Specialist in European Affairs
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division
Congressional Research Service
Library of Congress
NATO named three candidate states for membership at its summit meeting in July 1997. A two-thirds vote of approval, probably to be taken in spring 1998, will be necessary for the U.S. Senate to give its advice and consent to revise the North Atlantic Treaty and admit new members. Key arguments favoring U.S. approval of enlargement include the need to bring stability in central Europe, a region that has long been unstable; building a strong transatlantic link with new European democracies; and extending collective defense to countries that remain concerned about a potential Russian threat. Key arguments against NATO expansion include the concern that it will exacerbate tensions with Russia; result in substantial costs and risks that the allies are unwilling to share and the American people are unwilling to shoulder alone; and dilute the mission, political likemindedness, and military effectiveness of the alliance.
On July 8, 1997, NATO extended invitations to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary to begin negotiations to enter the alliance. Some countries, led by France and Italy, wished to invite Romania and Slovenia as well, which the Clinton Administration opposed. The alliance commended Romania, Slovenia, and the Baltic states for progress towards democratic and economic reform, and pledged future enlargements, without promising invitations to specific countries.
NATO intends to complete accession negotiations with the three candidates in December 1997. The objective of the negotiations is to ensure that the three countries understand their obligations under the North Atlantic Treaty and alliance budgets. NATO will produce a protocol formally inviting the countries to join the alliance. That protocol will serve as an amendment to the Treaty, and be submitted to member states for their approval. A two-thirds vote of those present in the chamber will be necessary for the U.S. Senate to give its advice and consent. A vote is likely in the spring or early summer of 1998. All NATO members must approve the three countries' candidacies for them to join the alliance. NATO officials wish to admit the states formally in April 1999.
ARGUMENTS SUPPORTING ENLARGEMENT
An alternative view is that Russia remains a potential threat, and that enlargement will secure for the alliance a significant presence in a strategically important area, thereby limiting Moscow's potential sphere of influence.
ARGUMENTS OPPOSING ENLARGEMENT
An alternative view is that Russia will gain a foothold in alliance decision-making through the Founding Act, under which it can appeal to European publics to deflect NATO from its desired course.