Original publication date
NATO has added new members six times since its founding in 1949. Three enlargements took place during the Cold War (Greece and Turkey in 1952; West Germany in 1955 and Spain in 1982) and three after the Cold War ended (Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined in 1999, amid much debate within the organisation and Russian opposition; seven Central and Eastern European countries: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania joined in 2004 after membership talks were initiated during the 2002 Prague summit; and Albania and Croatia joined in 2009).
Future NATO membership is a topic of debate in many countries. Cyprus and Macedonia are prevented from accession by, respectively, Turkey and Greece, pending the resolution of disputes between them. Other countries which have a stated goal of eventually joining include Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Georgia. The incorporation of former Warsaw Pact countries has been a cause of increased tension between NATO and Russia, culminating in the current crisis in Ukraine. Ukraine's relationship with NATO has been particularly divisive, and is part of a larger debate between Ukraine's political and cultural ties to both Europe and Russia.
In a recent fact sheet that “sets the record straight” on Russian attempts “to divert attention away from its aggression against Ukraine”, NATO refutes Russian claims that NATO promised not to enlarge."No such pledge was made, and no evidence to back up Russia’s claims has ever been produced", the alliance says.
Nonetheless, NATO enlargement remains a divisive issue across the political spectrum in both East and West. In this briefing paper, we review recent arguments that represent the two main camps: one that defends NATO's existing expansion policy and argues for further enlargement, subject to candidate countries satisfying the membership criteria; and the other that questions the value of enlargement and urges caution in any future application of NATO's 'open door' policy.
Further reading: on the appointment of former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg as the next NATO Secretary General, see A Dove Heads up Hawkish NATO, Ian Davis, Foreign Policy in Focus, 9 April 2014.