Clinton’s enlargement of a military alliance in a time of peace

How he became convinced of it and why it has positive and negative results

Essay 2015 8 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Region: USA


Clinton’s enlargement of a military alliance in a time of peace: How he became convinced of it and why it has positive and negative results

This article examines why President Clinton decided to expand NATO, a military alliance that was built to defend against the Soviet Union, an enemy which was already defeated. NATO enlargement is even more interesting considering it was done in a time of peace. The decision to enlarge was largely a surprise. Most alliances either end when their adversary is gone or slowly erode, NATO on the other hand expanded. How President Clinton came to that decision and the reasons he did so are analyzed in this paper. In this paper I argue that Clinton was largely influenced through other players, including key foreign leaders and congressional republicans. He did however have good security reasons to do so as well. The enlargement of NATO had consequences that were both beneficial and detrimental. The positive and negative consequences of the decision to enlarge NATO are looked at through a military strategic, foreign relations, and economic perspective. The military strategic perspective is analyzed in terms of what resources and territorial rights the new countries allow NATO to have. The foreign relations perspective is seen in light in the worsening of U.S.-Russian relations. The economic perspective is looked at how much it costs the alliance financially to expand eastward.

In this paper I argue that President Clinton decided to enlarge NATO in 1994 because of the pressures he received from Central and Eastern Europe, the increased security it would bring to Europe, and to have a strong foreign policy platform in the midterm election year that Republicans couldn’t criticize. The consequences of NATO expansion are mixed. The biggest consequence of this expansion is that it increased the size and resources of the most powerful military alliance on the planet. It also had negative consequences, though. It led to a deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations and a need for increased funding for NATO. The overall result of NATO enlargement has not yet played out long enough to be able to tell if it was the right decision or not.

The biggest reason why President Clinton decided to enlarge NATO was because of the pressures he received from countries in Central and Eastern Europe that wanted to be included in NATO. This is shown here through how he responded to requests from foreign leaders. In April 1993 leaders from Central and Eastern Europe came to Washington, D.C. for the opening of Holocaust Memorial (Goldgeier 20). All of them argued to Clinton that he had the historic opportunity to erase the line drawn through Europe by Joseph Stalin (20). Part of the group of leaders that came to Washington included Lech Walesa of Poland and Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic. These two, who struggled against Soviet domination for so long, carried an extra moral authority with them (20). It would be a hard for a new President, inexperienced in foreign policy to resist these two giants of modern European history. After meeting with these and other leaders of the countries in the region President Clinton told National Security Advisor Anthony Lake how impressed he had been with the passion of those leaders. According to Lake, Clinton thought positively of NATO expansion from that day on (20). It wasn’t just the leaders of these countries, it was also the public in Central and Eastern Europe that had a big impact on President Clinton as well.

It is also shown that Clinton was greatly influenced by the Central and Eastern Europe public through his speeches and interviews with the press in those countries. In January 1994 Clinton visited the Czech Republic and made a speech addressing NATO expansion where he said “now the question is no longer whether NATO will take on new members but when and how”(Goldgeier 56). When visiting Poland in July of that 1994, President Clinton made a similar speech regarding NATO enlargement (Mattox and Rachwald 20). These two speeches symbolized Clinton’s public acceptance of NATO enlargement and made the tide turn in favor of enlargement. It also gave the bureaucracy a direction to try and take NATO. In his trip to Poland he was also pressed on NATO membership from reporters. In an interview he was asked questions like “Will you give Poland and other Eastern European countries a clear timetable?”(Goldgeier 68) Clinton, not wanting to give a direct answer said that the timing would largely depend on “the feelings of all NATO members about it” (68). The interview gave support to the fact that it was not just the President of Poland or the leaders of countries in Central and Eastern Europe that supported NATO membership but the public inside these countries as well. From these situations we can tell that Clinton’s decision to enlarge NATO in 1994 was based largely on the influence of the Central and Eastern European members trying to become members in the military alliance. Clinton, however was not just convinced by people in Central and Eastern Europe, he also had his own reason for thinking it would increase Europe’s security.

Another reason why President Clinton decided on enlargement of NATO in 1994 was to increase Europe’s security and decrease chances of future conflicts in the region. With Central European states in the alliance it would make Russia more hesitant to use force in Europe if they were trying to grow as a greater regional power (Ball). Under Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott made a similar statement in an article he wrote to the New York Review of Books where he said “among the contingencies for which NATO must be prepared is that Russia will abandon democracy and return to the threatening patterns of international behavior that have sometimes characterized its history” (Talbott). It also increases the security of states outside the alliance (Ball). If a country like Poland is in the alliance it would be unlikely that Russia would attack a country that even borders Poland because it would not want to risk a conflict with Poland which could bring in NATO (Ball). Admitting new members into NATO would also prevent there from being political, economic, and military stability away from NATO’s eastern border (Schmidt 209). Many foreign policy officials even argued that NATO expansion would help Europe avoid the past historical mistakes of interstate wars, like the crisis in the Balkans at the time (Hendrickson). Secretary of State, Madeline Albright stated it clearly that she felt this way when she said “the decision to expand the alliance has encouraged the resolution of exactly the kind of disputes that might have led to future Bosnia’s (Hendrickson). President Clinton saw the opportunity to expand NATO has one that could contribute to peace in the region and decrease the possibility of future violence to break out. However Clinton was not just worried about people and events abroad, he was also heavily influenced through the domestic campaign of the 1994 Congressional elections.

A third reason for Clinton’s sudden shift towards NATO expansion was worry about Republican criticism on foreign policy in the Congressional elections of November 1994. In the spring and summer of 1994, a small but significant group of Republicans on Capitol Hill started pressuring the administration to adopt a clearer stance in favor of NATO enlargement and being tough on Moscow (Asmus 79). Republican Senate and House members started to introduce one piece of legislation after another promising a clear commitment to NATO enlargement (79). Republicans had included NATO enlargement in their contract with America in 1994 (Goldgeier 62). By giving the speeches he made in the Czech Republic and in Poland in 1994, Clinton made it hard for the Republicans to criticize him on NATO when they also favored NATO enlargement. By supporting expansion, Clinton would be increasing the democratic vote among Polish Americans in 1994 elections. (Goldgeier 7). There were no large organized domestic political constituency that opposed NATO expansion in the U.S (4). Being a new President and still relatively inexperienced in foreign policy it is plausible to see how Clinton wanted to avoid a situation where Republicans would trounce on him for not taking the opportunity to enlarge NATO to include Central and Eastern European members. If Clinton had not supported NATO expansion it would have been easy to attack him for being weak on Russia (Asmus 85) . The fact that the Republicans supported NATO expansion was significant to President Clinton’s decision to expand NATO because it is unlikely in a congressional election year that Clinton would have been willing to get in a fight with Republicans over whether or not to expand NATO. The reasons why Clinton decided to NATO can help explain the consequences of the result.

The consequences of Clinton’s decision to expand NATO resulted in many different outcomes, the most important of which is that it made NATO a stronger, more secure alliance. Any alliance that expands to include more countries is going to be stronger than it was before. This is due to their being a bigger military might for the alliance and they have more territory to launch operations from. The increase in NATO’s strength made it clear that they were not only the most dominant military alliance in the world, but that they were growing in size and was very likely to grow more. The increase in NATO gave more places to launch staging grounds for actions in wars like Kosovo and Afghanistan. For example, Poland provided the fifth largest amount of troops for the Afghan campaign, after the U.S., UK, Germany, and Italy (“Polish Contingent in Afghanistan”). They have sent more than 25,000 troops to Afghan and suffered over 500 injuries and forty deaths. Poland spent over $1.5 billion in 2013 in Afghanistan, which represents 15% of their whole defense budget (“Polish Contingent in Afghanistan”). In the NATO mission against the former Yugoslavia in Kosovo, Hungary opened up their airspace and airfields to NATO aircraft (“KOSOVO AND THE CHALLENGE OF HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTION”). The Czech Republic also opened their airspace and airfields to the allies in the campaign in Kosovo (“KOSOVO AND THE CHALLENGE OF HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTION”). The most important consequence of NATO enlargement was that it allowed NATO to have more resources and more territory to work with in their military campaigns. While there were big gains to enlarging NATO, it also brought significant downsides though.

The biggest negative consequence of NATO expansion was that it antagonized U.S. Russian relations. After the Cold War many thought there would be an increased ability for the U.S. and Russians to work together, and become partners rather than enemies. However the prospect of NATO enlargement has slowed down progress between the two countries. NATO enlargement has become the most important and potentially most explosive issue for Russia’s foreign policy (“NATO EXPANSION IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE”). The enlargement has led to Germany, Russia’s historic rival, enjoying a “defense cushion” with Central and Eastern European members becoming a member of NATO, while Russia does not have one (“NATO EXPANSION IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE”). Another reason Russia worries so much about NATO enlargement is they think NATO might expand to any country, including Ukraine (“NATO EXPANSION IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE”). Russia would fear Ukraine being a part of NATO because it would give NATO a direct border with Russia, threaten Russia’s control over the black sea, and because 11 million ethnic Russians live in Ukraine (“NATO EXPANSION IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE”). They have also expressed concern over the thought that the expansion of NATO would bring nuclear weapons closer to Russia’s border. This concern however is unfounded because NATO has said it will not allow nuclear weapons or station troops in the Eastern Europe in peacetime (“NATO EXPANSION IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE”). NATO expansion is seen in Russia as part of a pattern of Western betrayal, motivated by ambition and hostility to Russia (Lieven 3). How Russia reacted to these results and the enlargement of NATO are documented through statements by public leaders and polls of people inside Russia.



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
497 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of California, Los Angeles




Title: Clinton’s enlargement of a military alliance in a time of peace