Advocates of NATO enlargement speak in nebulous terms about promoting cooperation and stability throughout Europe. They downplay NATO's military significance, portraying the organization as primarily a political association for the post-Cold War era. But NATO is first and foremost a military alliance intended to protect its members from attack. If NATO moves eastward as planned, admitting Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic by the end of the decade, the United States and the other current members will undertake new and potentially far-reaching security obligations, a point that seems to elude proponents of NATO enlargement when the issue of financial cost is addressed.

There have been three major studies of enlargement's cost-one by the Congressional Budget Office in 1996, another by scholars at the Rand Corporation in the same year, and a February 1997 Pentagon report to Congress. Even NATO is preparing its own cost estimate, narrowing the definition of enlargement's expenses to only those additional costs that will be common to all members, primarily communications, air defense, and other infrastructure upgrades. NATO's military leaders apparently believe that expansion can be accomplished for a maximum of $2 billion-and perhaps as little as $1.3 billion-over ten years. That is less than one-tenth of the Pentagon's estimate, and one-fortieth of the CBO's lowest figure.

The three earlier studies are more complete than the NATO effort, including not only the common costs, but also the cost of modernizing new members' military forces. Still, they reached optimistic conclusions about the total cost and the portion that the United States will have to pay. All three studies are flawed-although the upper-end estimates in the CBO report are based on plausible assumptions. The Rand and Pentagon figures are little more than wishful thinking based on Pollyannaish security scenarios. They ignore long-accepted conclusions about the requisites of providing credible security commitments to vulnerable front-line states. Their assumption that American taxpayers will bear only a small percentage of enlargement's costs is even more dubious, for it ignores severe financial constraints and adverse political factors affecting both new and current European members of NATO.


The CBO report argues that "it is difficult to determine what NATO would need to do to provide an adequate defense for the Visegrad [Central European] nations. In the current environment, NATO can probably spend as much or as little as it likes to undertake expansion." The CBO’s analysts explore the probable costs of five options, from the least ambitious-helping a new member defend itself against a border skirmish or a limited attack by a regional power-to four more ambitious options that focus on the possible threat posed by a resurgent Russia. These include projecting NATO air power or German-based ground forces eastward to defend the Central European states; moving stocks of equipment; and stationing a limited number of NATO forces forward. The CBO’s cost estimates for the five options over a 15-year period, 1996 to 2010, range from $61 billion to $125 billion. Of that total, the United States should expect to pay between $5 billion and $19 billion.

The cost calculations in the Rand study are based on hopeful assumptions about Europe's strategic environment. The study's authors, Ronald D. Asmus, Richard L. Kugler, and F. Stephen Larrabee, who were among the original proponents of NATO expansion, contend that enlargement's costs will be "modest" for several reasons. Most notably, "NATO enlargement is not currently threat-driven; rather it is part of an overall strategy of projecting stability and unifying Europe." The strategic requirements of enlargement are moderate "and will remain so barring a future deterioration in Europe's strategic environment." They argue further that an enlarged NATO can meet its requirements by upgrading Central European defenses and by preparing current NATO forces for projecting power to the region in case of crisis. "There is no requirement today for deploying large numbers of NATO combat forces in those countries," a happy situation that they observe "will help contain costs." Although they provide a spectrum of estimates ranging from $10 billion to $110 billion, they emphasize that the probable range is $30 billion to $52 billion over 10 to 15 years.

The Pentagon's report is equally upbeat. It is revealing, albeit surprising coming from the Department of Defense, that all of the major justifications cited for NATO's expansion are political and economic; military and strategic considerations are scarcely mentioned. The Pentagon insists that "enlargement will yield benefits for the United States, NATO and Europe" because adding the Central and Eastern European states to the alliance will foster democratic reforms and stability. Indeed, it "will benefit Russian security and the security of other former Soviet states."

All this will be done for a veritable pittance: "The direct enlargement costs are estimated to average $700-900 million annually, for a total of around $9-12 billion between 1997 and 2009." Restructuring new members' forces would add $10 billion to $13 billion, and improving members' regional reinforcement capabilities would add another $8 billion to $10 billion, for a total of $27 billion to $35 billion. The Pentagon report's total cost estimate, therefore, is the rosiest of the three.


There are several reasons for the wide range of cost estimates in the three studies. Political considerations probably affected the Pentagon report's methodology. That was certainly implied by a U.S. official's off-the-record comment following the report's release: "Everybody realized the main priority [of the Pentagon estimate] was to keep costs down to reassure Congress, as well as the Russians . . . There was a strong political imperative to low-ball the figures."

The three analyses also reflect different strategic assumptions. A crucial premise of the low Rand and Pentagon estimates is that NATO is an alliance without an enemy. Indeed, that was President Bill Clinton's refrain at the May 1997 signing in Paris of the NATO-Russia Founding Act. Since there is no enemy, it follows that there is no need to build or deploy additional forces, despite NATO's expanded territorial jurisdiction. There is an internal contradiction in that argument, however. If there is no credible threat, either short-term or long-term, to the security of the Central and Eastern European nations, why expand NATO? The rote response is that enlargement is designed to guard against instability. But citing instability as the primary problem facing post-Cold War Europe begs the question of who is likely to cause it. The Russophobia openly expressed by Central and Eastern European leaders and the implied promise to expand NATO membership in the next round to countries bordering Russia strongly suggest that advocates of enlargement have a particular adversary in mind.

The CBO’s analysts are more candid about the strategic rationale for enlargement. They considered Russia at least a potential adversary and consequently produced a more realistic, and higher, estimate. Yet even that assumption is too conservative. Alliance leaders are already contemplating a second round of invitations to join the organization as early as 1999. The costs of incorporating the backward states and armies of such countries as Romania, Slovenia, and Slovakia into NATO-not to mention providing a credible defense of the Baltic republics-will be staggering. If those factors are considered, even the high-end CBO estimate of $125 billion might well have to be doubled.

The three Rand scholars contend that the CBO’s estimates "are mostly driven by a postulated NATO strategy of preparing for war against Russia." In contrast, their own approach "is anchored in the premise of avoiding confrontation with Russia, not preparing for a new Russian threat." That comes perilously close to wishing a problem out of existence. To be sure, Russia is not the only conceivable threat to the security of the Central European states. Hungary, in particular, could have problems with three neighbors-Romania, Slovakia, and Serbia-over the treatment of Hungarian minorities in those countries. Nevertheless, if a serious military threat emerges, it is almost certain to come from Russia. The Rand analysts have a tremendous incentive not to consider that possibility, for even a partially recovered Russia could deploy sizable military assets on its western frontier (and perhaps in Belarus as well). The costs of countering that development and providing NATO's new members with effective, credible protection would hardly be modest.

The Rand and Pentagon analysts are not the only ones ignoring the Russia problem. William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, recently argued that "if NATO desires, it can expand at trivial costs. Spain's joining NATO in 1982 imposed no significant costs on the alliance." But no power even remotely posed a direct security threat to Spain. There was and is little prospect of a Moroccan or Tunisian force landing on the Iberian coast. Given the history of Russia's relations with its neighbors, the same kind of quiescent security environment cannot be counted on in Eastern Europe.

Like the Rand study, the Pentagon report provides no analysis of the probable strategic deployment of Russian forces during the critical 15-year period following the first round of enlargement. The optimists argue that today's Russia is weak, its military forces are in disarray, and its economic modernization does not allow for Soviet-era military expenditures. Those assumptions are foolish, both politically and strategically. Russia's political future is uncertain. Even if the optimists were correct, why would a reformed and democratic Russia relinquish its aspirations to be a great European power? Liberal democratic states are not immune to concerns about defense and deterrence, and they are sometimes even inclined to pursue military expansion in an anarchic and unpredictable international system.


The three studies' estimates of cost allocations among new and existing alliance members are as divergent as their estimates of the total cost of enlargement. Once again, the CBO’s is the most realistic.

The CBO contends that U.S. costs might be manageable, "but only if the Visegrad nations themselves bear a substantial portion of the costs of expansion." According to the CBO, the Visegrad states would be expected to pay 70 percent of the costs, the United States, other current members, and NATO's Security Investment Program contributing 10 percent each. The CBO cautions, however, that "existing NATO members may be reluctant to provide" their share of the costs of expansion.

Even the CBO’s estimates of burden-sharing seem unduly optimistic. The belief that the new members should be able to absorb costs of close to $42 billion between 1996 and 2010 overlooks the International Monetary Fund's rules and the Maastricht Treaty's expectations. The IMF requires former Warsaw Pact states to invest in economic infrastructure, and the Maastricht Treaty will accept members only on the basis of their conformity to its rigorous fiscal standards. Hungary and the Czech Republic are already experiencing serious budget crunches and are seeking ways to cut spending to meet IMF demands. Where, then, will the money come from to expand their military budgets?

The projected cost allocations in the CBO study, though, are paragons of realism compared with the Rand study's assumptions. The Rand scholars fancifully conclude that America's share of the cost of their preferred $42 billion force projection strategy would range from just $420 million to $1.4 billion. But that estimate is contingent on "how large a role Washington wants to play politically and militarily in East-Central Europe and in Europe as a whole." The Pentagon report concludes similarly that the United States would have to contribute approximately $200 million annually, and that the cumulative total would not exceed $2 billion. These estimates don't even pass the straight face test.

Of all the assumptions in these studies, the most questionable is that new members will absorb most of the expenses. The CBO estimates that for the new members to bring their military forces up to NATO standards, they would have to increase their combined defense spending from the present 2.2 percent of GDP to about 3.6 percent of GDP. There is no evidence of public support in those countries for undertaking such a burden, even if it were theoretically affordable. U.S. Information Agency polls taken in 1995 and 1997 found that a majority of respondents in the prospective member countries opposed membership in NATO if it entailed increasing military spending at the expense of social programs.

Prospects for generous funding by the current European members of NATO are no better. Most of those countries have slashed their military spending, in some cases even more than the United States, since the end of the Cold War. Nowhere in the Rand or Pentagon studies do the authors explain why such pronounced trends will be reversed to fund NATO's enlargement. There is in fact every reason to believe that there would be pervasive public resistance in Western Europe to any proposal to boost military spending. Indeed, the public in several countries seems preoccupied with thwarting efforts to trim their bloated welfare programs, as the victory of the French Socialists in the spring 1997 parliamentary elections demonstrated.

It is naive to assume that there will be sufficient public support for increased military outlays to bring the Central European states into NATO's fold. One would not envy the political prospects of any Western European government that made such a proposal while attempting to cut popular domestic entitlements. Given the financial crunch afflicting Western Europe, the conclusion reached by Walther Stuetzle, a former senior defense planner for the German government, may well prove accurate: "So who will pick up the tab? I think that it will have to be the United States."


Most proponents of new NATO missions in Eastern Europe act as if there is little prospect that the mutual defense promises embodied in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty will ever have to be honored, even as they insist that those security commitments will deter aggression and enhance the region's stability. Expansion based on such an assumption is little more than an irresponsible bluff that Russia, given its extensive political, economic, and security interests in Eastern Europe, might someday be tempted to call.

The only way to minimize the likelihood of such a challenge would be to deploy robust NATO forces in the vulnerable front-line states. But the Rand scholars, the Pentagon analysts, and other enlargement supporters blithely assume that no such deployments will be necessary. According to their logic, the mere paper declaration of protection by the United States and the existing NATO members will be sufficient. This is not strategy, but a worrisome case of self-delusion that may end up costing the United States more than dollars and cents.

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