Threats emanating from Europe’s east and south give particular urgency to the Alliance’s next summit, scheduled for Warsaw on July 8-9. The 28 NATO Allies must decide how they want to tackle these threats and what role they want to see NATO play. Furthermore, the U. S. ambassador to NATO, Douglas Lute, stated last month that there is no room for further NATO enlargement in the near future because of fears it could destabilize Russia. The challenge in Warsaw will be to generate the political will to implement new and expanded forms of cooperation not only among the NATO member states, but also with those countries that have indicated their aspiration to partner with, or to join the Alliance. And while the recent accession talks with Montenegro send a hopeful signal about NATO enlargement, still more can be done to revitalize the process. Placing the Open Door back at the heart of allied policy would project NATO’s credibility and resolve beyond its borders. The V4 countries may have an interest to infuse NATO’s enlargement process with new creative ideas based on their own historical transition and experience.

GLOBSEC Policy Institute asked Central Europe`s leading experts to share their views on how to keep the NATO enlargement process on the agenda and how to keep the potential future NATO members involved and make progress in their reform process?

Dániel Bartha, Executive Director, Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy, Budapest, Hungary

Announcing an end of the NATO enlargement process would be the least strategic step that the Alliance could possibly take. It would not only indicate that we have surrendered to Russian demands to stop further NATO enlargement and hurt our credibility, but also significantly weaken pro-Western political forces in all aspirant countries. An aspiration to become a NATO member has been the key motivation for reform processes in the applicant countries. The example of the European Union suggests that vague timelines and declarations on further enlargement can significantly weaken its position. Hungary has been openly arguing in favour of the enlargement process. At the recent Budapest Security Conference, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó called the  Georgian and Macedonian NATO memberships an absolute necessity. Szijjártó also emphasised that not being a NATO member has significantly hindered the Macedonian development. Maintaining the “open door” policy, even if it remains largely empty, is the only possible strategic option.

There is a number of open questions we have to consider when it comes to the future of NATO enlargement. First, the potential Swedish and Finnish memberships must remain a top priority. Second, in Warsaw we have to decide whether we would like to enhance NATO’s enlargement capability or strengthen democracy and stability in Europe. Finally, do we consider the Ukrainian and Georgian political systems strong enough to start accession talks? In my view, the latter question will remain the biggest challenge. NATO has a clear interest in helping aspirant countries make progress in their reform processes. While keeping the “open door” policy alive, a review of the existing formats and frameworks at the Warsaw Summit will be a must. The recent conflicts in Eastern Europe and in the Middle East have paralysed all NATO partnership programs. Politics might keep the Partnership for Peace, Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative alive, but their functionality will remain limited. The potential membership of Macedonia and the example of Montenegro can keep the enlargement process alive and serve as a motivating force for any aspirant country in the next decade.

Martin MichelotHead of Research, EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy, Prague, the Czech Republic

NATO’s open door policy has more often than not highlighted the divisions between Allies and the tensions between values-based approaches and the defense of short-term political interests. The divisiveness of the issue does not bode well for a clearer vision on how the enlargement process will be part of NATO’s transformation. And past events have shown that the Alliance does not do well with strategic ambiguity. There is therefore a demonstrated need to move forward on a clear basis with candidate states, or create new tools to breathe fresh life into the enlargement process.

A political declaration from NATO heads of states at the Warsaw Summit asserting the fact that the process is values-based would provide a start in giving the tool the political aspect it has been lacking since 2004. Given that those values underpin our relationship with Russia, their strong reaffirmation would give a new basis to our determination to uphold them. At the same time, that proclamation would not diminish the realpolitik role of enlargement, at the contrary; the role of enlargement in diminishing strategic uncertainty should be considered and put front and center. NATO’s weaknesses being addressed to this extent should also lead to a robust discussion about the new Allies’ capabilities. Addressing head on the issue of outputs and not adding on security consumers that create new burdens on the Alliance constitutes an honest and necessary baseline for any discussion. The tensions about the NATO project itself can barely accommodate the creation of further tensions and diminish Allied unity and resolve. Therefore, setting clear metrics on outputs, interoperability and usability should be at the heart of any debate about enlargement.

The V4 has an interest in championing such a position. As the latest beneficiary of enlargement, and a central stakeholder in the transformation agenda of NATO, its experience can allow to exercise leadership over a key issue and even drive the terms of the discussion, something that the V4 has only imperfectly done on implementing the RAP. At the same time, this also constitutes a prime opportunity to reconnect NATO with local populations in aspirant countries by reminding them of the benefits brought forward from their country’s accession. And the EU could only benefit, for its own process, from the stability brought forward by an assertive NATO and candidate states with clear minds and roadmaps.

Ján Cingel, Research Fellow, GLOBSEC Policy Institute, Bratislava, Slovakia 

Keeping the NATO enlargement process on the Alliance’s agenda is important. First, it is a matter of NATO’s credibility to grant membership to those countries that decide to become members and meet NATO`s membership requirements. NATO has repeatedly stated that it is open to new members who share its values and meet the Alliance`s membership requirements, explicitly referring to countries such as Georgia and Ukraine at the 2008 Summit in Bucharest.

Secondly, NATO enlargement – in some cases coupled with EU membership application – remains the most effective incentive and catalyst for internal reforms in candidate countries. This can lead to improvements in many areas, ranging from armed forces to the rule of law. Montenegro sets a positive example – despite some internal problems, the country has been steadily progressing towards the membership. On the other end of the spectrum is Macedonia whose losing faith in NATO and EU memberships have contributed to the ongoing serious internal political turmoil. In the case of Georgia, it is the fear of its big neighbour that reinforces the motivation to remain on the Euro-Atlantic path.

Thirdly, a real “open door” policy also means that no third country can veto the membership ambitions of a candidate country. Partner countries have the freedom to choose their ways of proceeding towards the membership – of course, if the above-mentioned conditions are met. The Visegrad countries as well as other “enlargement-friendly” members should keep reminding the more sceptic allies of the enlargement agenda through official as well as less formal channels.

The most important form of supporting candidates is to provide political support for their candidacy as well as technical assistance. The needs of each candidate country have to be assessed on a case by case basis. Some of them might prefer joint exercises or military cooperation; others might prefer more subtle assistance.

“A view from Central Europe” is a series of monthly blog-style publications providing a platform for young and up-coming thinkers from the Visegrad Group – Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland – to reach an EU wide policy-focused audience. The project aims to stimulate dialogue between the V4 capitals and European opinion-makers on relevant issues in the EU agenda with strategic implications for Central Europe.


This project is supported by the International Visegrad Fund.