The Department of Government
The Department of Government

NATO and Democracy in Central and East Europe

Mon, June 15, 2009

If, in the decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union, democratic consolidation in Central and East Europe proceeded any smoother, and has proven any stronger, than theories skeptical of regimes’ abilities to transition to democracy expect, proponents of such theories may take comfort in knowing that these post-communist transitions to democracy occurred under the shadow of an equally historically unique institution – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Marking NATO’s 60th anniversary, Zoltan Barany published “NATO at 60” in the April 2009 issue of the Journal of Democracy. Barany points out that throughout NATO’s history, the alliance’s political identity has been nearly as important as its military identity, and that central to NATO’s political identity since the end of the Cold War has been promoting democracy and stability. The prospect and reality of NATO membership in Central and East Europe has been influential in many areas, including problems of ethnic and gender discrimination within military ranks, the manner in which conscripts are treated, making defense budgets transparent, and the timely resolution of age-old border disputes and grievances between Central and East European states. Most basically, however, NATO proved critical in securing civilian oversight of the military. As Barany writes: “If responsible civilian officials do not have control over the military, democracy cannot exist. Across Eastern Europe, the prospect of NATO membership – for which civilian supremacy is an absolute requirement – has undoubtedly promoted this sine qua non of democratic governance.”

Zoltan Barany is Frank C. Erwin, Jr. Professor of Government and currently a W. Glenn Campbell and Rita Ricardo Campbell National Fellow and the Susan Louise Dyer Peace Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Bookmark and Share

  • Department of Government

    The University of Texas at Austin
    158 W 21st ST STOP A1800
    Batts Hall 2.116
    Austin, TX 78712-1704