The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is in danger of becoming irrelevant. Potentially, it could even wither away. Were this to occur, Europe would lose an institution that has performed vital security roles, and Western Europe would become a much more dangerous place.
Concurrently, a security vacuum has developed in the region of Central and Eastern Europe (C/EE) following the demise of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union; new security arrangements are urgently needed to fill that void.
The solution to these problems lies in bringing them together: NATO should enlarge its mission to encompass the states of Central and Eastern Europe. A desire for membership has been openly stated by a number of the former Warsaw Pact members. The difficulty is NATO’s lack of enthusiasm about extending membership to former members of the Warsaw Pact. Before the failed August 1331 coup in the Soviet Union and the USSR’s disintegration at the end of that year, the reason given was that an eastward extension of membership would challenge legitimate security concerns of the Soviet Union. Today, that reason no longer applies. Yet NATO’s reluctance continues, for a reason not often mentioned and hard to acknowledge publicly: many NATO members regard the region to their east as a security nightmare – fraught with complex religious, political, economic, and ethnic rivalries – for which they would prefer not to assume responsibility.