Flexible Expansion: NATO Enlargement in an Era of Austerity and Uncertainty
For the more than 50 years since 1945, the transatlantic community experienced an unprecedented era of prosperity and unity. Today, this community is entering an era of austerity and uncertainty. Despite the significant advances that were made in three rounds of NATO enlargement from 1999 to 2009, the legacy of NATO’s enlargement is confronted by an inward looking Europe and a distracted United States unwilling to commit the political will and resources to reintegrate the remaining outsiders looking in. The largest recession since the 1930s has also exposed widening fractures in Europe. The strategic case for enlargement espoused in the 1990s still rings true. The democratic backsliding on Europe’s periphery reinforces the need for NATO to remain a tool for democratic reform. Enlargement continues to help fledgling countries democratize, keeps the United States and Europe working together to support stability inside Europe, and sends a deterrence signal to Russia that there are no dividing lines in Europe. As long as there are aspirants committed to promoting European stability through a process of NATO membership, enlargement can contribute to the process of integration that has helped stabilize Europe over the past 50 years. To chart an effective path forward, NATO needs a clear vision and a flexible policy that reinvigorates an Alliance skeptical of the merits of further expansion. The way to sustain enlargement is to first acknowledge its limits and press where feasible with nimble, yet committed political will and resources. A flexible enlargement policy, which addresses current obstacles, confronts regional dynamics, and charts a credible way forward will help NATO navigate the current era of austerity and uncertainty.