NATO Review
Nov./Dec. 1997

Will the US Senate endorse NATO's enlargement?

by Stephen Cambone, Senior Fellow, Political-Military Studies CSIS, Washington

The US Senate has started debating NATO enlargement in earnest. In spring 1998, the Senate, as required by the US constitution, will decide whether to amend the Washington Treaty. The key issues the Senate is likely to scrutinise include the costs of enlargement, the burden-sharing issue, the implications of EU enlargement, the relationship with Russia, and the size and timing of further enlargement. In agreeing to enlargement, the Senate is likely to have several conditions that will have to be incorporated in the final resolution of ratification and which could affect US policy on NATO for many years.

With the opening of Committee hearings in October, the US Senate debate on NATO enlargement has begun in earnest. Under the constitution, the Senate is required to give its advice and consent to the amendments of the Washington Treaty needed to admit new members to the Alliance. The debate will conclude with a vote in the spring of 1998, when a two-thirds majority will be needed for ratification.

The advice and consent of the Senate will take the form of a resolution of ratification. To this resolution will be appended a set of conditions, reservations and declarations by which the Senate will establish the legal and political basis for American participation in the amended Treaty regime. This resolution is binding only on the US executive branch. But given the US role in the Alliance, the Senate's decisions will be a matter of consequence to the entire Alliance.

It is too early to predict the content of the resolution. But it is already apparent which issues will occupy the Senators' attention in the pending debate and in reference to which they will draft the resolution.


The issue of costs has two elements, the first of which is absolute cost. Few Senators believe the absolute costs over the next ten years will approach the US$120 billion figure cited by the Congressional Budget Office. At the same time, many remain sceptical of the alternative figure of US$28-35 billion put forward by the Clinton Administration. The Rand Corporation's estimate of US$40-60 billion is seen by many as not unreasonable and may represent the top end of the 'comfort zone' of Senators.

NATO cost issues have long been a matter of Congressional concern. The recent agreement to balance the federal budget heightens that concern. Under it, defence spending will rise only to offset inflation. But, each of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has already testified that the current five year defence plan is now US$20-40 billion per year under-funded in its procurement accounts. Senators will undoubtedly worry either that any substantial US cost for NATO enlargement will cause other, cherished, defence programmes to be delayed or cancelled or that they will be called upon to add money to the Department of Defense account, likely upsetting the delicate budget agreement. The budget politics of enlargement will lead Senators to argue with vigour that as a result of the burden to be borne by the US taxpayer, NATO allies must be expected to bear a substantial portion of the cost.

The second cost issue relates to how money is to be spent. In addressing the issue, Senators will delve into the nature of the threat, the relative state of modernisation of allied forces and new members' forces, and the missions that are to be performed.

Of these, greatest concern is expressed over the large and growing gap between the capabilities of US forces and those of current allies. Senators understand why the largest allies - France, Germany, United Kingdom - have decided to reduce their forces and concentrate on modernising the even smaller (rapid) reaction portion of their respective forces to the detriment of overall modernisation. But their understanding does not offset their concerns about the consequences of those decisions.

This might not be an issue but for the adoption by the Alliance of its new missions, including peacekeeping and crisis management. These new missions place a premium on modern projection forces maintained at a high state of readiness. Senators are acutely aware that the current allied forces are not yet properly funded and structured to execute such missions. They worry that this will result in a greater than necessary US commitment to make up for allied shortfalls. This causes some to complain about unequal burdens. The more attentive Senators worry that, given US constraints, if resources are invested in Europe to cover NATO shortfalls, US security interests elsewhere could be adversely affected.

Senators realise that it will be difficult both to hold enlargement costs to a reasonable level for all and to assure that both current and new allies will be able to make a substantial contribution to allied capabilities. They see themselves as willing to do both. They believe it is possible for allies to do both. Moreover, they believe both must be done if the Alliance is to have a credible defence and deterrence capacity.

Allied commitment

The issue of allied commitment consists of two elements. The first is commitment to the process of NATO enlargement itself. Senators know that the enlargement of NATO is largely a product of US insistence; indeed many of them will claim to have helped motivate the administration to set 1999 as the date when enlargement is to occur. They are aware as well of the less enthusiastic attitude of some allies to enlargement.

The second issue is whether the politics of the European Union, to include both the enlargement of the EU (there is more below on this subject) and monetary union, will so divert and preoccupy allied political leaders and national wealth that little of either will be left for NATO enlargement. As Senators pay closer attention to NATO issues, they will take greater interest in the broader European political scene. In particular, the Senate is aware of the difficult decisions facing European governments in preparation for monetary union and the impact this will have on defence budgets and resources available for meeting the costs of enlargement.

EU enlargement

There remains among Senators a certain degree of impatience with the pace of the EU's own enlargement. The announcement that the EU will open accession talks with six states in the near future, three of them being the current candidates for NATO accession, is encouraging to those who believe that the enlargement of NATO and the EU needs to be complementary and parallel. But the EU will need to pursue its accession talks with some vigour to overcome the impression that they will be used as a means for delaying actual EU enlargement.

Insistent voices can already be heard that the EU has no reason not to bring one or more of the Baltic states into the EU within a few years. The same is often said of Slovenia. Senators will argue that Estonia and Slovenia clearly meet EU criteria now and should be admitted without delay.

This argument is meant to encourage a new form of burden-sharing in which the US and the EU (or at least its member states) work together to extend both 'hard' and 'soft' security to Central Europe. It is also clearly seen as a way of offsetting the potential problems that could arise as a result of offering invitations to join NATO to only three states. In this last respect it is doubtful whether Senators have thought through the broader implications of the EU as a source of (some) 'hard' and (a good deal of) 'soft' security in Central Europe. With NATO enlargement, and the attendant increase in US responsibility in Central Europe, Senators believe the EU must do more.


Senatorial concern about Russia spans many issues. Few Senators are hostile toward Russia. Many, how-ever, are uncertain about its future in political and economic terms and therefore uncertain about the attitude it will develop toward the West and the US in particular. Past concern that enlargement would undermine domestic reform in and good relations with Russia has diminished due to the agreements reached at the Helsinki and Paris summits in 1997. Sentiment clearly favours measures to bring Russia into a relationship with the West, but the uncertainty about its future reinforces the belief that care needs to be taken not to give Russia both a voice and a veto in NATO affairs. Thus, the NATO-Russia Founding Act signed in Paris last May is seen as politically necessary, but concern persists about the role and function of the new Permanent Joint Council (PJC).

Some Senators worry that the PJC could be a vehicle for both Russian influence and a veto in NATO affairs. This concern is based on NATO's commitment to consult within the Joint Council on all common security concerns. Senators do not know how far these common concerns extend. This leads some to suggest that the primacy of the North Atlantic Council needs to be reaffirmed and the activity of the PJC confined in narrow channels to assure that simple bureaucratic expansion will not increase Russian influence over allied affairs.

Open process

The administration is committed to keeping the Alliance open to new members. Many Senators are equally committed. Their reasons range from a desire to pay a debt to the Baltic states, to a particular interest in one nation or another, such as Slovenia or Romania. A number also believe that a process left open is a process that Russia does not control and therefore one that safeguards NATO's political freedom of action.

Nevertheless, other Senators worry that a commitment to an ever-expanding Alliance means that it will be transformed into a collective security organisation more akin to the OSCE and in the process lose both its cohesion and the active participation and support of the US.

The debate over NATO enlargement in the US Senate is in its early stages. As it gains momentum Senators' attention will quickly move to the issues highlighted here. Their deliberations will form the basis of their advice to the President on and inform their consent to the enlargement of NATO. The conclusion of their deliberations will be contained in a resolution of ratification setting out the terms on which the US agrees to amending the Washington Treaty. Those terms will guide the formation of US policy relative to NATO for years to come.

In agreeing to enlargement, the Senate is unlikely to impose restrictions on future US Presidents that undermine their position in allied councils or do harm to NATO's integrity. But we can expect demands, and perhaps specific direction, to the President that he find ways to limit the additional liabilities to be incurred by the US, encourage current allies to increase their military modernisation efforts, insist on a more rapid pace of EU enlargement, define more clearly the relationship with Russia and give some indication of the ultimate political and territorial extent of the Alliance.


BITS Homepage