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NATO Enlargement and the Failure of the Cooperative Security Mindset

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Evaluating NATO Enlargement


In the 1990s and 2000s, as NATO enlargement became a reality, scholars commented on the socializing influence of NATO, predicting a transformation of security identities. Was NATO successful in institutionalizing self-restraint and cooperative security among its new members and partners? We contend that it was successful so long as threats to transatlantic security remained low. When states perceive that the threat is increasing, however, more traditional conceptions of national identity displace the cooperative security model. While a great deal of institutional learning happened through the process of NATO accession and partnership-building in the past two decades, the socialization process stopped short of transforming new members’ security mindsets.

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  1. 1.

    George Kennan famously opposed NATO enlargement, calling it a ‘fateful error’. For a full list of arguments against expansion, see Mandelbaum (1995, 9–13).

  2. 2.

    Both Sweden and Finland submitted their decision to join the EU to a referendum.

  3. 3.

    In 2015, Finland was importing 64% of its oil from Russia, but only 5.7% of its exports went to the Russian market (Chaney 2017, 40; Kunz 2018, 8). Before 1990, more than 25% of Finnish exports were directed to Russia (Pentilä 1994, 24).

  4. 4.

    In the words of Henri Vanhanen: “The Finns were mentally and technically prepared to join the Atlantic Alliance if the situation required it…For [them] neutrality was an instrument of foreign policy, designed to increase our sovereignty and keep us out of the Soviet sphere of influence. For the Swedes, it's part of their collective identity” (Hivert, 2022).

  5. 5.

    To equip this force, the Finnish army has 312 tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, 107 combat aircrafts, and close to a thousand artillery pieces, including self-propelled howitzers and multiple launch rocket systems. And while other countries sold their military equipment, Finland purchased new systems and updated existing capabilities, including air-to-surface missiles, Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) and Leopard battle tanks (Ossa and Koivula 2022).


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On behalf of both authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Stéfanie von Hlatky .

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von Hlatky, S., Fortmann, M. (2023). NATO Enlargement and the Failure of the Cooperative Security Mindset. In: Goldgeier, J., Shifrinson, J.R.I. (eds) Evaluating NATO Enlargement. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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