The ink has yet to dry on Czech, Polish, and Hungarian accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and already a buzz of second round speculation is piercing the spring breeze. Eager candidates are feverishly lobbying Washington, and the State Department is actively encouraging such overtures with its vocal commitment to a policy of the ‘open door. ‘The Clinton Administration continues to defend this open door with talk of moral obligation and the structural imperative of a NATO-led security architecture.
A ‘security vacuum’ exists, we are told, and without NATO as an anchor Europe will remain divided and the peace will be threatened. But an alliance is by definition exclusive, and therefore can only heighten division. The argument for expansion does not even attain the level of sophistry; it is simply wrong on the face of it, and stupidly so.
Belief that the eastward expansion of NATO does not increase regional security, but acutely threatens it, is in fact a common view among foreign policy experts. Not the least of whom is George Kennan, grandfather of the original “containment” doctrine, who has called enlargement the ‘single greatest blunder of the post-Cold War period.’
NATO expansion offers a textbook case of the “security dilemma,” a concept familiar to every first-year student of international relations. In essence, the security dilemma posits that any defensive action undertaken by a state necessarily provokes neighboring states, whose own security is lessened, to arm accordingly in response, thereby reducing the security of the state that armed defensively in the first place.
Weapons are defensive or offensive depending on which side of the border you are on, and one can never be certain of another’s intentions. All action provokes reaction, and is thus vitiated, prompting yet another action. This dilemma is the basis of all arms racing and all too often leads to war. To understand why NATO’s current pressing against Russia’s border is such an extreme – and dangerous – case of the security dilemma at work, consider the following scenario:
By some quirk of History, the US loses the Cold War and is temporarily weakened. Nicaragua, Cuba and the Dominican Republic seek Warsaw Pact membership for protection after a century of CIA meddling and marine deployments. Eager to enhance its position vis-a-vis the US and feed its hungry arms trade, the Pact sends over tanks and MiG’s, pooh-poohs American outrage over the loss of its traditional sphere of influence (FDR called it ‘our little region down there’), and offers no promise that nuclear weapons will not be deployed in Latin America.
Moreover, the ‘door is open’ should Mexico and Haiti care to join the Pact in the future. US reaction would justifiably be violent and its forces would go on high-alert status. The US would feel threatened and perhaps desperate. There would be an arms build-up. Hawks in the military would demand a response.
Of course, it is possible that the Soviets were really only interested in the security of the region, but the US would never see it that way. How could it? While recourse to fantasy is not necessary – the Cuban missile crisis is ample historical illustration – the Latin American case is precisely what NATO is doing throughout the former Soviet-bloc, in varying degrees, from the Baltics to Azerbaijan.
And the results are already coming in. START-2 – nevermind START-3 – is a rotting carcass in a furious Duma; Russia’s unstable arsenal of 30,000 nukes has been placed on a hair trigger; and a future merger with Belarus looks likely, as does an anti-Western alliance with China. Proponents of expansion point to these developments as justification for an eastward-ho NATO, ignoring the large role expansion itself has played in instigating them.
Add to this mix the recent US decision to unilaterally break the 1972 ABM treaty, and you have a redivision of Europe that makes Checkpoint Charlie look like a veritable geopolitical Woodstock. Anyone who has ever had a gun pointed at them knows that the words coming out of your opponents mouth are secondary.
So too with NATO’s empty re-assurances to Russia that there is nothing to fear. Historically speaking, Russia has much to fear. It is all too easily forgotten that it was the aggression of Napoleon, the Kaiser, and Hitler – not Stalin – that brought the Red Army all the way to Berlin. Her fears of encirclement and invasion are legitimate and well grounded, as are Her countermoves in the face of NATO’s advance.
It is fanciful to think that NATO can form a militarized ring around a nuclear superstate like Russia. History demands that She have a strategic buffer zone, and it is only the most arrogant myopia that allows NATO to think otherwise. Furthermore, the logistics of actually protecting states such as the Baltics – short of pre-emptive nuclear attack – are almost as impossible as the politics of arming them. Militarily, politically, geographically, historically: further NATO expansion just does not make sense.
More than just lessening the security of new member states, it lessens the security of the entire world. Nuclear war is not a localized event. If there is to be a truly stable European security architecture for the next century, it must not be based upon exclusion and arms racing. Europe has little to fear from a strong and respected Russian partner, but much to fear from a humiliated basket case. Indeed, comparisons between the post-Cold War period and Versailles are as abundant as they are accurate.
The west should learn from its past and put efforts into revitalizing the Russian economy. With a goal towards phasing out NATO, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe should be integrated and strengthened. The five hundred plus nuclear weapons NATO currently has in Europe should be immediately removed. These actions would begin to pave the way for a real peace, not a hardened standoff. The world only recently emerged from fifty-years of one Cold War; there is no good reason to believe we would ever emerge from another.