From the beginning, the administration has been reluctant to talk about the cost of expansion, for fear that its magnitude would torpedo the whole initiative. It took studies by the Congressional Budget Office and RAND as well as congressional prodding to force the administration to make its own (deeply flawed) effort at estimating costs. That estimate should have been based on a detailed list of the actual military requirements for the defense of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic; instead, it was largely based on choosing an amount Congress would find acceptable. Not surprisingly, the administration published scant details about the assumptions underlying its estimate, and Congress was justifiably skeptical about the administration’s lowball estimate of $27 to $35 billion.
Then France and Germany declared that they would not pay any of the additional costs of expansion. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Secretary of Defense William Cohen quickly realized that the allies’ refusal to accept an expansion with any significant costs would pose a greater threat to NATO expansion than congressional skepticism. To safeguard the administration’s most important foreign policy initiative, they scrambled to assert that the administration had overestimated the costs. They claimed — contrary to the conclusions of leaked NATO documents and experts inside and outside the U.S. government — that the three new member nations’ militaries and their supporting infrastructure were in better shape than expected, thus reducing the improvements needed and the associated costs.