Analyzing NATO Expansion: An Institutional Bargaining Approach

Vinod K. Aggarwal

Contemporary Security Policy, 2000

Unlike most security issues, knowing where one stands on NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) expansion does not help us to easily distinguish between realist and reflectivist views or, for that matter, between hawks and doves. Indeed, when we consider the accession of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic in a limited “first wave” expansion of NATO in March 1999, the contending sides become even more muddled. Put bluntly, the conventional theoretical approaches do not help us adequately understand and predict the implications of NATO’s enlargement. Rather than engage in policy advocacy, my purpose is to analyze the debate on NATO expansion and examine the likely implications of this expansion.

To examine the policy process that led to the decision to engage in limited expansion of NATO, I use an “institutional bargaining game approach.”1 First, I consider the issue of how existing institutions that currently address one or another facet of European security are currently arrayed, and then analyze the debate over possible widening and changing issue scope of NATO. Second, I examine the original impetus for changes in NATO, and consider the factors that led to the initial bargaining game over NATO expansion. I then turn to strategies used by the U.S. to make NATO expansion more palatable by altering this initial bargaining game. In concluding, I show why the Clinton Administration decided to promote a limited widening of NATO, with no significant changes in mission or rearrangement of institutional functions. Despite the widespread concern of antagonizing Russia, and the lack of evidence for benefits from such widening, I argue that this change may not be as detrimental as predicted by many analysts.

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