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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO: A Rival to EU?

During their recent visits to Moscow, NATO General Secretary Javier Solana and Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski were actively trying to convince their Russian counterparts that the entry of East European countries into NATO was only a continuation of the course of European integration. Although in this sense, membership in the European Union and its defense organization -- the Western European Union, or WEU -- seems more logical. Another motive that they diplomatically did not mention was the "Russian threat." If in the absence of the "Russian bear," the geopolitical significance of the organization in the region is greatly decreased, then the reasons behind expansion toward the East are said to be more economic. The balance between the possible economic gains and inevitable losses, however, makes expansion not very attractive. Moreover, now that NATO has lost its rival, it is deprived of the necessary stimulus toward consolidation and expansion.

The NATO document, "Investigations on the Question of Enlargement," of last September treated expansion as a parallel process and interconnected with the growth of the European Union, including accepting new members from the East. This position is held with provisions: The expansion of both organizations will be carried out independent of one another and most likely at a different pace.

The East European leaders naturally think that entering NATO is an important step toward entry into the European Union. Being a certified NATO member attests to belonging to the Western world and gives new guarantees to foreign investors against foreign policy risks. It also gives these countries further grounds for insisting on their right to "return to Europe" more quickly. But the closer one looks at the question of EU membership, the more distant are practical decisions.

Even German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the most fervent advocate of accelerating the European Union's movement east, becomes much more careful when it comes to specific dates. He has aimed for active negotiations with Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in the year 2000 and set 2005 as the possible date for entry into the European Union. One can easily imagine that the enthusiasm on the part of other EU governments for quick integration is even less. It took Spain and Portugal, whose example the East European countries would like to follow, seven years of negotiations before entering the European Community. Moreover, Sweden, Austria and Finland entered the European Community and remained outside of NATO. The factors that are holding back the European Union from opening its doors to the East are various. One is the need to reform its institutions and decision-making process. Even if these conditions are met by 1997, there will still remain difficult financial problems. Today, subsidies for agriculture and restructuring that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development plans to devote to undeveloped regions amounts to some $104.8 billion. It is already clear that without a radical reconsideration of the Union's enlargement, the general budget could increase by 25 to 100 percent. The recipients of this aid -- Portugal, Greece, Spain and Ireland -- have no interest in seeing it decreased. And the donor countries -- Germany, the Netherlands and Britain -- are unlikely to increase their contributions.

Although East European countries import more agricultural and food products from the European Union than they export, the proposal to increase the export quota by 10 percent was not even accepted by Germany. The question of whether East European governments will be accepted into the European Union is inextricably tied to the possible costs of doing so. Not surprisingly, then, there has been much talk of a transitional period of 10 or more years before they enter the European Community or of limited rights for the new members in the areas of agricultural production, labor movement and social welfare.

By comparison, the expansion of NATO looks less like a losing proposition. This will cost the West anywhere from $7 billion to $70 billion over a period of 10 years, depending on expenses for improving the military infrastructure in East Europe. Western Europeans might think that their portion of the financial burden will be borne by their allies across the Atlantic. But the United States, which never tires of reminding them that NATO cannot be a group of "security consumers" will hardly agree to the role of chief sponsor. New candidates for membership are expected to contribute no less than $1.5 billion to $2 billion annually. In 1995, however, Poland's entire military budget was only $2.6 billion. The Czech Republic's spent $1 billion and Hungary $641 million.

Thus, the main expenditures for NATO expansion will be borne by those Western Europe countries that are now trying to minimize the costs of the European Union's expansion. They obviously cannot pay for both processes simultaneously. For the governments of Eastern Europe, the significant increase in military expenditures will mean slower economic growth -- and that growth is their only hope, in the near future, of attaining a development level acceptable for membership to the European Union. For these countries NATO membership is likely to be but a consolation prize for the postponement of full EU membership.

The expansion of the European Union and NATO are not in fact parallel and complementary, but alternative and competing processes. Europe may actually gain more security from enlarging both organizations. Should there be an abrupt disruption of the strategic stability on the continent from such expansion, however, this will compel Russia to reinforce its support for nuclear restraint. In this case, Europe's economic union will remain only a dream for some time to come.

Pavel Kandel is an analyst at the Russian Academy of Science's Institute of Europe. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.