When NATO leaders met last week in Bucharest, they disagreed profoundly on whether Ukraine and Georgia should be offered an opportunity to join the alliance. In the process, they did tremendous damage to enlargement policy as a whole.
Enlargement has been at the core of the NATO alliance for well over two decades. Its founding treaty, signed nearly 60 years ago, made clear that the door to membership was open to any European state that could further the principles of the alliance and contribute to collective defense.
NATO has used that open door effectively over the decades, taking in Greece, Turkey, West Germany and Spain during the Cold War, and then reaching out to Central and Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In 1999, in order to make the process of admission more formal (as well as provide a way to cushion the disappointment of countries not being allowed in immediately), the allies created the Membership Action Plan. The MAP detailed what countries wishing to join NATO had to do. Once they fulfilled these criteria, NATO would invite them to become members.
Seven countries fulfilled the MAP criteria and were inducted into the alliance in 2004. Croatia and Albania are the latest countries that have met the MAP requirements and have received membership invitations.
Unfortunately, last week’s actions at the NATO summit meeting undermined the seriousness and credibility of this process. Like Croatia and Albania, Macedonia also fulfilled its MAP. But Macedonia was not invited to join the Alliance because one NATO member – Greece – objects to the country’s name.
It is absurd enough that Greece claims to be concerned that Macedonia has designs on the area in Greece that is also known as Macedonia.
But to allow that to become part of the debate over whether Macedonia should be allowed to join the world’s most successful alliance makes a mockery of the process.
In its final communiqué, NATO said that once Macedonia and Greece find a mutually acceptable compromise (something they have failed to do for more than 15 years), Macedonia will receive its invitation. But the damage to the integrity of the process has been done.
Not content with undermining the policy once, NATO did so again when it came to Ukraine and Georgia. Despite press reports that the Germans and French had rebuffed President George W. Bush on membership for Ukraine and Georgia, the fact is that all the United States was pushing for was a MAP, under which the two countries would have begun working to meet the criteria for membership. That process would likely have taken years.
But fearing Russia’s angry reaction to even this preliminary step, Germany, France and several other allies refused to support a MAP for the two former Soviet republics.
Remarkably, in a compromise worked out at the meeting, NATO’s leaders declared that even though they were not offering Ukraine and Georgia a MAP, they agreed that “these countries will become members of NATO.” In other words, NATO denied Ukraine and Georgia an opportunity to prove themselves worthy of membership, but gave them an unprecedented commitment that they would become members someday. That makes no sense.
NATO enlargement has been a highly successful policy over the decades. It helped anchor a newly democratic Spain into the West in the early 1980s; it ensured that a unified Germany could be fully integrated into the alliance in 1990, and it helped foster stability and security in countries formerly under Soviet domination in the 1990s.
By the beginning of this decade, a well-functioning process for further enlargement was in place.
But by using other criteria to deny Macedonia an invitation, and by guaranteeing membership to Ukraine and Georgia even before they have proven their worth, NATO has made a mockery of the process itself.
All Western democracies, including the U.S. and Germany, are seeing powerful protest movements against globalization and integration. They are agitating for a recapturing of control, or 'sovereignty,' and often also of ethnic homogeneity. Although they keep talking about the nation-state, they oppose key principles of Western constitutionalism like separation of powers and the protection of minorities against the tyranny of the majority. They want a tribalization of politics. That's something the Tea Party and the U.S. alt-right have in common with the AfD.
Germany's postwar foreign policy had two lodestars: atonement for World War II and the Holocaust, as well as reconciliation with its victims and enemies — and joining the universe of Western democracies, and specifically integration into the U.N., NATO, and the European Union. The AfD [Alternative for Germany] more or less explicitly rejects both these orienting principles in favor of an ethno-nationalist, sovereignist, anti-European, anti-American and pro-Russian stance.