At Russia's Door

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Abstract:

Upon signing the 1955 Warsaw Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance in the Polish capital, representatives of the Soviet Union and its satellites graciously invited all European states to join their alliance. In an ironically similar spirit, the US post-Cold War zeal for NATO expansion - coupled with the former Soviet satellites' own enthusiasm - has forged a new order with equally important implications. Today, as NATO settles into its new positions, Russia fears Western powers may push their sphere of influence beyond Central Europe to the very borders of the Russian Federation. Thus, as the former Soviet Baltic republics court NATO and fend off Russian advances, serious security and identity considerations have arisen.

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Headnote:

NATO Expansion and the Baltic States

Upon signing the 1955 Warsaw Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance in the Polish capital, representatives of the Soviet Union and its satellites graciously invited "all European states" to join their alliance. In an ironically similar spirit, the US post-Cold War zeal for NATO expansion-coupled with the former Soviet satellites' own enthusiasm-has forged a new order with equally important implications. Today, as NATO settles into its new positions in Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, Russia fears that the Western powers may push their sphere of influence beyond Central Europe to the very borders of the Russian Federation. Indeed, a NATO presence in the former Soviet republics has long been opposed by the Russian government, which claims the region as both its security buffer and its exclusive sphere of influence. Thus, as the former Soviet Baltic republics court NATO and fend off Russian advances, serious security and identity considerations have arisen.

Russia's Threshhold

The fundamental character of the NATO alliance would make its presence on Russia's frontiers particularly threatening. Unlike other bilateral and multilateral treaties, which align countries according to military or political commitments, NATO demands near total armed forces integration, from command structures to communications, and hardware to ammunition. Even presently, NATO officials have called for greater command integration, as part of NATO's 21st-century strategic concept. Despite talk of a greater European role in the alliance, NATO is still clearly dominated by the United States. For Russia, a NATO member state on its border would be the strategic equivalent of US troops at its front door.

The United States, however, has already rung the doorbell. In a September 1997 statement "On the Military Maneuvers of NATO in Close Proximity to the Borders of the Russian Federation," the Russian State Duma warned that US troops operating in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan represented the "intensive development of new potential war theaters in direct proximity to the borders of the Russian Federation by the army of the United States of America." The statement also expressed deep concern at the NATO Sea Breeze-97 exercises held in Estonia, Latvia, and Ukraine, noting specifically the alliance's use of former Red Army military installations. The Duma further charged that direct transport of US marines from Fort Bragg, North Carolina to locations in Kazakhstan for "training" could only be in preparation for "delivering the units of the army of the United States of America to the territory of the Russian Federation." In short, the Duma condemned the United States and its NATO allies for attempting to move onto Russian turf. Such training operations, however, are routine and fundamental elements of the NATO security alliance, and would become more extensive if the three Baltic states were to join. Like any individual country, NATO conducts frequent "war games" and other practice missions to keep its armies in close cooperation and in a state of combat readiness. That Russia finds rehearsals along its borders to be threatening is certainly no surprise. …