- The Washington Times - Monday, November 9, 2009

The expansion of NATO and the European Union have brought benefits to former members of the Soviet bloc, but raised new questions about the missions of these institutions and their decision-making abilities.

Over the past decade, 12 former Soviet satellites have joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization first and then the European Union.

The expansion “for a long time left NATO without a very clear role,” said Giles Merritt, director of two Brussels-based organizations — the Security and Defense Agenda and Friends of Europe.

“Who was the enemy? What was the purpose of NATO, now that there was no Warsaw Pact and no great conventional conflict? Everybody was and remains very concerned about that,” he said.

NATO has tried to answer these questions by taking on the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, providing more than 40,000troops to augment 65,000 Americans. Next to the United States, the largest contributions have come from older members of the alliance, such as Britain, France, Germany, Canada and Italy. Of the newest NATO members, only Poland and Romania have significant troops deployed — 2,025 and 990, respectively, as of Oct. 1.

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NATO spokesman James Appathurai said the new members were making an important contribution in Afghanistan.

“You have to look at the size of their armed forces and remember that in most cases they had Soviet armed forces, which they’ve had to convert, at enormous cost, to the NATO standard at a period of financial difficulty,” he said. “Proportionally, most of them are contributing as much as the long-standing members.”

Mr. Appathurai denied that expansion has made decision-making more difficult, except in one area.

“Enlargement has made for a more complicated decision-making process in NATO with regard to Russia,” he said.

Andrew Wilson,a specialist on the former Soviet Union at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that while Old Europe “wants more out-of-theater operations … there is a preference among New Europe for more traditional forward defense, which is regarded as the main threat from Russia.”

NATO isre-evaluating relations with Russia. Mr. Merritt predicted that the alliance would seek to “mend all the fences with Russia and recognize that Russia’s security threats are almost the same as Europe’s: militant Islam, instability in Central Asia and the Middle East, and energy issues.”

These problems, he said, “can only really be resolved by NATO and Russia’s being on the same page and supporting each other. Iran’s nuclear enrichment is a prime example of that.”

However, several new members of NATO were annoyedby the Obama administration’s decision to scrap a missile-defense plan strongly opposed by Russia and heavily promoted by President George W. Bush.

“The Czech Republic and Poland had made political sacrifices to get the missile-defense shield through, and then it was snatched away from them,” Mr. Wilson said. “If they agreed with the geopolitics or not, it was egg on their face.”

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