But membership for two other countries, Croatia and Albania, did get a green light. A third Balkan country, Macedonia, would have received an invitation if it had not been for an unresolved esoteric dispute with Greece about using the name “Macedonia” — which Athens claims belongs exclusively to a region in Greece.
The addition of Croatia and Albania is a textbook example of what has been wrong with Washington’s NATO policy since the end of the cold war. Those two nations will do nothing to augment the vast military power of the United States or enhance the security of the American people. All they will do is create another set of potential headaches for Washington.
NATO was once a serious alliance with a serious purpose. Throughout the cold war, it was the mechanism that prevented the Soviet Union from intimidating or (less likely) attacking democratic Western Europe — a region of considerable strategic and economic importance. True, the United States was always the dominant player in the alliance, but Washington could count on credible secondary military powers, most notably Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Turkey. NATO may not have been the ideal instrument for protecting and promoting U.S. interests, since it did allow the European allies to underinvest in defense and sometimes free‐ride on the U.S. defense guarantee, but the alliance at least arguably served America’s security.
But the new members that the alliance has admitted since the end of the cold war are little more than weak client states that expect the United States to defend them. That was largely true even of the first round of expansion that added Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. It was more evident in the second round that embraced such military powerhouses as Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Such “allies” are security consumers, not security producers. From the standpoint of American interests they are not assets, they are liabilities — and potentially very dangerous liabilities.
Taking on the obligation to defend the Baltic countries was especially unwise, because Washington now poses a direct geopolitical challenge to Russia right on Moscow’s doorstep. Relations between Russia and its small Baltic neighbors are testy, to put it mildly. At the moment, Russia may be too weak to challenge the U.S./NATO security commitment to those countries, but we cannot be certain that will always be true. One only wishes that the European powers who blocked the U.S. drive to add Georgia and Ukraine to NATO had shown the same wisdom and caution when Washington pushed membership for the Baltic states.