November 13, 1997
SUBJECT: NATO Enlargement
The following memorandum
is the third in the Projects series on the topic of NATOs
NATO Enlargement is in Americas Strategic Interest (Oct.
2. NATO Enlargement: What is the "Threat?" (Oct. 13, 1997)
3. Russia and NATO Enlargement (Nov. 11, 1997)
4. The Cost of NATO Expansion (Jan. 20, 1998)
and NATO Enlargement
In the area of national
security affairs, it is not often that a country can "have its cake
and eat it too." But that is precisely what is possible in the case
of NATO's decision to expand while the U.S. and its allies attempt to
establish a sober post-Cold War relationship with the new Russian government.
The majority of those
opposed to NATO's expansion claim that moving the borders of the alliance
east toward Russia can't help but undermine efforts to fashion a new relationship
with Moscow. By supposedly taking advantage of a weakened Russia to expand
into Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, NATO will be providing the
kindling for a fiery nationalist backlash within Russia. Enlarging the
alliance will strengthen Russia's non-democratic forces at the expense
of those inside Russia who want to increase ties to the West.
These might have been
legitimate concerns at one time, but events of the past three years have
shown them to be unfounded. Since NATO has begun discussing plans to expand
into parts of the former Soviet empire, there has been no backlash. Polls
of Russian public opinion have consistently indicated that NATO's expansion
is not much of a concern for most Russians; domestic problems remain a
far higher priority. Nor has NATO's decision to expand led to a political
revival of Russia's extreme nationalists. If anything, as the decision
to expand NATO has moved forward, reformers within the Russian political
system have accumulated more power, not less. The extreme nationalists
have seen their political fortunes fade since the beginning of 1994.
Russians may not like
the idea of NATO moving its borders closer to its own, but it is improbable
that the decision to expand will, on its own, generate a serious, negative
Russian reaction down the road. The reason is simple: NATO is a defensive
alliance and close Russian observation of an expanded NATO's operations,
training, and deployments should convince all but the most hide-bound
of Russian militants that it has no other role.
Indeed, in time, there
is a good chance that many of the more thoughtful Russians will come to
appreciate even if they don't publicly acknowledge the strategic
benefit to Russia that comes from NATO's expansion into Central Europe.
From Moscow's point of view, there are only two plausible outcomes for
the region in the years ahead: a Central Europe dominated by a defensive
alliance headed by a non-European power, the U.S., or a Central Europe
in which Europe's other "great power," a unified Germany, has
(intentionally or not) the upper hand. Most Russians will prefer the stability
provided by the former over possible problems arising from the latter.
calculations may not satisfy those Russians who remain dissatisfied with
the loss of the Soviet empire. But the proper response to this small but
intransigent minority is not to cater to them as though they had a legitimate
grievance. Any indication that NATO is willing to placate Russian revanchism
will only fuel it further.
Among those who, in
principal, support NATO's expansion, however, are critics who think that
alliance has already conceded too much to Russia in an effort to buy its
acquiescence to Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joining NATO.
In their view, NATO has gone too far in creating a permanent joint NATO-Russian
council and by pledging not to station nuclear arms or large numbers of
conventional forces in the new member states.
But the critics overstate
the implications of NATO's pledges. Nothing in the current European security
environment requires the stationing of nuclear arms or a large number
of conventional forces in any of the three new members of NATO. Moreover,
these assurances are not binding if Russia's military posture toward its
Western neighbors changes. Faced with a hostile, aggressive Russia, NATO
is under no obligation to continue to restrain itself unilaterally.
As for the joint NATO-Russian
council, the worry is that it will provide a forum which will give Moscow
an undue say over alliance affairs. There is no way to prove that this
will not happen. But the agreement establishing the council explicitly
excludes discussion of NATO "internal affairs" from the council's
purview. To date, that injunction has been adhered to.
On the other hand,
the council reflects the fact that NATO cannot ignore Russia when it comes
to European security issues. Although no longer a global superpower, Russia
remains a European power whose concerns about European matters must be
taken into account even if they are not always acceded to. If anything,
the council provides a framework that limits the ability of individual
members of the alliance to cut deals with Moscow on European security
issues outside of NATO itself. And while the council's creation would
have been a serious misstep in the past given the character and strategic
goals of former Soviet regime, it seems to be an appropriate one to take
now in light of the change in government in Moscow and Moscow's increased
(albeit inconstant) willingness to operate by the accepted norms of the
can be accomplished without either precipitating a crisis in relations
with Russia or providing Moscow with dubious prerogatives over the alliances
governance. To prevent the latter, NATO needs only to continue to exercise
a modicumof discipline in the council, keeping in mind that the peace
and stability Europe has enjoyed over the past half-century has rested
principally on NATOs strength and unity of purpose. As for the issue
of precipitating a crisis in relations with Russia, those relations will
ultimately be determined by Russias own progress in becoming a liberal
The decision to expand NATO will have only a marginal impact on that progress. If the Russian political and economic system shows that it can increasingly meet the material and social needs of its people, then Moscows experiment in democracy will succeed; if it cant, it wont. At worst, NATOs expansion will be used by a government which has already decided to turn its back on reform as an excuse for doing so. More likely, NATOs expansion will help Russias reformers argue that the only way to reinvigorate Russia is to address the countrys domestic problems and not to try to re-live Russias imperial past.