Abstract The stability of plane, periodic solutions of the two-dimensional nonlinear Schrödinger equation to infinitesimal, two-dimensional perturbation has been calculated and verified numerically. For standing wave disturbances, instability is found for both odd and even modes; as the period of the unperturbed solution increases, the instability associated with the odd modes remains but that associated with the even mode disappears, which is consistent with the results of Zakharov and Rubenchik , Saffman and Yuen  and Ablowitz and Segur  on the stability of solitons. In addition, we have identified travelling wave instabilities for the even mode perturbations which are absent in the long-wave limit. Extrapolation to the case of an unperturbed solution with infinite period suggests that these instabilities]may also be present for the soliton. In other words, the soliton is unstable to odd, standing-wave perturbations, and very likely also to even, travelling-wave perturbations.