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Enlargement of NATO

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An animation showing the year and location of counties as they joined the alliance.
Map of NATO countries' chronological membership

Enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is the process of including new member states in NATO. NATO is a military alliance of twenty-eight European and two North American countries that constitutes a system of collective defense. The process of joining the alliance is governed by Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which allows only for the invitation of "other European States", and by subsequent agreements. Countries wishing to join have to meet certain requirements and complete a multi-step process involving political dialogue and military integration. The accession process is overseen by the North Atlantic Council, NATO's governing body.

After its formation in 1949 with twelve founding members, NATO grew by including Greece and Turkey in 1952 and West Germany in 1955, and then later Spain in 1982. After the Cold War ended, and Germany reunited in 1990, there was a debate in NATO about continued expansion eastward. In 1999, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined NATO, amid much debate within the organization and Russian opposition. Another expansion came with the accession of seven Central and Eastern European countries: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. These nations were first invited to start talks of membership during the 2002 Prague summit, and joined NATO shortly before the 2004 Istanbul summit. Albania and Croatia joined on 1 April 2009, prior to the 2009 Strasbourg–Kehl summit. The most recent member states to be added to NATO are Montenegro on 5 June 2017 and North Macedonia on 27 March 2020.

As of 2021, NATO officially recognizes three aspiring members: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, and Ukraine.[1] Future expansion is currently a topic of debate in several countries outside the alliance, and countries like Sweden, Finland, and Serbia have open political debate on the topic of membership, while in countries like Ukraine, support and opposition to membership is tied to ethnic and nationalist ideologies. The incorporation of countries formerly part of the Eastern Bloc and the Soviet Union has been a cause of increased tension between NATO countries and Russia.

Past enlargements[]

Four men stand behind podiums with their country names of France, Germany, United Kingdom, and United States, in front of a backdrop of the Eiffel Tower.
Negotiations in London and Paris in 1954 ended the allied occupation of West Germany and allowed for its rearmament as a NATO member.

NATO has added new members eight times since its founding in 1949 to include thirty members. Twelve countries were part of the founding of NATO: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The early years of the Cold War saw a stark divide between Capitalist states, backed by United States, and Communist satellite states of the Soviet Union. This divide eased inclusion of Portugal under Antonio Salazar in NATO and encouraged the anti-Communist governments of Greece and Turkey to join NATO in 1952. Greece would suspend its membership in 1974, over the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, but rejoined in 1980 with Turkey's cooperation.[2]

The Bonn–Paris conventions ended the allies' occupation of West Germany, and were ratified in part on the condition that West Germany join NATO, which it did in 1955.[3] Though initially isolationist, Spain under Francisco Franco was staunchly anti-Communist, and bound by regular defence agreements with NATO countries.[4] After its transition to democracy, Spain came under pressure to normalize its European relations, including joining NATO, which it did in 1982. A referendum in 1986 confirmed popular support for this.[5]

German reunification[]

The first post-Cold War expansion of NATO came with German reunification on 3 October 1990, when the former East Germany became part of the Federal Republic of Germany and the alliance. This had been agreed in the Two Plus Four Treaty earlier in the year. To secure Soviet approval of a united Germany remaining in NATO, it was agreed that foreign troops and nuclear weapons would not be stationed in the former East Germany.[6] Though the topic may have been raised during the treaty's negotiations, there is no mention of NATO enlargement in the September–October 1990 agreements on German reunification.[7] Whether or not the West informally committed to not enlarge NATO to the East is a matter of dispute among historians and international relations scholars.[8][9] In a 2007 speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin distorted a quote from Manfred Wörner to create an impression that such promises were made,[10] and this impression was raised again as a potential justification for Russia's 2014 actions in Ukraine.[11][12]

Russian reaction to possible NATO expansion during the early 1990s was however mixed. During an August 1993 visit to Poland, Russian President Boris Yeltsin told Polish President Lech Wałęsa that "Russia does not oppose Poland's membership in NATO and does not perceive its membership in NATO as a threat to Russia." Under pressure from opposition in Russia, however, this informal declaration was retracted the following month.[13] Russian military actions, including the First Chechen War, Transnistria War, and War in Abkhazia, were among the factors driving Central and Eastern European countries, particularly those with memories of similar Soviet offensives, to push for NATO enlargement.[14][15] Political parties reluctant to move on NATO membership were voted out of office, including the Bulgarian Socialist Party in 1996 and Slovak HZDS in 1998.[16] Hungary's interest in joining was confirmed by a November 1997 referendum that returned 85.3% in favor of membership.[17]

Visegrád Group[]

A long red table makes a pentagon around a blue floor with the NATO compass logo, while many rows of people in suits sit on all sides.
NATO added the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland at the 1999 Washington summit, and established the protocol for Membership Action Plans.

In February 1991, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia formed the Visegrád Group to push for European integration under the European Union and NATO, as well as to conduct military reforms in line with NATO standards. Internal NATO reaction to these former Warsaw Pact countries was initially negative, but by the 1991 Rome summit in November, members agreed to a series of goals that could lead to accession, such as market and democratic liberalization, and that NATO should be a partner in these efforts. In subsequent years, wider forums for regional cooperation between NATO and its eastern neighbors were set up, including the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (later the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council) and the Partnership for Peace.[18]

While the other Visegrád members were invited to join NATO at its 1997 Madrid summit, Slovakia was excluded based on what several members considered undemocratic actions by nationalist Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar.[19] Romania and Slovenia were both considered for invitation in 1997, and each had the backing of a prominent NATO member, France and Italy respectively, but support for enlargement was not unanimous, particularly in the US Congress.[20] In an open letter to US President Bill Clinton, more than forty foreign policy experts including Bill Bradley, Sam Nunn, Gary Hart, Paul Nitze, and Robert McNamara expressed their concerns about NATO expansion as both expensive and unnecessary given the lack of an external threat from Russia at that time.[21]

Vilnius Group[]

US President George W. Bush at the NATO Accession Ceremony for Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

Shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the George H.W. Bush administration (1989-1993) began to debate internally whether enlargement of NATO was feasible and desirable.[22] By mid-1992, a consensus emerged within the administration that NATO enlargement was a wise realpolitik measure to strengthen American hegemony.[22][23] In the absence of NATO enlargement, Bush administration officials worried that the European Union might fill the security vacuum in Eastern Europe, and thus challenge American post-Cold War influence.[22] There was an active debate within the Clinton administration (1993-2001) between a rapid offer of full membership to several select countries verses a slower, more limited membership to a wide range of states over a longer time span. Victory by the Republican Party, who advocated for aggressive expansion, in the 1994 US congressional election helped sway US policy in favor of wider full-membership enlargement.[24]

At the 1999 Washington summit, where Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic officially joined, NATO also issued new guidelines for membership with individualized "Membership Action Plans" for Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.[25] In May 2000, these countries joined with Croatia to form the Vilnius Group in order to cooperate and lobby for common NATO membership, and by the 2002 Prague summit seven were invited for membership, which took place at the 2004 Istanbul summit.[26] Russia was particularly upset with the addition of the three Baltic states, the first countries that were part of the Soviet Union to join NATO.[27][26] Slovenia had held a referendum on NATO the previous year, with 66% approving of membership.[28] A 2006 study in the journal Security Studies argued that the NATO enlargements in 1999 and 2004 contributed to democratic consolidation in Central and Eastern Europe.[29]

Adriatic Charter[]

Croatia also started a Membership Action Plan at the 2002 summit, leading to a national debate on whether a referendum on NATO membership needed to be held there. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader ultimately agreed in January 2008, as part of forming a coalition government with the HSS and HSLS parties, not to officially propose one.[30] Montenegro declared independence on 3 June 2006, and the new country subsequently joined the Partnership for Peace programme at the 2006 Riga summit. Albania and Croatia were invited to join NATO at the 2008 Bucharest summit that April, though Slovenia threatened to hold up Croatian membership over their border dispute in the Bay of Piran.[31] Slovenia did ratify Croatia's accession protocol in February 2009,[32] and Croatia and Albania both officially joined NATO just prior to the 2009 Strasbourg–Kehl summit, with little opposition from Russia.[33]

Montenegro applied for a Membership Action Plan on 5 November 2008,[34] which was granted in December 2009.[35] Montenegro also began full membership with the Adriatic Charter of NATO aspirants in May 2009.[36][37] NATO formally invited Montenegro to join the alliance on 2 December 2015,[38] with negotiations concluding in May 2016,[39] and Montenegro joined NATO on 5 June 2017.[40]

Two adult white men in dark suits signing documents on an outdoor table in front of two other men similarly dressed and two flags.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev supported the 2018 Prespa Agreement, which allowed North Macedonia to complete accession to NATO.

North Macedonia joined the Partnership for Peace in 1995, and commenced its Membership Action Plan in 1999, at the same time as Albania. At the 2008 Bucharest summit, Greece blocked a proposed invitation because it believed that its neighbor's constitutional name implies territorial aspirations toward its own region of Greek Macedonia. NATO nations agreed that the country would receive an invitation upon resolution of the Macedonia naming dispute.[41] Macedonia sued Greece at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over their veto of Macedonia's NATO membership. Macedonia was part of the Vilnius Group, and had formed the Adriatic Charter with Croatia and Albania in 2003 to better coordinate NATO accession.[42]

In June 2017, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev signaled he would consider alternatives names for the country in order to strike a compromise with Greece, settle the naming dispute, and lift Greek objections to Macedonia joining the alliance. The naming dispute was resolved with the Prespa Agreement in June 2018 under which the country adopted the name North Macedonia, which was supported by a referendum in September 2018. NATO invited North Macedonia to begin membership talks on 11 July 2018,[43] and formal accession talks began on 18 October 2018.[44] NATO's members signed North Macedonia's accession protocol on 6 February 2019,[45] and most countries ratified the accession treaty in 2019, with Spain ratifying its accession protocol in March 2020.[46] The Sobranie also ratified the treaty unanimously on 11 February 2020,[47] and North Macedonia became a NATO member state on 27 March 2020.[48][49]

Date Country Enlargement A map of Europe with eight colors that refer to the year different countries joined the alliance.
18 February 1952  Greece First
9 May 1955  Germany Second
30 May 1982  Spain Third
3 October 1990 German reunification
12 March 1999  Czech Republic Fourth
29 March 2004  Bulgaria Fifth
1 April 2009  Albania Sixth
5 June 2017  Montenegro Seventh
27 March 2020  North Macedonia Eighth

Criteria and process[]

Article 10[]

The North Atlantic Treaty is the basis of the organization, and, as such, any changes including new membership requires ratification by all current signers of the treaty. The treaty's Article 10 describes how non-member states may join NATO, and outlines NATO's "open door" policy:

The Parties may by unanimous agreement, invite any other European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to this Treaty. Any State so invited may become a Party to the Treaty by depositing its instrument of accession with the Government of the United States of America. The Government of the United States of America will inform each of the Parties of the deposit of each such instrument of accession.[50]

This article poses two general limits to non-member states. First, only European states are eligible for new membership, and second, these states not only need the approval of all the existing member states, but every member state can put some criteria forward that have to be attained. In practice, NATO formulates a common set of criteria, but for instance Greece blocked the Republic of Macedonia's accession to NATO for many years due to the disagreement over the use of the name Macedonia. Turkey similarly opposes the participation of the Republic of Cyprus with NATO institutions as long as the Cyprus dispute is not resolved.[51]

Since the 1991 Rome summit, when the delegations of its member states officially offered cooperation with Europe's newly democratic states, NATO has addressed and further defined the expectations and procedure for adding new members. The 1994 Brussels Declaration reaffirmed the principles in Article 10 and led to the "Study on NATO Enlargement". Published in September 1995, the study outlined the "how and why" of possible enlargement in Europe,[52] highlighting three principles from the 1949 treaty for members to have: "democracy, individual liberty, and rule of law".[53]

As NATO Secretary General Willy Claes noted, the 1995 study did not specify the "who or when,"[54] though it discussed how the then newly formed Partnership for Peace and North Atlantic Cooperation Council could assist in the enlargement process,[55] and noted that on-going territorial disputes could be an issue for whether a country was invited.[56] At the 1997 Madrid summit, the heads of state of NATO issued the "Madrid Declaration on Euro-Atlantic Security and Cooperation" which invited three Eastern European countries to join the alliance, out of the twelve that had at that point requested to join, laying out a path for others to follow.[52]

Membership Action Plan[]

The biggest step in the formalization of the process for inviting new members came at the 1999 Washington summit when the Membership Action Plan (MAP) mechanism was approved as a stage for the current members to regularly review the formal applications of aspiring members. A country's participation in MAP entails the annual presentation of reports concerning its progress on five different measures:[57]

  • Willingness to settle international, ethnic or external territorial disputes by peaceful means, commitment to the rule of law and human rights, and democratic control of armed forces
  • Ability to contribute to the organization's defence and missions
  • Devotion of sufficient resources to armed forces to be able to meet the commitments of membership
  • Security of sensitive information, and safeguards ensuring it
  • Compatibility of domestic legislation with NATO cooperation

NATO provides feedback as well as technical advice to each country and evaluates its progress on an individual basis.[58] Once a country is agreed to meet the requirements, NATO can issue that country an invitation to begin accession talks.[59] Currently, one country has a Membership Action Plan: Bosnia and Herzegovina,[60] but Georgia and Ukraine also want a MAP. Former MAP participants were Albania and Croatia between May 2002 and April 2009, Montenegro between December 2009 and June 2017 and North Macedonia between April 1999 and March 2020, when they joined NATO. The final accession process, once invited, involves five steps leading up to the signing of the accession protocols and the acceptance and ratification of those protocols by the governments of the current NATO members.[61]

Intensified Dialogue[]

Intensified Dialogue was first introduced in April 2005 at an informal meeting of foreign ministers in Vilnius, Lithuania, as a response to Ukrainian aspirations for NATO membership and related reforms taking place under President Viktor Yushchenko, and which followed the 2002 signing of the NATO–Ukraine Action Plan under his predecessor, Leonid Kuchma.[58] This formula, which includes discussion of a "full range of political, military, financial and security issues relating to possible NATO membership ... had its roots in the 1997 Madrid summit", where the participants had agreed "to continue the Alliance's intensified dialogues with those nations that aspire to NATO membership or that otherwise wish to pursue a dialogue with NATO on membership questions".[62]

In September 2006, Georgia became the second to be offered the Intensified Dialogue status, following a rapid change in foreign policy under President Mikhail Saakashvili,[63] and what they perceived as a demonstration of military readiness during the 2006 Kodori crisis.[64] Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia similarly received offers at the April 2008 Bucharest summit.[65] While their neighbors both requested and accepted the dialogue programme, Serbia's offer was presented to guarantee the possibility of future ties with the alliance.[66]

Current status[]

A map of Europe with countries in six different colors based on their affiliation with NATO.
Map of NATO in Europe
note that Membership Action Plan and Intensified Dialogue countries are also Partnership for Peace members

Bosnia and Herzegovina is the only country with a Membership Action Plan, which together with Georgia, were named NATO "aspirant countries" at the North Atlantic Council meeting on 7 December 2011.[67] Ukraine was recognized as an aspirant country after the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.

NATO Aspirant Countries
Country[68] Partnership for Peace[69] Individual Partnership Action Plan[70] Intensified Dialogue Membership Action Plan[60]
 Bosnia and Herzegovina 2006–12 December 2006 2008-01 September 2008[71] 2008-04 April 2008[72] 2010-04 December 2018[73][Note 1]
 Georgia 1994-03 March 1994 2004–10 October 2004 2006–09 September 2006[75]
 Ukraine 1994-02 February 1994 2002-11 [Note 2] 2005-04 April 2005[77]
  1. ^ Originally invited to join the MAP in April 2010 under the condition that no Annual National Programme would be launched until one of the conditions for the OHR closure – the transfer of control of immovable defence property to the central Bosnian authorities from the two regional political entities – was fulfilled.[74] Condition waived in 2018.
  2. ^ NATO–Ukraine Action Plan adopted on 22 November 2002.[76]

Bosnia and Herzegovina[]

A green tank with white letters spelling "IFOR" drives on a paved road lined with trees.
NATO-led Romanian IFOR peacekeepers patrolled Bosnia and Herzegovina under Operation Joint Endeavour.

The 1995 NATO bombing of Bosnia and Herzegovina targeted the Bosnian Serb Army and together with international pressure led to the resolution of the Bosnian War and the signing of the Dayton Agreement in 1995. Since then, NATO has led the Implementation Force and Stabilization Force, and other peacekeeping efforts in the country. Bosnia and Herzegovina joined the Partnership for Peace in 2006, and signed an agreement on security cooperation in March 2007.[78]

Bosnia and Herzegovina began further cooperation with NATO within their Individual Partnership Action Plan in January 2008.[71] The country then started the process of Intensified Dialogue at the 2008 Bucharest summit.[72] The country was invited to join the Adriatic Charter of NATO aspirants in September 2008.[79]

The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina within Bosnia and Herzegovina has expressed willingness to join NATO, however, it faces consistent political pressure from Republika Srpska, the other political entity in the country, alongside its partners in Russia. On 2 October 2009, Haris Silajdžić, the Bosniak Member of the Presidency, announced official application for Membership Action Plan. On 22 April 2010, NATO agreed to launch the Membership Action Plan for Bosnia and Herzegovina, but with certain conditions attached.[74] Turkey is thought to be the biggest supporter of Bosnian membership, and heavily influenced the decision.[80]

The conditions of the MAP, however, stipulated that no Annual National Programme could be launched until 63 military facilities are transferred from Bosnia's political divisions to the central government, which is one of the conditions for the OHR closure.[81][82] The leadership of the Republika Srpska has opposed this transfer as a loss of autonomy.[83] All movable property, including all weapons and other army equipment, is fully registered as the property of the country starting 1 January 2006.[84] A ruling of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 6 August 2017 decided that a disputed military facility in Han Pijesak is to be registered as property of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is expected to be a precedent for all other similar facilities, and could thus be the final factor that will enable the activation of the MAP for Bosnia.[85] Despite that all immovable property is not fully registered, NATO approved the activation of the Membership Action Plan for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and called on Bosnia to submit an Annual National Program on 5 December 2018.[86]

An August 2010 poll showed that 70 percent of the country supports NATO membership, but results were very different in the two constituent entities. While 90 percent of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina supported NATO membership, only 40 percent in Republika Srpska did.[87]

Bosnian chances of joining NATO may depend on Serbia's attitude towards the alliance, since the leadership of Republika Srpska might be reluctant to go against Serbian interests.[88] In October 2017, the National Assembly of the Republika Srpska passed a nonbinding resolution opposing NATO membership for Bosnia and Herzegovina.[89]


A blue poster at a bus stop with the NATO logo and the words "OUR FOREIGN POLICY PRIORITY IS THE INTEGRATION INTO NATO" in white.
An August 2009 sign in downtown Tbilisi promoting eventual integration with NATO

Georgia moved quickly following the Rose Revolution in 2003 to seek closer ties with NATO. Georgia's northern neighbor, Russia, opposed the closer ties, including those expressed at the 2008 Bucharest summit where NATO members promised that Georgia would eventually join the organization.[90]

Complications in the relationship between NATO and Georgia includes the presence of Russian military forces in internationally recognized Georgian territory as a result of multiple recent conflicts, like the 2008 Russo-Georgian War over the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which are home to a large number of citizens of the Russian Federation. On 21 November 2011, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev while addressing soldiers in Vladikavkaz near the Georgian border stated that Russia's 2008 invasion had prevented any further NATO enlargement into the former Soviet sphere.[90]

A nonbinding referendum in 2008 resulted in 77 percent of voters supporting NATO accession.[91] In May 2013, Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili stated that his goal was to get a Membership Action Plan (MAP) for his country from NATO in 2014.[92] In June 2014, diplomats from NATO suggested that while a MAP was unlikely, a package of "reinforced cooperation" agreements was a possible compromise.[93] Anders Fogh Rasmussen confirmed that this could include the building of military capabilities and armed forces training.[94]

In September 2019, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that "NATO approaching our borders is a threat to Russia."[95] He was quoted as saying that if NATO accepts Georgian membership with the article on collective defense covering only Tbilisi-administered territory (i.e., excluding the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which are currently an unrecognized breakaway republics supported by Russia), "we will not start a war, but such conduct will undermine our relations with NATO and with countries who are eager to enter the alliance."[96]

On 29 September 2020, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on Georgia to use every opportunity to move closer to the Alliance and speed up preparations for membership. Stoltenberg stressed that earlier this year, the Allies agreed to further strengthen the NATO-Georgia partnership. According to him, NATO welcomes the progress made by Georgia in carrying out reforms, modernizing its armed forces and strengthening democracy. It is worth noting that so far Georgia's calls for membership in such formulations have not appeared in the rhetoric of the Secretary General of the Alliance. At the same time, NATO recognizes Georgia's aspirations for membership in the Alliance, as in the case of Ukraine.[97]


Two men in suits sit talking around a low wooden table.
As president, Viktor Yanukovych pursued closer relations with Russia.

Ukraine's present and future relationship with NATO has been politically divisive, and is part of a larger debate between Ukraine's political and cultural ties to both the European Union and Russia. It established ties to the alliance with a NATO–Ukraine Action Plan on 22 November 2002,[76][98] and joined NATO's Partnership for Peace initiative in February 2005.[99] Then in April 2005, Ukraine entered into the Intensified Dialogue programme with NATO.[100]

In March 2008, under Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine sent an official letter of application for a Membership Action Plan (MAP), the first step in joining NATO. These leaders however guaranteed their opposition that membership in any military alliance would not pass without public approval in a referendum.[101] This idea had gained support from a number of NATO leaders, particularly those in Central and Eastern Europe.[102] Russian leaders like Prime Minister and President-Elect Dmitry Medvedev made clear their opposition to Ukraine membership, and leading up to the April 2008 Bucharest summit their emissary actively lobbied against a Ukrainian MAP. After some debate among members at the summit, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer declared in a press conference that Ukraine, together with Georgia, would someday join NATO, but neither would begin Membership Action Plans.[103] At this summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his last international speech before switching jobs with Medvedev, listed his grievances with NATO, and called Ukrainian membership "a direct threat" to his country.[104]

Dozens of blue and yellow Ukrainian flags are held aloft in a wide crowd watching large screens on a square building.
The Euromaidan protests that led to Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the presidency attracted support from Western politicians.

The 2010 election returned Viktor Yanukovych to the presidency and marked a turnaround in Ukraine's relations with NATO. In February 2010, he stated that Ukraine's relations with NATO were currently "well-defined", and that there was "no question of Ukraine joining NATO". He said the issue of Ukrainian membership of NATO might "emerge at some point, but we will not see it in the immediate future".[105] While visiting Brussels in March 2010, he further stated that there would be no change to Ukraine's status as a member of the alliance's outreach programme.[106] He later reiterated during a trip to Moscow that Ukraine would remain a "European, non-aligned state".[107][108] Then, on 3 June 2010 the Ukrainian parliament voted to exclude the goal of "integration into Euro-Atlantic security and NATO membership" from the country's national security strategy in a bill drafted by Yanukovych himself.[109] The bill forbade Ukraine's membership in any military bloc, but allowed for co-operation with alliances such as NATO.[110]

A group of men and women is Western business attire sit around a circular table with a blue tablecloth.
Petro Poroshenko was elected as President of Ukraine in 2014, and met with NATO leaders prior to the Wales summit about relations with the alliance.

Following months of Euromaidan street protests that began because of his refusal to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union in favor of deals from Russia, President Yanukovych fled Kyiv in February 2014, ultimately to Russia, and parliament voted to remove him from his post. This brought another change in direction of Ukraine's association with Europe and by extension NATO. In 2014, pro-Russian unrest occurred in eastern Ukraine and Crimea was annexed by the Russian Federation in March. As part of an effort to assuage concerned groups, newly installed Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk addressed the topic in a speech on 18 March 2014, emphasizing that Ukraine was not seeking NATO membership.[111] US President Barack Obama echoed this position the following week, while calling for greater NATO presence in Eastern Europe.[112]

However, in response to the Russian military intervention in Ukraine,[113] Yatsenyuk announced his intentions to resume the bid for NATO integration on 29 August 2014,[114] and in December 2014, Ukraine's parliament voted to drop the non-aligned status that it adopted in 2010.[115] NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has stated that NATO membership is still an option for Ukraine,[116] and support for NATO membership has risen to 64 percent in government-controlled Ukraine according to a July 2015 poll.[117] Previous polls had shown that the decline in opposition to membership was linked to the ongoing Russian intervention.[118]

On 8 June 2017, Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada passed a law making integration with NATO a foreign policy priority,[119] and Poroshenko announced the next month that he would seek the opening of negotiations on a Membership Action Plan with NATO,[120] which, recognized Ukraine as an aspirant country by March 2018.[68] On 20 September 2018, the Ukrainian parliament approved amendments to the constitution that would make the accession of the country to NATO and the EU a central goal and the main foreign policy objective.[121]

On 8 October 2020, during a meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London, President Volodymyr Zelenskyi stated that Ukraine needs a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP), as NATO membership will contribute to Ukraine's security and defense.[122] In April 2021, following a Russian troop buildup near the Ukraine border, Zelenskyi repeated this request in a call with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, saying that “NATO is the only way to end the war in Donbas” and that entry into the MAP “will be a real signal for Russia”.[123]

Membership debates[]


A simple white fence with a red and yellow gate behind it set across a dirt path in a green forest.
The border between Finland and Russia is about 1,340 km (833 mi) long.[124]

Finland participates in nearly all sub-areas of the Partnership for Peace programme, and has provided peacekeeping forces to both the Afghanistan and Kosovo missions. The possibility of Finland's membership in NATO was one of the most important issues debated in relation to the Finnish presidential election of 2006, and continues to be a significant issue in Finnish politics.[125] In 2007, Finland made various technical preparations for membership, with the then Defence Minister Jyri Häkämies eager to pursue NATO membership.[126] Nevertheless, public interest in the issue has since decreased. In April 2014, while Carl Haglund was Defence Minister, the government announced that they would sign a "Memorandum of Understanding" with NATO on Finland's readiness to receive military assistance and to aid NATO in equipment maintenance. However, Haglund emphasized that this memorandum would not be a step towards membership.[127]

Out of the major Finnish political parties, the National Coalition Party and Swedish People's Party of Finland support NATO membership. In 2016, the party conference of the National Coalition Party agreed that Finland should apply for membership "in the next few years".[128] In the vision of the Swedish People's Party of Finland, Finland will be a NATO member in 2025.[129] Many individual politicians have advocated for NATO as well, including the current President Sauli Niinistö and former Prime Minister Alexander Stubb,[130] as well as former President Martti Ahtisaari,[125][131] who has argued that Finland should join all the organizations supported by other Western democracies in order "to shrug off once and for all the burden of Finlandization."[132] Two other former presidents from the Social Democratic Party, Tarja Halonen and Mauno Koivisto, have publicly opposed the idea, arguing that NATO membership would deteriorate Finland's relations with Russia.[133]

Finland has received some very critical feedback from Russia for even considering the possibility of joining NATO,[134] with a 2009 study suggesting this could have repercussions for Russia's relations with the EU and NATO as a whole.[135] Following the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen reiterated that Finland had no plans to join NATO, and stated that the main lesson of the war was the need for closer ties to Russia.[136] In a June 2014 interview in the Finnish newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet, Vladimir Putin's personal envoy Sergey Alexandrovich Markov accused Finland of extreme "Russophobia" and suggested that Finland joining NATO could start World War III.[137] In July 2016, Putin stated on a visit to Finland that Russia would increase the number of troops on the Finnish border if Finland were to join NATO. He also warned that NATO would "fight to the last Finn against Russia".[138][139]

A survey conducted by Finnish pollster EVA in January 2015 found that 43 percent of Finns polled opposed NATO membership, while 26 percent supported and 32 percent were undecided. EVA has noted a downward trend in the percent opposed that started in 1998, including a steep decline after the 2012 presidential election.[140] In March 2014, during Russia's annexation of Crimea, one survey showed only 22 percent supported membership, though a second showed that 53 percent would support membership if Finnish leadership recommended it.[141] Support for a military alliance with neighbor Sweden was also high, at 54 percent,[142] and Finland could possibly seek an enlarged role for NORDEFCO.[143] Finnish Minister of Defence Carl Haglund suggested that a referendum on NATO membership could be held sometime after the 2015 parliamentary election.[144] A poll from October 2017 showed that support for membership remained at 22%, while rising to 33% in the suggested scenario in which Sweden would join.[145] The newest poll from December 2019 showed support decreasing further to 20%, while 56% opposed joining the alliance and 24% were unsure.[146]


Male and female soldiers wearing camouflage marching behind the Irish tri-color flag.
Ireland currently does not seek to join NATO, but does work to improve the Defence Forces' interoperability with NATO[147]

Ireland has been a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme and Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) since 1999, but has a traditional policy of military neutrality.[148] Ireland participates in the alliance's PfP Planning and Review Process (PARP), which aims to increase the interoperability of the Irish military, the Defence Forces, with other NATO member states and bring them into line with accepted international standards so as to successfully deploy with other professional military forces on peacekeeping operations overseas.[149] Ireland supplied a small number of troops to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan (2001–2014) and supports the ongoing NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR).[150][151]

Currently no major political party in Ireland fully supports ascension into NATO, a reflection on public and media opinion in the country.[152] There are a number of politicians who do support Ireland joining NATO, mainly within the centre-right Fine Gael party, but the majority of politicians still do not.[153][154] The republican party Sinn Féin proposed a constitutional amendment to prohibit the country from joining a military alliance like NATO, but the legislation failed to pass the Dáil Éireann in April 2019.[155][156] It is widely understood that a referendum would have to be held before any changes could be made to neutrality or to joining NATO.[157] Former Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a visit to the country in 2013 that the "door is open" for Ireland to join NATO at any time.[158]


Moldova's constitution forbids the country from joining a military alliance, but some politicians, such as former Moldovan Minister of Defence Vitalie Marinuța, have suggested joining NATO as part of a larger European integration. Moldova joined NATO's Partnership for Peace in 1994, and initiated an Individual Partnership Action Plan in 2010.[159] Following the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia, NATO officials warned that Russia might seek to annex Transnistria, a breakaway Moldovan region.[160] This separatist issue could preclude Moldova from joining NATO.[159]


A white wall with black spray painted words "Neću Nato" on it.
NEĆU NATO (I do not want NATO) anti-NATO graffiti in Belgrade

The NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992 and the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 resulted in strained relations between Serbia and NATO. Relations were further strained following Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 while a protectorate of the United Nations with security support from NATO. However, Serbia was invited and joined the Partnership for Peace programme during the 2006 Riga summit and in 2008, was invited to enter the intensified dialogue programme whenever the country is ready.[66]

Serbia's Parliament passed a resolution in 2007 which declared their military neutrality until such time as a referendum was held on the issue.[161] On 1 October 2008, Serbian Defence Minister Dragan Šutanovac signed the Information Exchange Agreement with NATO, one of the prerequisites for fuller membership in the Partnership for Peace programme.[162] In April 2011 Serbia's request for an IPAP was approved by NATO,[163] and Serbia submitted a draft IPAP in May 2013.[164] The agreement was finalized on 15 January 2015.[165]

A CeSID poll in June 2015 conducted with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) indicated that only 12 percent of those polled supported for NATO membership, down from 25 percent in 2012, and 73 percent were opposed.[166] The minor Liberal Democratic Party and Serbian Renewal Movement remain the most vocal political parties in favor of NATO membership.[167] Although Serbia aspires to join the European Union, Serbia may seek to maintain military neutrality, joining neither NATO or the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).[88][168]


Six flags are held by a line of soldiers in camouflage as they stand in front of trees and a beige building.
Sweden has close relations with NATO and NATO members, and participates in training exercises like the Admiral Pitka Recon Challenge in Estonia.

In 1949, Sweden chose not to join NATO and declared a security policy aiming for non-alignment in peace and neutrality in war.[169] A modified version now qualifies non-alignment in peace for possible neutrality in war. This position was maintained without much discussion during the Cold War. Since the 1990s, however, there has been an active debate in Sweden on the question of NATO membership in the post–Cold War world.[170] These ideological divides were visible in November 2006 when Sweden could either buy two new transport planes or join NATO's plane pool, and in December 2006, when Sweden was invited to join the NATO Response Force.[171][172] Sweden has been an active participant in NATO-led missions in Bosnia (IFOR and SFOR), Kosovo (KFOR), Afghanistan (ISAF), and Libya (Operation Unified Protector).[173]

The ruling Swedish Social Democratic Party have remained in favour of neutrality and non-alignment.[174] This preference is shared by their partners, the Green Party, as well as the Left Party. The centre-right Moderate Party is the largest party by current parliamentary representation in favor of NATO membership, and like the Liberal Party have generally held that position since the end of the Cold War.[175] The Centre Party was opposed to NATO membership until September 2015, when party leadership under Annie Lööf announced that they would motion to change the party policy in order to push for Sweden to join NATO at their next party conference. The Christian Democrats, also previously opposed, likewise voted to support NATO membership at their October 2015 party meeting.[176] When the nationalist Sweden Democrats adjusted their stance in December 2020 to allow for NATO membership if coordinated with neighboring Finland and ratified in a referendum, a majority of the members of the Swedish Riksdag for the first time belonged to parties that were open to NATO membership,[177] and a motion to allow for future NATO membership passed the parliament that month by 204 votes to 145.[178]

Ipsos has conducted regular polling, and they have documented a decline in the opposition to membership from 56% in April 2015 to 35% in December 2020, when their poll showed a three-way split among Swedes, with 33% supporting NATO membership and 32% undecided on the issue. The decline largely corresponds to an increase in undecideds, as the percent of Swedes who support NATO membership has stayed mostly steady since 2014.[179] Support for NATO membership previously rose between 2012 and 2015, when the SOM Institute showed it growing from 17% to 31%.[180] Events like the annexation of Crimea and reports of Russian submarine activity in 2014, as well as a 2013 report that Sweden could hold out for only a week if attacked were credited with that rise in support.[181] A May 2017 poll by Pew also showed that 48% supported membership, and in November 2020, they showed that 65% of Swedes viewed NATO positively, the highest percent of any non-NATO member polled.[182]

Other countries[]

A sea-side cliff topped by a small white, spherical structure.
A NATO radar facility in Malta. Like other non-NATO member European states, Malta has generally cooperative relations with the organization.[183]

Austria and Switzerland are both members of the Partnership for Peace, and border NATO member states. Malta is also a member of the Partnership for Peace and the European Union.[184] However, each country has a long-standing policy of neutrality. Cyprus is the only member state of the European Union that is not a member of the Partnership for Peace, with any treaty blocked by Turkey's concerns regarding the Cyprus dispute.[185]

According to Minister of Foreign Affairs Enver Hoxhaj, integration with NATO is a priority for Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.[186] Hoxhaj stated in 2014 that the country's goal is to be a NATO member by 2022.[187] However, four NATO member statesGreece, Romania, Spain, and Slovakia—do not recognize Kosovo's independence.[188] United Nations membership, which Kosovo does not have, is considered to be necessary for NATO membership.[189] In December 2018, the Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj stated that Kosovo will apply for NATO membership after the formation of the Kosovo Armed Forces.[190]

Russia, Armenia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan are all members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), an alternative military alliance. In 2009, Russian envoy Dmitry Rogozin did not rule out joining NATO at some point, but stated that Russia was currently more interested in leading a coalition as a great power.[191] Azerbaijan has committed to a policy of neutrality, but has not ruled out eventually joining NATO.[192]

Some individuals have proposed expanding NATO outside of Europe, although doing so would require amending Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty.[193] Christopher Sands of the Hudson Institute proposed Mexican membership of NATO in order to enhance NATO cooperation with Mexico and develop a "North American pillar" for regional security.[194] In June 2013, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos stated his hope that Colombia's cooperation with NATO could result in NATO membership, though his Foreign Minister, Juan Carlos Pinzon, quickly clarified that Colombia is not actively seeking NATO membership.[195] Ivo Daalder and James Goldgeier proposed a "global NATO" that would incorporate democratic states from around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa, and India,[193] while Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani suggested expanding NATO to include Singapore, Israel, Australia, India, and Japan.[196]

On 20 March 2019, US president, Donald Trump said he would make Brazil a major non-NATO ally at a meeting with Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro at the White House. During a joint press conference, President Trump expressed support for the eventual ascension of Brazil into NATO.[197] France however has rejected the proposal claiming Article 10 of the treaty limits geography of membership to European countries, even though French Guiana, an overseas department and region of France, is located in South America as well.[198] On 9 January 2020, Donald Trump mentioned that the alliance should expand into the Middle East to countries like Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Kuwait among others.[199]

Internal enlargement is the process of new member states arising from the break-up of or secession from an existing member state. There have been and are a number of active separatist movements within member states. The Scottish National Party agreed at its conference in 2012 that it wished for Scotland to retain its NATO membership were it to become independent from the United Kingdom.[200]

See also[]

Further reading[]


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  • Goldgeier, James. "NATO Enlargement and the Problem of Value Complexity." Journal of Cold War Studies (2020) 22#4 pp 146-174

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