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Monday, 2 December, 2002, 13:57 GMT
Nato: What difference will expansion make?
 Click here to watch our phone-in discussion on Nato
Or click here to listen to the debate

Nato members have been meeting in Prague this week to discuss the expansion of the alliance and its future role for the 21st Century.

Seven countries have been formally invited to join, including the three Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, along with Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania.

Nato leaders also decided to set up a response force to react quickly to crisis situations around the world.

Also on the agenda was the question of where Nato itself stands in the 21st Century, amid an international climate dominated by new security challenges.

The aim of enlargement is to help spread stability across Europe.

But growing tensions between the United States and many of Nato's European members on when and how force should be used may put the alliance's position firmly under the spotlight if called upon to act in future conflicts.

President George W. Bush said he would call on NATO allies to help him disarm Saddam Hussein should the Iraqi leader refuse to give up the weapons of mass destruction Washington believes he has concealed.

What do you think the new Nato countries will contribute to the alliance? Does Nato still have a role in the 21st Century? Should Nato be involved in any future conflict with Iraq?

We discussed Nato's role in our global interactive phone-in programme. We were joined by James Rubin, former US Assistant Secretary of State.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Why is it so difficult to accept that an alliance formed to combat the former Soviet Union is obsolete? Regional defence alliances would be much more appropriate. Yes, I'm one of those bad, bad US isolationists who would prefer to drive an electric car, and let the Balkans and the Middle East look after themselves. If Russia gets antsy, let France and Germany stop them; it should be a good show from across the pond via satellite.
Victor, USA

This is one way of exporting arms from major western countries through the back door. New members will have to modernise their armed forces using western arms, train armed forces using western experts. Is this defence or economics?
Tom Makori, Moscow, Russia.

I would like to welcome the new members of Nato

Dean, Boston, USA
Bashing the US vis-a-vis Nato is like complaining about the colour of an umbrella that is protecting you from a downpour. I would like to welcome the new members of Nato. I think we'll find that they have far more to offer than the spoilt and jaded Western Europeans who couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag. The new members appreciate freedom and security because they lived without it for so long. They will make great allies.
Dean, Boston, USA

Simply put, Nato currently provides what the UN does not: Security. However, it must be noted that Nato was created to project power onto the Soviet Union in the name of mutual defence. With that threat neutralized, Nato's existence appears to be more in tune with offensive action outside of Europe, as opposed to defensive actions within it. Is it any wonder, then, that it appears Nato is losing its moral authority to take action?
Matt, U.S.

Russia's 1000 year issue with the security of its western border is solved forever. It will never need to be concerned again about an external threat from that direction and small vulnerable countries will no longer present a tempting military or colonial opportunity. I would not be surprised if one day in our lifetime, Russia begs Nato to cross that border to assist with resolving an internal crisis of one sort or another.
Mark, USA

More countries involved in Nato will only mean a larger variety of views. In order for a peaceful agency like Nato to work there needs to be sound cooperation between its members and this will be made more difficult by the inclusion of other countries.
Chris, Southampton, England

Nato can only exist as long as its members have shared values to defend: freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. The current crisis in Nato is due to the emergence in Washington DC of a generation of leaders for whom these are just empty slogans to serve as a cover for their real policies. One must respect Powell and one can have sympathy with Bush; but Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and their cronies are people whose actions must be resisted. Europeans have no other moral choice.
Manu, Antwerp, Belgium

Just remember Americans never leave anywhere voluntarily, except in two cases Vietnam and The Philippines. The first was because they were kicked out, the second because it became too uncomfortable. So Europe will have them around for a long time either directly or through Nato. To expand the dinosaur called Nato is America's way of consolidating their foothold in Europe. We are now in the era of Pax Americana, whether we like it or not.
Mike, Brisbane, Australia

Nato is one of the few organisations that allows Europeans some input into US policy

Tim, UK
To those Europeans who believe that Nato is redundant and US forces should be withdraw from Europe and replaced by European forces, may I remind you that Nato is one of the few organisations that allows Europeans some input into US policy. If the US withdraws from Nato, that influence will be gone and the US will act as it sees fit regardless of European opinion.
Tim, UK

I do not believe that the expansion of Nato is necessary to provide peace and security to the world. On the contrary it may have exactly the opposite effects in the long run. Nato was conceived as a defensive organization to defend European countries against a Soviet attack. The Soviet Union is no more. This move may be viewed as threatening by those people who had chosen to change their social systems.
Jandeep, Boston, USA

NATO's expansion is ominous for China and Asia. NATO is nothing more than the European arm of the American military establishment, whatever the Europeans may say, which will eventually be used to threaten Central Asia and the East. It divides the world starkly into Caucasians and Pan-Asians and a future war will eventually be fought. It is important that Europeans must sabotage or dilute the American agenda for the sake of future world peace.
Jay, Singapore

Next year, way ahead of schedule, Serbia will be asked to join NATO (in fact - it's almost a done deal). I hope we don't join because I don't want our boys going halfway around the globe to protect US corporate interests, and basically fight some faraway countries that have done no harm to Serbia. And we will never forget what NATO did to us 3 years ago.
Gaz, Petrovgrad, Serbia

Europe will not be let off the American hook any time soon.

David Croft, Florida, USA
Most comments contain some truth. American military dominance in Europe is no longer necessary. It is in America's interest to have a peaceful and safe Europe. After returning from Paris last week I certainly enjoyed the Euro! But Europeans expecting America to withdraw from NATO or European affairs are just dreaming. As a hyper military and economic power in the world, don't expect to see Americans vanish from the streets of Paris, London, and Berlin. You will still see some soldiers around too. Europe will not be let off the American hook any time soon. We have too much of our blood on your continent to leave you alone.
David Croft, Tampa, Florida, USA

The expansion of NATO into Romania and Bulgaria is as important as the Fall of the Berlin wall. Those two countries should have never been given to Russian dictatorship at Yalta. Considering their historical European roots, Roosevelt should have bargained the sunny Balkans for the West. Now NATO has realized this mistake. The Balkans will become a place of peace, beauty and prosperity. European civilization first appeared in the Balkans. It is time to take them back. Europe is to become united again. Congratulations to all new members.
Robyn Ivanhoff, Bourgas, Bulgaria

NATO expansion has three clear and positive aspects: first, it guarantees nation-state security; second, it sets in place one of the critical blocks needed for long term investment; and, third, it brings into an aging organization new ideas and a fresh spirit. Expansion may have and added psychological factor to citizens of these newly admitted. They are now equal members of a peculiar and important community of nations.
Patrick, Tucson, Arizona, US

I believe NATO will have a role in the 21st century to the extent that NATO will act within the framework of the international law.
Jaime Saldarriaga, Bogotá, Colombia

Nato expansion just means expanding US control to include all of Europe

Duncan, UK
Nato expansion is just an excuse to pillage what little military resources these countries have. Between all these new members all they can contribute is a few airbases and a mountain combat unit. What these members do have to do is spend a larger proportion of their budget buying US weapons. Nato expansion just means expanding US control to include all of Europe. Nato is unnecessary in the 21st century, we have the UN - free of all the polarised alliances of the cold war days.
Duncan, UK

Speaking of Canada's role from the perspective of the US we have a classic example of the free rider scenario. Canada's only protection comes from the fact that the US is its southern neighbour. Without the US and the Nato treaty, Canada would fail as an economy and would probably be invaded by Iceland or perhaps Luxembourg. To those from Canada - wake up and realise that you are insignificant in the grand scheme of world affairs.
Brandon, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Nato should serve to unify, rather than divide

Chris Thompson, Baltimore, MD, USA
While I'm not sure who the enemy is that necessitates Nato, I do realise its political influence and unifying power. While there might not be a direct threat to Europe at this point, the countries in Nato are our traditional allies, and the need for a military alliance may again arise. In the mean time, Nato should serve to unify, rather than divide, countries with common interests.
Chris Thompson, Baltimore, MD, USA

Even though the recent NATO enlargement has only generated a cool reception in the US, it should be treated as an event with deep historical impact. The countries in Central and Eastern Europe now have military guarantees for their political independence as well as protection from Russia's latent threat. In return the Alliance benefits from a significant geostrategical improvement (two countries - Romania and Bulgaria - are placed on the shore of the Black Sea, at the gates of Asia Minor).
Mihai Pohontu, Los Angeles, USA

The European Union should begin to design their own cooperative military.

Mike McCarthy, Duxbury, US
I agree that the US should begin to reduce the total manpower in Europe. I think its safe to say that there is no threat of conventional warfare breaking out anywhere on the continent of Europe. With the expansion of the European Union, the European Union should begin to design their own cooperative military. France and Germany are already formulating a fast response Dogma. Maybe the incoming members of NATO should also be included in that Fast response strategising. It's time for the US to move beyond the Marshall Plan and reduce our forces in Europe.
Mike McCarthy, Duxbury, United States

I am tired of reading posting condemning American troops in Europe! If your own militaries weren't so inept, we wouldn't have to be there! May I also draw attention to the fact that the only reason American troops are still in Europe is because your own governments want them to be! Most Americans do not want to have any military entanglements with countries that do not appreciate our help.
Dave, USA

So Dave in the USA - the European military is inept.That's good,coming from a country that on a regular basis has accidents against its own and allied troops in so called "friendly fire",as well as other great bungles (Tehran hostages?). I think the British military,along with its neighbours, is quite capable of providing a strong military force to guard the people of Europe.

To my fellow Americans who think we should not be in NATO, it is obvious that the lessons of September 11 have already vanished. Our allies can provide valuable support and intelligence to our military. It is arrogance and overconfidence that makes us think that we can get nothing from an European alliance. We Americans need to get rid of this self-righteous belief and be more receptive to other ideas lest we lose all our allies. If history has told us anything it is that all empires fall. When the United States falls I sure hope we have some allies to look out for us the way we looked out for them.
Brian Felts, Colorado Springs, CO. USA

NATO expansion will be a boon for Europe. It will give NATO a chance to draw from more nations for their peace-keeping, nation-building, and general security. NATO is no more a relic than the UN is a relic. It still serves a purpose as a starting point from which all the nations in Europe and North America can train together and exchange their ideas. It also serves as a initial entry force to stabilize a region prior to the introduction of other groups.
Charles Berlemann, Norfolk, VA USA

NATO protected peace throughout my growing up and I hope that it continues to expand

Tim Crowther, UK
I am often struck by the dismal cynicism of so many people who write to Talking Point. They seem to see plots, hidden agendas and conspiracy everywhere. They must lead frightened paranoid lives. The accession to NATO of new eastern states is an entirely normal and proper development. It contributes to their stability and security in their region and shows progress towards normalised relationships between nations.

NATO protected peace throughout my growing up and I hope that it continues to expand and indeed to deal with totalitarianism and oppression where necessary to extend the freedom it protects to those who do not have it. I can only hope that once the Bosnians, the Iraqis, the Serbs and the North Koreans enjoy the same liberties as we do they do not become so jaundiced as some of us have become.
Tim Crowther, Heckmondwike, UK

Reading some of these comments makes me feel like a citizen of a powerful nation, which I know Russia is not. It's flattering. However, it's insulting to see that so many people still perceive us as empire-minded maniacs. But such thinking is simplistic, I'd say infantile. If we had the will, we would have been an empire now: powerful totalitarian states can be built in any economic situation.
Andrej Kovalev, Russia

Since Nato was only created to defend Europe against the threat of the Soviet Union, I don't find it's existence necessary anymore. With the European construction under way, we don't need American soldiers inside our borders anymore, defending us against non existing threats. Europe will soon be able to defend itself, so the American forces still stationed on our land should all be expelled, since they threaten the sovereignty and independence of Europe.
Matthew Vanderberg, Frankfurt, Germany

The territorial expansion of NATO is the crux of the matter.

Justas Bugnevicius, Lithuania
Obviously, the new countries will not contribute much quantitatively - they are too small to make any impact in a size of armies. The territorial expansion of NATO is the crux of the matter. Looking at the map is clear that NATO is coming closer and closer towards main "hot points" in Europe: Russia and the Balkans. On one hand, it can create stability in these regions, because nobody would risk to get into conflicts while such a powerful force as NATO is near enough to tamper any unrest. On the other hand, the expansion can polarize and antagonize NATO and Russia or electrify the atmosphere in the Balkans. Let's hope the first scenario will prevail.
Justas Bugnevicius, Lithuania

These countries will add little to this organisation. The real way forward should be a greatly enhanced UN, with rather more than the current "five" as main security council members. The situation where the UK and USA are expected to be the World's bouncers is not good. But those who always condemn should remember that it always falls to the lot of these nations to be the police.
Chris Arnold, UK

To the Americans above who say America should pull out of European commitments: begone then. Try to fight your war in Iraq without the airbases in Turkey, logistics support from Cyprus, RAF support from German bases, RAF Fairford where B-52's operate from and the UK bases in the region. Just because other countries don't contribute fancy expensive technology, don't forget that you need their facilities to fight your enemies. And whilst we 'fend for ourselves' also remind yourself how many US troops are helping rebuild Afghanistan after heavy fighting in which they participated. I would suggest the US has more to lose than gain by leaving NATO.
Nick, UK

America should withdraw from NATO

Rich, Dallas, USA
America should withdraw from NATO and let European nations build up their armed forces to the point where they can actually defend themselves for a change. European citizens who fear growing American influence in the world will surely agree, although their governments will surely not.
Rich, Dallas, TX, USA

The role of NATO today as organization is meaningless. Expanding for what? The world today is entering into new age - people are fighting for peace and democracy. The cold war is over. With that the role of NATO is over. The only organization which should have strong army protecting the world peace should be the UN and all decisions should be passed by the security council.
Vojo Mihajloski, New York, USA

I want to congratulate everyone that feels as happy as me that Europe is becoming more united than ever before. The new members will contribute to the alliance's strength, influence, and stability of Europe. The latter is NATO's role in the first place. As far as the question of Iraq, NATO's role would be minimal, as it has been in other conflicts outside of Europe.
Ivan, Sofia, Bulgaria

As the cold war ended over 10 years ago, I do not see a need or a proper justification for the continuing existence of NATO or it's expansion for that matter. NATO has become obsolete and therefore the US is trying to justify its existence by changing it from a defensive alliance into a more aggressive alliance ready to start a war instead of trying to hinder a war. We Europeans should wake up and realise that the best hope for peace on the continent lies not within NATO but within the EU. NATO should therefore be disbanded and replaced by an EU force aimed at keeping the peace within our (Europes) borders.
Peter, Munich, Germany

Can anyone give me an example when Russia attacked a European state or the US? I can give you dozens of examples when Russia was attacked from the West (including American intervention in 1918-1920). So, if you want to sleep well, simply don't touch us, please. Napoleon and Hitler were among the great warriors who forgot this.
Slava, Russia

Given that these countries are near Russia and Serbia, America can once again attempt to dictate regional matters

Peter Mihaijlovic, UK
This action seems just another act in modern day American imperialism. What America seeks is not the participation of the armies involved (as they are severely limited) but the unrestricted use of air space and military bases in respective regions. Given that these countries are near Russia and Serbia, America can once again attempt to dictate regional matters. This policy of encroachment via the back door of Nato membership is shameless and yet another example of the self righteousness of the US government.
Peter Mihaijlovic, UK

The new members will remind the old what the threat is: Revisionist Russia. Nato's role in the 21st century is exactly the same as in the 20th: Russian containment.
G Reinis, Lafayette, CA, USA

G Reinis, Lafayette: You must be kidding! Haven't you noticed that Russia is our best buddy now? While in the past we strongly condemned Russia for its brutal occupation of Chechnya, now we strongly condemn Chechens for their fight for independence. What makes you think that we would antagonise Putin just to protect countries the size of Rhode Island? Russia is now a Nato Partner, not its enemy.

G Reinis seems hugely misinformed. Russia is now a member of Nato. This is an amazing development that has been overlooked by many. I think having one big alliance is better that many small ones. It was "entangling alliances" that led to WWI, world cooperation therefore seems the correct route.
Nick, London, UK

I agree completely with G Reinis. If you put trust in Russia now, you will pay for it 10, 15 years down the road. You have to understand that if Gorbachev had the political determination, there would be a Soviet Union today. In fact, the largest political party in Russia since the break-up in 1991 is indeed the communist party. Russia sees the independence of former Soviet republics as an insult, and truly desires to once again annex these small, but strategic territories. As for Russia's buddying up, I think it is a simply delaying tactic to get Russia's economy back on its feet, and then we might see the re-emergence of the old Soviet Empire.
Matthew Paulson, Naperville, IL, USA

Nato is a Cold War fossil in that was created to contain the Soviet Union; however the ideal of having a set of staunch allies is far from outdated or obsolete. The problem is that several NATO countries originally included in the alliance have no bite to go with their bark. (Germany, France, to name a few). They're more likely to stand on a podium and gripe than take any decisive action to protect or stand behind the alliance.
Matt, Nebraska, US

We're entering a new era of international cooperation

Andrei Stanescu, Timisoara, Romania
This is a great thing, not just for Europe but for the rest of the world as well. Most of these countries have been isolated for much of their history. Their joining Nato may not make a huge difference in the military might of the alliance, but it surely is a symbol of the fact that we're entering a new era of international co-operation.
Andrei Stanescu, Timisoara, Romania

I'm with Andrei in Romania. Those of you in western Europe who babble on arrogantly with your armchair expertise, just how much do you even know about the countries that have joined the alliance? Do any of you speak their languages? Can you tell me a news item that happened in any of their countries today? They are part of your continent and yet you know nothing of them! The best thing about these countries joining Nato is that now maybe the "big three" (UK, Germany, France) will pay attention to them!
Jennifer, USA

I think that even the smallest member can contribute to Nato more than is thought by larger countries. As I understood it each country will have elite special forces with specific knowledge. These units are like different organs in the human body. If they each do the job they are supposed to do and are well connected then the body will live a long life with the capability of helping others. Yes, I think Nato has a future if it is well guided.
Petra, Slovenia

The American taxpayer should not be responsible for Europe's security any more

Keith Orrison, Austin, Texas, USA
Nato is a cold war relic. There are new dynamics which are in play as far as security is concerned. The US should sign a different treaty covering the UK, Canada and Russia and have the EU form a separate security agreement amongst themselves. With the exception of the UK the nations of Europe contribute nothing to the Nato alliance. The American taxpayer should not be responsible for Europe's security any more.
Keith Orrison, Austin, Texas, USA

The new members cannot honestly contribute much. You cannot compare the Western armies to those of Romania or Slovakia. The greatest contribution will be in the form of strategic location in the case of Romania and Bulgaria. I suppose the US is turning a blind eye to the fact that these countries are not up to standards, they need all the allies they can get now.
Alex, Toronto, Canada

The US will find that Central European countries are more willing to support its stance than Western European nations

Roman Lajciak, Bratislava, Slovakia
To Alex from Toronto, Canada: Slovakia's contribution to Nato will not be much smaller than Canada's. The Canadian army is in a state of disarray and falling apart - read your government's report on the matter. Slovakia can at least provide sappers and engineers - that is our traditional strength. In any case, the US will find that some of the Central European countries are more willing to support its stance than Western European nations.
Roman Lajciak, Bratislava, Slovakia

Never mind Nato expansion. I'm one of the growing number of Americans who feels the US should pull its armed forces out of Europe, leave Nato, and let the Europeans fend for themselves.
Jeff, USA

I agree with Jeff. We have to stick our noses in everywhere around the globe, wanted or not. Even our non-profit and private agencies are spread around the globe, giving endless advice, medical services, and so on. If a medical procedure can't be done, people are brought to the US to have it done, free of charge while US senior citizens can't afford their own medicine. Let's keep our opinions, our military and our money at home and the next time France needs to be liberated we won't feel compelled to give American lives to do it for them.
Donna, USA

When I visited Nato HQ in 1976 as part of my study for an MSc in Strategic Studies, I detected even then a loss of purpose and a fumbling for a new role. I see little point in Nato now and agree with US contributors that the EU should defend itself without any more US help. If France and Germany lack Britain's enthusiasm for being the USA's poodle in military affairs around the world, I for one cannot blame them.
Charles, UK

Nato is a Cold War fossil

J Brownson, Iowa City, USA
I agree with Americans who call for withdrawing from Nato, albeit for different reasons. The world is fed up with Pax Americana, as are many Americans. It served to stabilise nuclear conflict, yet undermined and destroyed much of the emerging post colonial world. Post Cold War geopolitics pits an Anglo-American alliance against the rest of the world, although with the UK as a junior partner to their rambunctious offspring. Europe no longer needs a USA that does not respect it. Nato is a Cold War fossil. We need an all European force built on the EU remnants of Nato. Let there be liaison with the US, as with China, Russia, and the rest of the world.
J Brownson, Iowa City, USA

Nato is already run and dominated by the US. They have already stated that they will not let their own troops be under any other countries' command. It is difficult to say what, if anything, Europe will get out of it, enlarged or not. But of course European countries will be the ones who will be asked to pay for what will be an expendable ground force for the US.
Shaun, Divonne, France

To Shaun of France. You seem to be angry about the U.S. domination of Nato You forget that the U.S. has been and will be the main supplier of forces to Nato missions. If you want to see French commanders in Nato then maybe France could be more than just a spectator in the international conflicts of today.
Adam, Tucson, USA

If Nato is all about Western self-aggrandisement then it's a huge waste of time

Amoroso, Cambridge, UK
What is this huge military body for? If they use it for peacemaking, peacekeeping, deposing dictators and humanitarian relief then it will be both a worthwhile and worthy institution. If it's all about Western self-aggrandisement then it's a huge waste of time, effort and taxpayers' money not to mention an immoral money spinning machine for weapons makers.
Amoroso, Cambridge, UK

I strongly believe that these countries will do nothing to contribute to the alliance since it's already known that the country with the last word is the USA.
Gabino, Panama

Of course we welcome countries (that qualify) under the banner of Nato. I must admit that I am more concerned about the massive disparity between the military in the US and in European member states. Yes the UK is more prepared than other European countries, but surely we need to redress this imbalance?
A Sutherland, Newcastle, England

Nato's role in the 21st century will be solely as a device for keeping the United States at least partially engaged in Europe. With the limited exceptions of France and Britain, Nato's members are no longer military powers of any consequence, and they no longer see themselves as having global responsibilities. As Europe unifies, its strategic interests will increasingly diverge from America's. Nato will merely serve to prevent such divergence from becoming an outright rupture. As for the US, Nato has become a convenience rather than a necessity.
James Geoffrey, Virginia, USA

We in the US could certainly use some new friends in Nato

Bill, San Diego, USA
The new countries, having recently escaped totalitarian oppression, will help to revitalise an alliance that seems to have forgotten that it was created to defend democracy and freedom. I believe the new entrants will be much more supportive of the war on terror and of taking a strong stand against outlaw regimes like Iraq. We in the US could certainly use some new friends in Nato given the recent dismal performance of our German and French "allies".
Bill, San Diego, USA

The organization was set up to defend North America and western Europe from militant Soviet communism. Once the threat from the Soviets vanished in 1989-91, the organization would've been scrapped had it not been for the ethnic wars in the former Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia and the global war on terror.The organization can serve a new purpose, but only if all of its members work together for that purpose.

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