There is probably no current issue concerning NATO that elicits stronger emotions and more divergent viewpoints than that of NATO expansion. One group of analysts depicts NATO expansion as fostering collective defense capabilities, improving alliance burden sharing, imposing affordable costs, furthering democratic reforms in Europe, promoting European stability, and adapting NATO to the post–Cold War environment. Another group views NATO expansion as isolating Russia, limiting the cohesiveness of NATO, jeopardizing arms-reduction treaties (e.g., the CFE treaty and START II), placing greater financial burdens on NATO allies, and exposing NATO to new risks. Despite these vast differences in viewpoint, NATO expansion is slated to occur sometime in the first half of 1999 with the addition of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. This first wave of entrants was announced at the 7–8 July 1997 summit in Madrid. Although no announcement has been made, a second set of entrants might include Romania and Slovenia. Seven further applicants – Slovakia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Albania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania – have expressed an interest in joining NATO (RUSI, 1996; US GAO, 1997a, 1997b).
Our intention here is not to take either side of this debate, but rather to delineate the issues involved. Some of these issues have not been brought to light in the literature. Additionally, we shall discuss some of the methodological aspects of this debate. A skilled analyst can find support for either position, depending on the assumptions upon which to calculate the associated benefits and costs of NATO expansion.