Adjusting the Hinges: NATO’s Open Door Policy

October 10, 2012

On October 10th, 2012, AGI hosted the discussion “Adjusting the Hinges: NATO’s Open Door Policy” with AGI/DAAD Fellow Tobias Hecht. The event, at which Mr. Hecht presented his work on the issue of NATO enlargement, was generously supported by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

NATO enlargement, Mr. Hecht argued, is important because it is an ongoing, incremental process which allows us to see how NATO has transformed as well as issues this alliance faces. Not previously highlighted on NATO’s agenda, enlargement became a larger issue due to security demands of Central and Eastern European States, uncertainty with regard to Russia, as well as instability in the Balkans. In a 1995 study on enlargement it was determined that enlargement would enhance both security and stability; there would be incentives for joining NATO; and therefore NATO capacity would be strengthened. Over the years, NATO has slowly but surely been expanding its membership. Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a 75% increase in admission of states to NATO.

The process for a state to join NATO includes looking at the international context in addition to the standards outlined in the study on enlargement and its engagement in the Partnership for Peace. For example, between 1997 and 1999 the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland were admitted, as they were judged to be progressive in their internal reforms; importantly, however, they were also admitted on the argument of increasing security  in the grey zone of central eastern Europe and because there was no fear of antagonizing Russia. Disagreements on the admission of other states in the recent years, such as the debate on Georgian admission to the Membership Action Plan show that little common outlook between NATO members exists anymore. Georgia’s status is a contested point due to its location and political instability, although they are increasingly becoming more stable, as shown in their previous elections. Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty limits membership to European countries – but what exactly is the scope of Europe, and how does one draw those lines?

The issue of partnerships is closely intertwined with enlargement of and membership in NATO. NATO’s Partnership for Peace program (PfP) allows aspiring members to work closely with NATO, build up a cooperative relationship, and jointly set their framework for integration. PfP lays the basic framework for a peaceful Europe and allows all partnership states to contribute to NATO without being formal members. The self-differential idea of partnerships along with less coherent transatlantic engagement may, in the long run, lead to a blurring of the lines between NATO members, who don’t contribute, and non-members, who do. But one must not overlook the positive benefits of partnerships and the general positive consensus on them today. Increased partnerships enable NATO to draw on more capabilities from different states, as well as creating greater interoperability.

In the long run, Europe needs to be looking more broadly at membership versus partnership. The previous NATO mission, to pursue a free, whole, and peaceful Europe, has been (by and large) achieved. This also signals an end for the common vision between all members. As a generational change approaches, the progress of NATO will depend on how its member states are willing to cooperate with one another.

Questions? Contact Kimberly Frank at