The U.S. Decision to Enlarge NATO: How, When, Why, and What Next?

On March 12, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stood with the foreign ministers of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in the auditorium of the Truman presidential library in Independence, Missouri, and formally welcomed these three countries into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Czech-born Albright, herself a refugee from the Europe of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, said quite simply on this day: “Hallelujah.”

Not everyone in the United States felt the same way.The dean of America’s Russia experts, George F. Kennan, had called the expansion of NATO into Central Europe “the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era.” Kennan, the architect of America’s post-World War II strategy of containment of the Soviet Union, believed, as did most other Russia experts in the United States, that expanding NATO would damage beyond repair U.S. efforts to transform Russia from enemy to partner.