Foreign Policy Briefing No. 45

Nato Expansion Flashpoint No. 2: The Border between Hungary and Serbia

Executive Summary

The decision to invite Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic to join NATO creates the prospect of U.S. involvement in an assortment of nasty ethnic disputes throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Although some advocates of NATO expansion are motivated by a desire to discourage future Russian imperial ambitions, article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty obligates signatories to assist a fellow member that falls victim to aggression from any source. That obligation should trouble all Americans. One of the proposed new members, Hungary, has long-standing problems with three of its neighbors because of discrimination against ethnic Hungarians living in those countries. Tensions are especially acute between Hungary and Serbia over Belgrade’s continuing mistreatment of Hungarian citizens in Serbia’s province of Vojvodina.

If those tensions escalate, NATO could find itself entangled in an armed conflict between Hungary and Serbia. Such a struggle would have no relevance to important American interests, but the United States would be under intense pressure to assist its new ally lest the credibility of the security commitments being extended to the incoming NATO members be fatally undermined. The prospect of U.S. forces’ slipping into a Bosnia-style morass on the Hungarian-Serbian border is one reason among many that the U.S. Senate should refuse to ratify the proposal to expand NATO.

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Ted Galen Carpenter is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and the author of Beyond NATO: Staying Out of Europe’s Wars. Pavel Kislitsyn was a research assistant at the Cato Institute during 1997.