FAS’ Steven Aftergood draws our attention to “NATO Enlargement: Albania, Croatia, and Possible Future Candidates,” [PDF] a recent study by the Congressional Research Service.

  It was coordinated by Vincent Morelli in collaboration Paul Belkin, Carl Ek, Jim Nichol, and Steven Woehrel of the Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division and provides a throurough assessment of the issues involved. 

Their conclusion:

Most allies seem to believe that although Albania’s and Croatia’s militaries and resources are modest, both countries’ road to membership in the alliance could lead to greater stability in southeastern Europe, especially given the independence of Kosovo and the enduring hostility to NATO of important political factions in Serbia. Additionally,  the United States and several other leading governments in the alliance expect new member states to develop niche capabilities to contribute to NATO operations around the world.  More broadly, U.S. officials continue to view NATO as the primary institutional mechanism to ensure transatlantic security. They argue that although NATO’s primary purpose is the defense of its members, the alliance has become a force for peace throughout Europe.

NATO is facing current and future challenges that may shape any following rounds of enlargement.  An ongoing strategic concern of the alliance is the
stabilization of Afghanistan, which has become the alliance’s most important mission. In addition, NATO faces other issues such as global terrorism, cyber-
attacks, and strategically, two of the most important, energy security and relations with Russia.  Gazprom, Russia’s national energy company, has been making strong efforts to control parts of Europe’s oil and natural gas distribution network. Even without such control, much of Europe and the Caucasus depend upon Russia for portions of their energy supply. Gazprom’s repeated supply disruptions to customer countries underscore a stark reality: Russia can cut off a vital lifeline if it so desires. Countermeasures — new pipelines skirting Russia and drawing supplies from a range of sources, and conservation — will require years of planning and implementation, probably at great expense.  Some allies believe that energy security must be enhanced before new members in succeeding rounds may be extended invitations to join, particularly if they are vulnerable to Russian pressure.  Concurrent efforts to improve relations with Russia are likely to be a centerpiece of European allies’ policy during this period.

Inherent in the discussion, but not answered in the report — which is, after all, intended to provide Members of Congress and their staffs with information, not dictate policy — is the goal of the Alliance.  Albania and Croatia add little strategic value, Macedonia creates friction within the Alliance just by its name, and Georgia and Ukraine are on the other side of a “red line” drawn by Russia.  So, if NATO is primarily a defensive military alliance, adding any of them in the near future is counterproductive.

If, on the other hand, NATO is only incidentally military but mostly a means of spreading and institutionalizing Western values and cooperation, then cautiously adding those states as they meet the required political, economic, and military standards promotes the Alliance’s mission.

This, unfortunately, is not a question for which social science can provide valuable insight. 

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.