Good for democracy? Evidence from the 2004 NATO expansion

Abstract

Did NATO expansion foster democratic development in Eastern Europe? Past scholarship offers conflicting answers to this question. We seek to bring clarity by focusing on the 2004 NATO expansion to include the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. We leverage the fact that we now as many years of data since NATO entry as we have between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the 2004 NATO expansion. We also use newly available and highly refined data on regime type. We show that NATO membership and anticipation thereof had little to no influence on democratic development in Eastern Europe. However, anticipation of European Union membership appears to have bolstered democratic development. Although the results cannot fully rule out NATO playing a secondary role, they make clear that NATO membership was not a necessary condition for democratic survival in Eastern Europe.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    Another recent example of applying counterfactual reasoning to the legacy of NATO expansion is Marten (2018). Marten uses qualitative counterfactual analysis to consider whether Russia’s aggressive behavior toward countries in its ‘near abroad’ can be attributed to NATO expansion (or whether such behavior would have occurred even without NATO expansion).

  2. 2.

    Gunitsky (2015) offers a critique of Polity as a measure of democratic development in Eastern Europe.

  3. 3.

    Dahl referred to these as contestation and inclusion.

  4. 4.

    We do not include Croatia because, although it joined NATO in 2009, it was not a member of the 1999 MAP group. It joined the MAP in 2002.

  5. 5.

    This is setting aside the possibility that a state that is an EU applicant will expect to eventually become a NATO applicant. This is not unreasonable, as US officials viewed EU expansion as creating security obligations for the USA that would be more easily handled within NATO (Sayle 2019, 238).

  6. 6.

    The difference in means is statistically significant at the 0.99 confidence level.

  7. 7.

    Similar regression results are obtained using Polity2 as the dependent variable and estimating the model using ordered probit (as the Polity2 score is not a continuous variable, but an ordered categorical variable). The coefficients on EU Applicant Only and NATO and EU Member are positive and statistically significant, thereby suggesting that both are associated with higher Polity2 scores. Also, the coefficient on NATO and EU Member is substantially larger (1.65) than the coefficient on EU Applicant Only (0.47). The coefficients on NATO Member Only and Border with Russia are both negative and statistically significant, with the coefficient on Border with Russia (− 1.45) being substantially larger than the coefficient on NATO Member Only (− 1.01). The results can be reproduced using the replication materials.

  8. 8.

    Because of the panel structure of the data set, we also attempt to rerun our analysis by including a lagged dependent variable (to account for time dependencies) and including fixed effects for each country. The latter model is unidentified, as the fixed effects are colinear with the Border Mainland Russia variable. The former model is identified, and the coefficient values are consistent with those reported in Fig. 2. The main difference is that all of the coefficient values are reduced in magnitude and are rendered statistically insignificant (which is not unusual when including a lagged dependent variable). The other notable difference is that the sign on the NATO and EU Member variable’s coefficient flips to negative.

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Poast, P., Chinchilla, A. Good for democracy? Evidence from the 2004 NATO expansion. Int Polit 57, 471–490 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41311-020-00236-6

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Keywords

  • NATO
  • NATO expansion
  • Democracy
  • European Union
  • Baltics