop and keep weapons of mass destruction, and who threatens vital oil supplies. If NATO's leaders could not reach a consensus on the proper response to such a clear threat to American and European security, they will find it next to impossible to agree on operations in more distant corners of the world under more ambiguous circumstances. Saddam Hussein represented an easy test for the globalist agenda, and it was a test NATO's leaders failed badly.

Finally, the globalist conception of NATO is flawed because the United States can do more to help in Europe than western Europe can do to help in other parts of the world. West European military forces have very limited capacities for conducting long-range military operations, and these capacities will probably decline as lower levels of defense spending cut into operational capabilities. West European states might be willing to make rhetorical commitments to helping the United States deal with problems elsewhere in the world, but these commitments will count for little in the United States if they are not backed up by military capabilities and a willingness to take action. One wonders if such an unbalanced deal is sustainable over the long haul.


Since 1990, the conventional wisdom in U.S. and west European policy circles has been that NATO must take on new missions if it is to survive. This was the premise behind NATO's expansionist agenda, and this is the premise behind the new globalist agenda. I believe that NATO's leaders have been going and are continuing to go in the wrong direction: NATO is more likely to thrive if it adopts a minimalist strategy.

Adding to NATO's lists of activities will not make the alliance more durable. To the contrary, going down this path will make U.S. disengagement from European security affairs and NATO's demise more likely: the alliance will become preoccupied with activities unrelated to vital interests; the political and economic costs of such operations, if undertaken, will be high; the failure rate will be high; expectations will be dashed; and the alliance's credibility will consequently suffer irreparable damage.

To understand how NATO should be configured, we need to go back to first principles: Why is it important for the United States to stay actively engaged in European security affairs? The answer is simple and straightforward. Although the Soviet conventional threat to western Europe has evaporated, Russia remains a nuclear superpower and a latent threat to European security. In all probability, Russia will remain a nuclear superpower for decades to come. A security commitment from the other nuclear superpower, the United States, is needed as a counterweight and as a hedge against the possibility that a resurgent Russia under more belligerent leadership might one day pose new threats to its neighbors to the west. Those who say that Russia will not be able to bounce back for decades would do well to reflect on the fact that Germany was in even more dire economic and military straits in January 1933. Another reason for American engagement is that the U.S. security commitment to Germany reassures German leaders about their national security. This dampens German incentives to acquire nuclear weapons, a development that would probably lead to a renationalization of west European defense policies. Finally, the U.S. security commitment to its west European allies takes the national security question off the policy agenda for those countries. This makes the renationalization of west European defense policies and the reemergence of balance-of-power politics in Europe less likely.

For these reasons, U.S. disengagement from Europe would be bad for Europe. This, in turn, would be bad for the United States, which has a vital interest in maintaining stable relations between and among Europe's leading powers. The U.S. commitment to west European security will therefore remain important for the foreseeable future. Since NATO provides the organizational framework for U.S. military engagement in Europe, it will be needed as well.

It is difficult to make this argument in public, however, because continuing to characterize NATO as a collective defense organization will be seen by some Russian leaders as hostile. In addition, west European leaders do not like to admit that their security still depends in important respects on the United States, and they refuse to admit that conflict within western Europe is even a remote possibility; it is an article of faith among west European leaders that war between west European powers is unthinkable.

The dilemma NATO's leaders face is that collective defense -- the only mission that truly engages U.S. and west European security interests, the only mission that can be sustained in the long run -- is difficult to enunciate publicly. Alternative missions -- promoting democracy and stability in new NATO members, promoting stability in non-NATO Europe -- do not ruffle Russian or west European feathers, but they are not sustainable in the long run because they do not serve core U.S. or west European national security interests. American public support, in particular, will wither if NATO's raison d'etre is said to be promoting democracy in Slovakia or intervention in Albania. Most Americans will see these as unimportant activities that do not justify the costs associated with continued U.S. military engagement in Europe.

This problem is compounded by the fact that NATO is unlikely to be successful in carrying out the new missions that have been crafted for it: NATO is not in the democratization business, and military operations in non-NATO Europe will always be problematic. The alliance's leaders have set unrealistic goals for NATO, and they have created unrealistic expectations about what it is likely to accomplish. This will undermine NATO's credibility and make its demise much more likely.


The alliance needs a new, more durable strategic foundation, and this foundation should be framed by a minimalist vision of NATO's future. More specifically, NATO's leaders should do five things.

First, they should define the alliance's purpose in ways that will advance vital national interests of the United States and European members. Therefore, NATO's main purpose should be defined as and limited to serving as a hedge against the emergence of a resurgent, hostile Russia; reassuring Germany about its security; and reassuring NATO's other west European powers about their security, thereby helping to prevent the renationalization of west European defense policies.

Second, NATO's leaders must find words that will make these purposes politically palatable in Russia and western Europe. They should therefore state that, given the disappearance of the Soviet conventional threat to western Europe, NATO's core mission has been reformulated -- from "collective defense" to "strategic reassurance." Russia would be offended by a continuing NATO attachment to the former, but it has a shared interest with the United States and western Europe in the latter. Moreover, American and west European voters understand that their countries do not have territorial defense problems at the present time, but they appreciate that strategic reassurance and reinforcement of patterns of cooperation in Europe are important.

Third, leaders of NATO should tie further enlargement of the alliance to strategic circumstances: they should offer membership to additional central and east European states if and only if Russia begins to threaten its western neighbors militarily. Adopting this approach to enlargement would give NATO a strategy that maximizes the alliance's chances of developing a peaceful, stable security order in Europe while guarding against the possibility of Russian aggression. Russian leaders interested in cooperating with the West would be in a better position to keep nationalistic and opportunistic elements under control, and they would have powerful incentives to live up to the international commitments they have made. At the same time, NATO should lay the military groundwork for extending new security commitments -- through its Partnership for Peace program -- should enlargement of the alliance become necessary.

There are risks associated with this approach, to be sure. The leaders of NATO will have to decide which Russian actions would prompt expansion, and they would have to sustain a consensus on enlargement under difficult circumstances. The risks and costs associated with continued expansion are greater, however. Continued expansion of NATO might lead to Russian actions in eastern Europe and in the field of arms control that will weaken, not enhance, European and American security. In the end, one should have more faith in the ability of NATO's members to act decisively when important interests are threatened than in Russia's ability to accept provocation without retaliation.

If NATO's leaders tie enlargement to strategic circumstances, it follows that they should stop raising expectations in central and eastern Europe about membership in the alliance. With this in mind, they should discourage central and east European leaders from thinking of Partnership for Peace relationships as temporary way stations on the road to membership. Most important, NATO's leaders -- President Clinton, in particular -- should stop making promises to specific countries about the prospects for joining the alliance.

Fourth, the leaders should stop claiming that one of NATO's primary missions is the promotion of stability throughout the whole of Europe. Put another way, they should stop pretending that they will take actions to deal with problems in central and eastern Europe that they are in fact unlikely to take. Members of NATO -- the United States, in particular -- will rarely have important interests at stake in remote corners of the continent, and the leaders of the member states will rarely have the political will to launch military operations in problem areas where political goals are unclear, military strategies are hard to define, the costs of intervention are high, and the probabilities of success are low. The alliance's strategic concept has to reflect these political realities -- however unpleasant they may be.

Therefore, NATO's leaders should make a concerted effort to minimize the damage they have done to the alliance by linking NATO's raison d'etre to the promotion of stability throughout the continent. They can do this by scaling back their public claims about what they are likely to authorize NATO to do. They should state that, when the alliance's members are able to form "coalitions of the willing," they will draw on NATO's formidable organizational capacities in order to make joint undertakings more effective. However, they should not suggest that these problems are NATO responsibilities, and they should not suggest that the alliance's rationale and relevance are linked to out-of-area activities.

One hopes that NATO's members, individually and collectively, will find the political will to take effective action when violent conflict breaks out in the Balkans or other parts of non-NATO Europe. The sad fact, however, is that NATO's members are unlikely to summon the will to do so consistently. This is a shameful political failing, but it is a failure of individual leaders and individual governments. It should not be characterized as a "NATO" failure to carry out "NATO" responsibilities.

Fifth, NATO's leaders need to be aggressive in streamlining and downsizing the alliance in organizational terms. One of the keys to keeping the United States in Europe and the alliance alive, given that core U.S. and west European interests face only latent threats, will be keeping costs to a minimum. The U.S. commitment to the security of its allies could be sustained by large amounts of pre-positioned materiel along with no more than 70,000 and perhaps fewer than 50,000 U.S. troops -- a substantial reduction in the force of 120,000 U.S. military personnel currently deployed in and around Europe. This would enable NATO's leaders to portray the alliance as an undertaking that protects vital interests at minimal cost.


Those who support NATO's current policy have several objections to the adoption of a minimalist stance. They argue that framing NATO's mission in terms of strategic reassurance will provoke a backlash in Russia. The minimalist response is that actions speak louder than words: Russia's leaders pay more attention to what NATO does than to what it says. Russia's leaders are more likely to react negatively to NATO's current policy -- where soothing words about "promoting stability" are juxtaposed with rapid expansion of the alliance's membership and the maintenance of large forces -- than to a minimalist policy, where a declaratory policy based on strategic reassurance is accompanied by accommodating policies (no further enlargement of the alliance and the deployment of smaller standing forces). Russia is more likely to be agitated by provocative actions (the expansionist and globalist paths) than by a new declaratory policy (the minimalist path).

Supporters of the current policy also argue that people in central and eastern Europe will despair if their states are not brought into NATO and that it would be shameful to leave them outside the alliance, given what they have gone through since 1939. Although people in the region will undoubtedly be disappointed if NATO membership is not forthcoming, most of them care more about joining the EU. They recognize that EU membership is the ticket to becoming prosperous and rejoining the West. Moreover, if NATO adopts a minimalist strategy, NATO membership will be offered to additional states if Russia begins to act belligerently. The minimalist strategy outlines a path to the best of all worlds: in the short run, Russia would have powerful incentives to continue to cooperate with the West; in the long run, NATO membership and security commitments would be extended to central and east European states if strategic circumstances dictated. As a result, the security prospects for central and eastern Europe -- and, indeed, for Europe as a whole -- would be maximized.

Moreover, those who embrace NATO's out-of-area agenda argue that the attack launched against Serbia in March 1999 proves that the alliance is willing and able to handle tough security problems in non-NATO Europe. In fact, NATO's actions with respect to the Kosovo crisis prove precisely the opposite. NATO's leaders did nothing but issue diplomatic protests when Milosevic began his crackdown in Kosovo in early 1998, they dithered when he stepped up his offensive in the summer, and they retreated when he broke his cease-fire commitments later in the year. The alliance's leaders stood by for a full year while slaughter and ethnic cleansing took place once again in the Balkans. They acted only when it became clear that the ongoing war would make a mockery of their claim, which they planned to restate with great fanfare at NATO's 50th anniversary summit in April, that the alliance could be counted on to deal with these kinds of problems. As British Prime Minister Tony Blair put it on the eve of the March attack, "To walk away now would destroy NATO's credibility." The moral of this story is that NATO's leaders have deep misgivings about getting involved in out-of-area ethnic conflicts and they are unlikely to take action to deal with these problems in the absence of extraordinary political imperatives -- such as an impending NATO summit.

Finally, supporters of NATO's current policy argue that the minimalist conception outlined here would constitute a weak foundation for the alliance. Their concern is that, if NATO's mission is limited to "strategic reassurance," NATO will become increasingly irrelevant to European security, the alliance will wither, and the United States will pack up and go home. Expansionists have been repeating this mantra since the early 1990s; this, they say, is why NATO has to take on new missions. The logic of this argument has always been flawed, and constant repetition has not made it any more powerful. Expansionists contend that the United States is more likely to stay in Europe and NATO is more likely to survive if the alliance addresses secondary concerns -- and spends a lot of money in the process. Minimalists contend that the United States is more likely to stay in Europe and NATO is more likely to survive if the alliance promotes core national interests at low cost. It is hard to see how policymakers and voters -- in the United States, in particular -- will find the former more attractive than the latter.

In short, the best way of keeping the United States in Europe and NATO alive is to emphasize that vital American and European interests are at stake, that NATO will focus its energies on advancing these interests by emphasizing "strategic reassurance" as its main mission, and that the costs of corresponding NATO activities will be low.


The NATO alliance and the EU are the twin pillars of peace in Europe, but they have distinct, complementary roles to play. The alliance is the key to keeping the United States involved in European security affairs and thereby reassuring Germany and the rest of western Europe about their security. The EU is the key to promoting stability in central and eastern Europe. Unlike NATO, the EU is deeply involved in the development of democratic institutions, the rule of law, the protection of minorities, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and the development of economic ties among states. In addition, the EU is composed of a wide range of political institutions -- the European Commission, the European Council, the European Court of Justice, and the European Parliament -- that contribute to its conflict management and conflict resolution capacities.

Unfortunately, NATO and EU leaders are on the wrong path. The alliance has been given primary responsibility for promoting stability in central and eastern Europe, and it has accepted new members. The EU'S leaders have dragged their feet on bringing former members of the Soviet bloc into the union. Indeed, NATO and EU leaders have it backwards: NATO enlargement should be discouraged; EU enlargement should be encouraged. The alliance should adopt a minimalist strategy, and the EU should adopt an expansionist one.

What this means in practical terms is that the EU'S leaders should accelerate their timetable for bringing central and east European states into the union. This is easier said than done. However, there are a number of steps that the EU'S leaders could take to facilitate the enlargement process.

First, the criteria for membership in the union should be lowered. The EU'S membership criteria call for candidates to be highly advanced both politically and economically. These standards are more stringent than those imposed on Greece, Portugal, and Spain in the 1970s and 1980s. Some of the states currently under consideration for membership -- the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia -- have to overcome both authoritarian political legacies and communist economic legacies. They should not have to overcome artificially high membership criteria as well. The bar should be lowered to where it was for Greece, Portugal, and Spain.

The EU's members should also face up to the power-sharing problems that will have to be confronted when new states are brought into the union, and they should not settle for quick institutional fixes that will allow the EU to bring in only a few states. The EU's leaders should instead devise solutions that will facilitate further rounds of enlargement.

One of the power-sharing problems that the EU will have to overcome involves representation on the European Commission. The problem is that the commission currently has 20 seats, with Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain each having two seats and each of the other 10 members of the union having one. New members will naturally and rightly want equitable representation on the commission. Five open slots could be created by inducing Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain to give up their second seats, but this would be only a temporary fix: over a dozen states aspire to join the union. The EU's smaller states refuse to give up their representation on the commission altogether, or to share seats with other members.

A way around this problem would be to add a seat to the commission with each accession to the union. This would make the commission increasingly unwieldy and inefficient, but administrative inefficiency is not the end of the world. It would be a bearable burden. Alternatively, the EU's members could create a system of rotating representation on a commission of 20 members. In an EU of 25 members, for example, five states would not have seats on the commission at any given time. Since this burden would be shared equally by all of the union's members, none would be left out of the equation permanently. To make this burden more bearable, the terms of commissioners could be reduced from five years to four; this would reduce periods of "exile" from five years to four.

The EU's other main power-sharing problem involves representation on the union's Council of Ministers. Since the smaller states are loath to give up any of their votes on the council, the solution will have to be based on increasing the total number of votes in the council, with some votes going to new members; some going to Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain (as compensation for giving up their second seats on the European Commission); and some going to large, underrepresented states. The Dutch government has developed a proposal along these lines that merits attention.

Germany and the United States should take the lead and push the EU to move forward expeditiously on enlargement. Many members of the union are strong supporters of enlargement -- Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, and Sweden, most notably -- but Germany has the strongest vested interest of any member in extending the union's zone of stability eastward. Moreover, Germany alone has the political and economic clout to push enlargement higher on the EU's agenda and to accelerate the enlargement process. The fate of that process, therefore, will depend to a great degree on Germany's leaders. They can and should be more aggressive in pushing the union to enlarge quickly. This is in Germany's -- and Europe's -- best interest.

The United States also has an important role to play in the process, although it is not, of course, a member of the EU. It is, however, a member of NATO. Indeed, it has been the driving force behind NATO enlargement, and NATO enlargement has taken the EU's leaders off the hook with respect to the expansion question. American leaders should recognize that, by pushing NATO to bring in new members, they have taken on the EU's burdens and obligations.

Sooner or later, this will have political repercussions in the United States: American voters and members of Congress will wonder why the United States is taking steps in central and eastern Europe that west Europeans are unwilling to take. When this realization sets in, many Americans will complain that the United States is carrying a disproportionate share of the burden in Europe. This, in turn, will lead to calls for the United States to pull out of Europe altogether. That must be avoided. It is therefore imperative for U.S. leaders to push the EU to bring central and east European states into the union quickly. The best way to do this is to bring NATO enlargement to a halt.

The EU's leaders have been able to sidestep the enlargement question because NATO has been picking up the slack. This is shortsighted: enlargement of the alliance will make its demise more likely, and in any event NATO is not well suited to promote stability in central and eastern Europe. The EU is the key to promoting stability in central and eastern Europe. Thus the EU's members should move quickly to recalibrate the division of labor between the EU and NATO with respect to that region. Rapid enlargement of the union will promote stability in Europe and enhance NATO's long-term prospects.


Europe's strategic landscape has changed in myriad ways since 1989, but two things have stayed the same. The United States is still important to Europe, in that the U.S. security commitment to its allies helps to maintain stability among the continent's major powers. And Europe is still important to the United States. American policymakers have a vested interest in promoting peaceful relations among Europe's biggest states. Since NATO provides the organizational framework for U.S. military engagement in Europe, it is therefore one of the keys to European security as well as to the advancement of U.S. national interests.

With the end of the Cold War, the strategic incentives for the United States to stay engaged in European security affairs have become less compelling. Even so, there are good reasons for being optimistic about the prospects for U.S. engagement in Europe and for NATO -- but only if NATO's leaders abandon their unnecessary and counterproductive efforts to reinvent the alliance and only if the EU's leaders stop passing the buck on enlargement.

A minimalist strategic concept -- one that emphasizes vital interests, core security concerns, and low costs -- could sustain NATO for decades to come. At the same time, the alliance's leaders, in conjunction with their EU counterparts, should recalibrate the division of labor between their organizations. The EU, not NATO, should be pushing ahead to bring former members of the Soviet bloc into the fold.

This is not to say that implementing a minimalist conception of NATO will guarantee U.S. engagement in European security affairs and the continuation of the alliance -- only that it is the best available option. Minimalism maximizes NATO's chances of survival -- and Europe's chances of peace and security.

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  • Michael E. Brown is Director of Research for the National Security Studies Program at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. This article is adapted from his book European Security: The Defining Debates, forthcoming from MIT Press.
  • More By Michael E. Brown