No. 5 - Sept.-
Oct. 1997
Vol. 45 - pp. 12-16

Transatlantic relations:
Stormy weather on the way to enlargement?

Stanley Sloan

Senior Specialist in International Security Policy
for the Congressional Research Service
and Consultant to the Senate NATO Observer Group


While agreement was reached in Madrid on inviting new members to join the Alliance, the author argues that the ratification process next year could be more trying. This process, converging with the imminent Bosnia pull-out in the summer, may see the resurgence of the old burden-sharing debate in the US Congress. Coupled with European complaints of US hegemony, this debate may put new strains on the transatlantic relationship. In the end, writes Mr. Sloan, the US and Europe clearly have little practical choice but to continue their cooperation, but the debate on how to share costs and roles will determine the future complexion of the Alliance. The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

The debate in the US Congress on NATO enlargement will be about much more than who should join NATO. The Senate's consideration of the protocol of accession to the North Atlantic Treaty to admit the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland will likely become a debate about the respective roles of the United States and its European allies in the post-Cold War world. Arguments in the committees and on the floor of the Senate will therefore scrutinise the purpose of NATO and the appropriate balance of burdens and responsibilities in the Alliance. Whether or not the necessary 67 votes (two thirds of all Senators present and voting) will be cast in favour of enlargement may depend as much on the perception of the state of transatlantic cooperation as on the qualifications of the anxious candidate states.

At the same time, a parallel challenge is brewing across the Atlantic. There appears to be growing sentiment in Europe that the Alliance is increasingly out of balance. From this view, the important structural and procedural changes celebrated at the Madrid Summit as creating a 'new NATO' do not diminish the dominant power and influence of the United States in NATO councils. The accusation that the United States behaves like a hegemonic power in relations with its allies, once heard mainly from French quarters, now echoes elsewhere in Europe. When the United States declared its insistence on including just three candidates in the initial round of enlargement, even those allies who supported the outcome said quietly that they "liked the package but not the way it was wrapped".

Ironically, the answer to the American burden-sharing demand and the European hegemony complaint is the same: a more coherent and responsible Europe. But that Europe is not likely to emerge from the current economic and political trends over the next decade. This suggests that, as the Alliance moves toward enlargement, allied unity could be severely tested by an increasingly acrimonious debate which could be made even worse by the challenge of achieving 'success' in Bosnia - the tough testing ground for post-Cold War NATO.

The burden-sharing demand

US Congressional leaders applaud as President Clinton signs legislation in August to balance the federal budget by 2002 and provide new tax breaks for Americans.
(Reuters - 51Kb)
Most Capitol Hill NATO insiders believe that the toughest issue in the fight over NATO enlargement will be an old familiar one: burden-sharing. The end of the Cold War brought a temporary respite to the endemic burden-sharing debate in the Congress. Since the Berlin Wall fell, the issue has simply not garnered the same attention that it achieved during the Cold War. The fact that the United States has been able to cut its presence in Europe by two-thirds and close hundreds of bases there has helped reduce the cost of US participation in NATO and therefore the profile and urgency of the burden-sharing issue. Now, however, a convergence of enlargement and Bosnia-related expenses could bring the issue back with a new virulence.

As Senator William V. Roth, Jr., Chairman of the Senate NATO Observer Group, has noted: "How the costs of NATO expansion will be shared will be critically important in the ratification debates, particularly in the US Senate." He cautions that the issue could emerge "as the Achilles' heel - not only of NATO enlargement but of the Alliance itself."(1)

Senator Joseph Biden - Co-chairman of the Senate NATO Observer Group and a supporter of both NATO and enlargement, has warned that "for NATO to remain a vibrant organisation... the non-US members must assume their fair share of direct enlargement costs and for developing power projection capabilities. To do otherwise would cast the United States in the role of 'the good gendarme of Europe' - a role that neither the American people, nor the Senate of the United States, would accept."(2)

The burden-sharing issue is likely to focus on several aspects: direct costs of NATO enlargement, force improvements required for adaptation to new missions, and arrangements for continued implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords in Bosnia. In addition, many Members of Congress believe that the main responsibility for bringing the new democracies into the Western fold belongs to the European Union. They may understand that 'deepening' the EU through creation of the European Monetary Union is a high priority with European governments. But they will expect to see an EU enlargement process that appears likely to bring qualified East and Central European states into the EU fold as soon as possible.

Costs of enlargement

With regard to the direct costs of NATO enlargement, the Clinton Administration, in its February 1996 report to the Congress, projected the total cost of an initial 'small' group (similar to the one approved at Madrid) at US$27-35 billion between 1997 and 2009.(3) Of this total, a projected US$9-12 billion are called 'direct enlargement' costs: those improvements in command, control and communications facilities to link the new allies to the current members. Such costs would be shared according to traditional NATO cost-sharing formulas, which, for example, would cost the United States some US$150-200 million per year. Members of Congress will expect NATO allies to carry their 'fair share' of such relatively modest expenses without complaint. Perhaps this will require some reallocation of current NATO infrastructure spending, and it would be advisable for the allies to produce a plan for financing the direct costs of enlargement prior to the ratification debate.

The study projected another US$10-13 billion in costs to the new members to restructure their forces themselves to make them more interoperable with NATO forces for both collective defence and peace operations. Many analysts and the applicants themselves see this portion of the costs as expenses that they would incur in any case to modernise their military capabilities over the next decade.

Cost of force projection improvements

The US Navy is improving its force projection capabilities with its newest strike-fighter, the F/A-18E Super Hornet.
(Reuters - 20Kb)

The most controversial and difficult issue posed by the Clinton Administration's costs estimates, and one on which Senators are quite likely to focus, is the cost of improvements to the military capabilities of current allies. These costs, estimated in the US study at some US$8-10 billion, are not a new product of the enlargement decision. Rather, these costs result from the requirements of NATO's 1991 Strategic Concept for all allies to restructure their forces to make them more capable of projecting force beyond national borders. The United States has judged the improvements not only essential to support NATO's new missions but also to fulfil collective defence commitments to the new allies. Some allies, France in particular, already are moving in this direction. But none of the European allies is likely to have 'new' money available for developing force projection capabilities. They will have to meet the Strategic Concept's goals by developing greater efficiencies and re-prioritising current expenditures.

At the very least, the Senate's resolution of ratification (the legislative vehicle for giving advice and consent to the enlargement protocol to the Treaty of Washington) seems likely to include some provisions calling for allied efforts both to underwrite the direct costs of enlargement and to meet their commitments to develop greater force projection capabilities.


US SFOR soldiers lay barbed wire at a checkpoint in Brcko, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in August as two Bosnian Serb policemen look on.
(Reuters - 89Kb)
Perhaps the most explosive issue could be the unhappy convergence of the ratification debate in the US Senate and the end of the mandate for the Stabilisation Force (SFOR) in Bosnia. The Clinton Administration policy has been that US forces will leave Bosnia at the end of SFOR's mandate in June 1998, and the major European powers say that, if the United States leaves, they will follow. Many Members of Congress want to hold the Administration to its word. The weight of expert opinion, however, suggests that the withdrawal of SFOR as planned would destabilise Bosnia, possibly leading to a return to civil war or, at a minimum, de facto partition of Bosnia and a failure of the Dayton Accords. President Clinton seems to leave open the possibility that some US forces will stay after June 1998. In fact, if it is decided that NATO should continue to manage the post-SFOR operation, the technical coherence of that operation would require that some US forces remain in Bosnia, and not just 'over the horizon'.

Many members of Congress who believe that some external military presence will be required in Bosnia beyond June 1998, think that the European allies should 'put their money where their mouth is' and demonstrate that they are willing and able to take more responsibility for security in Europe by taking over post-SFOR military operations. Most European governments, however, believe that any follow-on to SFOR should remain a NATO operation and are reluctant to stay in Bosnia without a clear and present US commitment. Given the uncertain future for Bosnia under even the best circumstances, the Europeans fear they might be left holding the bag of failure to implement Dayton and perhaps even face US criticism from the sidelines for the outcome.

Under these circumstances, a transatlantic debate about who will carry future burdens of peace implementation in Bosnia could be at its peak just as the Senate is considering the question of NATO enlargement. The Senate and transatlantic discussions of burdensharing could become quite fractious. Members of Congress will complain about the reluctance of the Europeans to take responsibility for a military presence in Bosnia after SFOR is terminated. The European allies would likely respond that they indeed had tried to help the United States implement the Dayton Accords, and it is not their fault alone that the goals of the accords were not accomplished. Such a debate might not lead Senators to reject enlargement but could put great strain on transatlantic relations.

American leadership or hegemony

Meanwhile, at the same time that American Senators are likely to be pressing the allies for more effective burden-sharing, the European allies may be quite sensitive about 'diktats' from the US Administration and Congress. It has always been difficult for the United States to achieve the 'perfect' level of alliance leadership that builds consensus without seeming to dictate American preferences. It is even more so today, when there is no imminent threat to help build consensus behind US preferences.

The United States has such overwhelming strength currently in the international system that, like a bull in a china shop, it must walk very carefully not to break alliance dishes. Self-confident US behaviour - ranging from touting the strength of the US economy at the G-8 summit to limiting the first round of NATO enlargement to three states - has rubbed many Europeans the wrong way. When the Clinton Administration revealed its choice of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to participate in the first wave of NATO enlargement, many allies privately applauded. Even France, which was a strong proponent of including Romania and Slovenia, was not surprised that the United States and several other allies would only support a smaller group.

But the fact that the United States appeared to have abandoned the process of NATO consultations to make its choice clear, and then said its decision was non-negotiable, troubled even the closest allies of the United States. It strengthened the hand of those in Europe who claim that the United States is acting like a 'hegemonic' power, using its impressive position of strength to have its way with weaker European allies.

US officials say that they wanted to keep the issue within Alliance consultations but that their position was being leaked to the press by other allies. They decided to put an end to 'lobbying' for other outcomes. Their choice to go strong and to go public may be understandable and even defensible. However, the acknowledged leader of a coalition of democratic states probably needs to set the very best example in the consultative process if it wants other sovereign states to follow its lead willingly. Perhaps it is just hard being number one, and US officials have observed that the United States is 'damned if it does, and damned it is does not' provide strong leadership. Perhaps the style of the decision reveals too clearly what appears to be a Washington culture in which the bright and brash more often than not move ahead in the circles of power. But the style does not work well in an alliance of democracies.

Whatever the explanation, US-European relations would have been better served by a US approach that allowed the outcome to emerge more naturally from the consultative, behind-the-scenes consensus-forming process. In NATO councils, votes are weighed, not counted, and the US vote still carries more weight than any other. The final result would have been the same and the appearance of a US 'diktat' to the allies would have been avoided.

The challenge

US Secretary of Defense William Cohen (left) and WEU Secretary General Jos Cutileiro sharing a laugh at the meeting of the EAPC in Defence Ministers Session in Brussels last June.
(NATO photo - 25Kb)
Whether or not the burden-sharing demands and the hegemony complaint turn transatlantic relations sour over the coming months depends on how much value the United States and its allies place on the Alliance relationship. No longer does a Soviet threat force the transatlantic partners to cooperate. But the values that underlie the partnership still appear to be alive and well on both sides of the Atlantic. There are practical considerations as well. From the European perspective there is no credible answer to Europe's security needs in the foreseeable future other than thoroughgoing cooperation with the United States. From the US perspective there currently is no more effective way to share international security burdens than defence cooperation through the NATO structure. The United States and Europe have little practical choice other than to continue their cooperation. But the continuing debate about how equitably to share costs and responsibilities will play a major role in determining what kind of NATO emerges on the other side of the enlargement debate.


  1. Senator William V. Roth, Jr. "Roth's Rx for NATO", Christian Science Monitor, 18 June 1997

  2. Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. "The prospects for NATO enlargement", Address to the Atlantic Council of the United States, 18 June 1997.

  3. Other studies have produced broader ranges of potential costs based on much wider threat scenarios. The often-quoted cost of US$ 125 billion for enlargement comes from the high-end of the US Congressional Budget Office's calculation of what it would cost to integrate the new allies in a much more challenging threat environment like that posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Given the current state of Russian military forces and presuming the continued development of NATO-Russia defence cooperation, such circumstances appear out of the question over the next decade.

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