Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Affairs

Was NATO Enlargement a Mistake?

| Apr. 19, 2022

Foreign Affairs Asks the Experts


Foreign Affairs recently published a number of pieces on NATO, the decision to proceed with its enlargement, and its impact on European and global security. To complement these articles, Foreign Affairs solicited a broad pool of experts for their take. As with previous surveys, dozens of authorities with specialized expertise relevant to the question at hand, together with leading generalists in the field were approached. Participants were asked to state whether they agreed or disagreed with a proposition and to and to rate their confidence level in their opinion. 

Three Belfer Center members, Francis J. Gavin, Joseph S. Nye, Jr., and Stephen Walt were among those who gave their opinions.

Francis J. Gavin


Giovanni Agnelli Distinguished Professor and Director of the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University

When assessing a policy, it is important to evaluate plausible counterfactuals. Without NATO expansion, a dangerous power vacuum could have emerged in central Europe, a condition that had been dangerous in the past. Absent membership in NATO, Poland and others might have sought their own nuclear weapons. How might a newly reunified Germany—the focus of concern in the early 1990s—have developed in such circumstances? Critics forget that NATO transformed its mission and structure after 1990 and facilitated considerable reductions in military forces. There is no guarantee that Russia would have been happy with other European security arrangements short of a return of its former empire and spheres of influence. And contrary to predictions, the renewed Russian threat has highlighted NATO's unity and the attractiveness of its collective security capabilities.

Joseph S. Nye, Jr.


Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus and former Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government

Stephen Walt


Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University


For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Gavin, Francis, Joseph S. Nye, Jr., and Stephen M. Walt. "Was NATO Enlargement a Mistake?" Foreign Affairs, April 19, 2022.

The Authors

Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

Stephen Walt