After President Bush’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Italy in July, it is almost certain that a new round of NATO expansion will be announced at the forthcoming summit in Prague, regardless of Moscow’s misgivings. The alliance will include Slovenia, Slovakia, the three Baltic republics, and possibly Rumania and Bulgaria. The consequences of this new round of NATO expansion are likely to be detrimental to America’s national interests, but the lack of any serious debate on this issue confirms that, in our virtual democracy, the magnitude of a decision is in inverse proportion to the attention it receives in the media.
NATO expansion strengthens the unholy alliance of one-world multilateralists and neoconservative global interventionists who run the show in Washington and who now see the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a permanent tool for the execution of their policies.
Before the fall of communism, America’s leading role NATO was not incompatible with a foreign policy based on a pragmatically defined national interest and true to the spirit of the republic. NATO came into being as an implicitly temporary arrangement to prevent Stalin’s invasion of Western Europe. It was America’s response to a dramatic moment in European history when, had it been left to its own devices, the Old Continent might have succumbed to totalitarian might. Its creators never thought the U.S. role to be permanent: President Eisenhower told Congress that American troops would not be needed along the Iron Curtain for more than ten years, by which time the Europeans would be able to defend themselves.
One decade turned into four, but with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the stated rationale for NATO’s existence finally disappeared. Instead of proclaiming victory and closing up shop, however, the riding duopoly in Washington has, over the past decade, invented a new mission for NATO: that of promoter of democracy, protector of human rights, and guardian against instability. It was on those grounds, rather than in response to any supposed threat, that the Clinton administration pushed for the admission of Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary four years ago. In former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s words, this expanded “the area in Europe where wars simply do not happen.” It is important to note that, under the new doctrine, NATO’s sphere of operations is no longer limited, and its “mandate” is entirely self-generated. Its war against Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999 marked a decisive shift in NATO’s mutation from a defensive alliance into a supranational security force based on the doctrine of “humanitarian intervention.” The trusty keeper of the gate had become a roaming vigilante.
In world affairs, this remarkable process has mirrored the longer (and, by now, almost completed) domestic evolution of the federal government into a leviathan unbound by constitutional restraints. The lack of debate about NATO’s expansion is not surprising, considering the dominant duopoly’s identity of basic assumptions and its domestic consensus. Expansion was advocated in the Republican “Contract With America” and eagerly embraced by President Clinton in 1996. It suited both the globalist “left” and the hegemonist “right” for different reasons but with the same result: George Washington’s warning against entangling alliances will now be violated in perpetuity. Reinvention of NATO as an organization based on the ideology of neoimperial interventionism proves yet again that foreign policy is an extension of domestic politics.
NATO expansion is bad for America because it perpetuates an inherently adversarial relationship between Washington and Moscow. Forget the NATOcrats’ soothing rhetoric. To appreciate the effect of enlargement on Russia’s political establishment, just imagine the reaction in the United States if China were to sign a pact with Mexico, Cuba, and the republics of Central America to equip and train their armies and to guarantee the inviolability of the Rio Grande frontier.
The first victims of NATO expansion were the West’s own friends in Moscow. A few years ago, Alexei Arbatov, the former deputy chairman of the Defense Committee of the Russian Parliament, complained that
many of those who have been trying to persuade the United States not to expand NATO are the people who have staked their careers—and probably more than that—on Russia’s close and fair cooperation with the United States.
Those people have been disillusioned and discredited, and the realists are back in charge in Moscow. Their strategic thinking unabashedly relies on a possible first use of nuclear weapons. This threat to American security cannot be offset by any conjectural benefit of extending pax Americana to the suburbs of St. Petersburg. The only rational reason for a country to enter into an alliance is to enhance its own security. Even in its weakened state, Russia remains a nuclear power, and NATO enlargement means that its missiles will remain targeted on American cities. While this may be of no consequence to the denizens of Riga or Vilnius, it should focus the minds in New York, Seattle, or Omaha. By extending its protectorate in Eastern Europe, the United States is acting irrationally, because it is diminishing its own security.
There is another geopolitical price to pay for rubbing Russia’s nose in defeat. Russia will remain an adversary at a time when its economic and demographic weakness may result in a violent Asiatic scramble for the natural resources and increasingly depopulated territories east of the Urals and along Russia’s southern rim. By extending its cordon sanitaire around Russia, the United States indirectly encourages the belief that the bear may soon be up for grabs. A coherent, long-term policy based on America’s national interest would dictate a very different strategy: As we enter the century that is certain to see a renewed assault of militant Islam on an enfeebled Europe, Russia should be helped along the road to recovery so that it can fulfill its role of the new antemurale christiensitatis.
Maturity and a healthy disdain for passionate attachments are needed here, but we find neither in Washington. NATO expansion pleases some Eastern European ethnic lobbies that never see the forest for the trees, but it will jeopardize Europe’s chances of long-term survival. The United States should understand why some former Soviet satellites have a vested geopolitical interest and an even more acute psychological need to treat Russia as the enemy, but it should never allow itself to be seduced by their obsessions. Take Czech President Vaclav Havel, who recently ascribed the Russians’ opposition to NATO enlargement to their cultural inferiority:
Distrust of oneself and uncertainty about one’s own identity necessarily generate a distrust of others, imputation of evil intentions to the rest of the world and, eventually, an aggressiveness that may result in the invasion of other people’s territories, or at the least in forcing one’s own domination upon those who do not desire it.
It is all neurosis, you see; the experiences of 1812 and 1941 have nothing to do with it.
The quote above describes the neoconservative mindset to a tee, but Havel and his less eloquent Eastern colleagues wouldn’t know it. They all proclaim their undying devotion to the ideological assumptions of the new NATO, but their real agenda is twofold: to have a Western (read: American) security guarantee against Russia, and to strengthen their own position vis à vis those neighbors—mostly Russians—with whom they have an ongoing or potential dispute. NATO membership may even embolden some to revive territorial or ethnic claims that would otherwise have remained dormant. A former Hungarian defense official, Zoltan Pecze, was frank:
It is in the interests of the ethnic Hungarians living beyond our borders . .. NATO membership does not mean giving up our national interests. On the contrary: it means an opportunity to assert our national interest.
The experience of Turkey shows that the alliance has no means to stop one of its members from aggressive intent or adventurous conduct.
Future new members know—and relish—what Western NATO apologists so unconvincingly deny: that extending NATO into Eastern Europe is a real threat to Russia, and that it recreates the division of the continent that was supposed to be lifted a decade ago. Their fears of Russia may be based on some real experiences of yesteryear. Instead of pandering to their insecurity, the United States should encourage them to comprehend what a few farsighted “real” Westerners already see: that we both need an economically revitalized Russia with strong ties to Europe and a strategic understanding between Moscow and Washington based on our underlying common interest in keeping Islamic marauders at bay. A litmus test of future NATO members’ preparedness for the “Western” club should be their readiness to follow, in relation to Russia, the Franco-German post-1945 model of overcoming ancient grievances.
Article V of the NATO Charter clearly states that an attack on one member state is an attack on all. The United States will supposedly provide protective cover to a host of new clients right in Russia’s geopolitical backyard, in an area that had never been deemed vital to this country’s interests. But once included, those flatlands will become a permanent fixture of our foreign-policy establishment’s mindset. I’he United States will assume the nominal responsibility for open-ended maintenance of a host of disputed frontiers that were often drawn arbitrarily by communists, with little regard for ethnicity or history. At no visible benefit to itself, America will underwrite the freezing in time of a post-Soviet outcome that is neither inherently stable nor necessarily “just” or “democratic.”
That Washington and Jefferson would be horrified is obvious; even Metternich would frown, because the policy is simply illogical. It means two things: Either the United States is serious that it would risk a thermonuclear war for the sake of, say, Estonia’s border with Russia (which is insane), or it is not serious, which is both frivolous and dangerous. President Clinton naturally leaned to the latter option. He asserted that Article V “does not define what actions constitute ‘an attack’ or prejudge what Alliance decisions might then be made in such circumstances.” He claimed the right of the United States “to exercise individual and collective judgment over this question.”
This classic fudge cannot be the basis of serious policy. This is an echo of previous Western experiments with security guarantees in the region—of Czechoslovakia’s carve-up in October 1938, or Poland’s destruction in September 1939—which provides a warning that promises nonchalantly given today may turn into smoldering cities tomorrow. Over seven decades later, the lesson of Locarno for the Bush administration is clear: Security guarantees that are not based on the provider’s complete resolve to fight a full-blown war to fulfill them are worse than no guarantees at all. They are certain to be challenged.
America’s curious lead in NATO expansion may jeopardize its relations with some of its old allies in Western Europe. A few wise Frenchmen already suspect that the latter-day, U.S.-led Drang nach Osten is a poisoned chalice that the Germans will accept to their peril. From a neoconservative, global-hegemonist point of view, there is no better way to ensure American dominance in Europe in perpetuity than by preventing the long-overdue Russo-German rapprochement. This historic step remains the last unfulfilled prerequisite for a long period of stable peace throughout the Old Continent. NATO expansion will artificially postpone it in favor of a psychotic imperial Utopia made in Washington that is utterly divorced from the interests, political traditions, and natural inclinations of the American people.