ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2011 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 57, No.2 - Summer 2011
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas

Book Review

Ronald D. Asmus. Opening NATO’s Door – How the Alliance Remade Itself for a New Era. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. A Council on Foreign Relations Book.

The year 2009 marked both the tenth anniversary of the accession of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to NATO and the fifth anniversary of the subsequent round of seven additional countries from the region.

The events of 1999 and 2004 were remarkable. Only a decade prior to their occurrence, no one except a handful of visionaries, would have even dreamed that out of the ruins of the Soviet Union the countries of Central and Eastern Europe would be firmly ensconced in the embrace of the transatlantic alliance. Together with EU membership, the Western orientation of the region was firmly underscored. Moscow’s grip was released, its hegemony scorned.

One person who believed in this, and a central figure in facilitating the process, was Ron Asmus.

First at RAND, and then as U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs from 1997-2000 during the administration of Bill Clinton, Asmus was a point man for developing and seeing through the policy, undertaking the sea change necessary to tackle these goals.

Asmus penned Opening NATO’s Door, published in 2002, during a stint at the Council of Foreign Relations. The book certainly remains the most thorough observation of the process that took the notion of NATO enlargement to the CEE countries from just a twinkle in the eyes of a few to the signing of the protocols of accession in 1999.

Asmus navigates the behind-the-scenes look at the players, on both sides of the Atlantic, and demonstrates how United States policy evolved. With it is the fascinating interplay between the administration and congress, and the diplomatic dancing between the various state actors. Evocative of the relation building was the unlikely cooperation between Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms, who were otherwise at opposite ends of the political spectrum. There is also much detail about the critical work with the Russians in getting Moscow to see the light and to not impede the process.

Asmus points as well to not just the Baltic countries, but Baltic-Americans who had gone back to their homelands to lend a hand with societal development and the Baltic-American community in the U.S., which was “small but well organized and worked closely with other groups to build political support for NATO membership” (159).

This was also noted by State Department officials, who when in visits to Congress, “often found that Baltic-American representatives had either just preceded them or were standing outside ready to make the case…” (159).

The Balts knew that it would take a lot of exertion and time before Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania could join NATO. Their efforts would be rewarded only a few years later, taking the lessons and the momentum of the 1999 round.

Asmus shows in Opening NATO’s Door what it meant to take these steps. The support for NATO enlargement came not just from within the United States, but also from the outside, especially the Nordic countries.

Important to the Baltic countries, and due in large part to the dedication of Asmus and those around him, was the drafting of the U.S.-Baltic Charter, signed in January 1998. The book devotes about a dozen pages to this process. The Baltic Charter was a blueprint that helped guide and reinforce the Baltic States’ future NATO aspirations. The Charter would be the model for future Membership Action Plans, which would later help take Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania over the threshold.

Karl Altau