After Kosovo: The Impact of NATO Expansion on Russian Political Parties

Article excerpt

During the heated debate leading up to the Senate's ratification of the Clinton administration decision to enlarge NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), opponents predicted that expansion would alienate Russia, with dire consequences for world peace.(1) Nevertheless, by a vote of 80 to 19, the Senate endorsed the policy on 30 April 1998.(2) One by one, over the ensuing months, parliaments in other NATO member countries ratified the expansion decision as well. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic became the newest members of NATO in a ceremony held in Independence, Missouri, on 12 March 1999.

The crisis in Kosovo that occasioned NATO military action against the Russian-favored Yugoslavian government and its president, Slobodan Milosevic, has ended. However, the issues of NATO expansion and Kosovo will no doubt figure prominently in the Russian presidential election in June 2000. The time is right to take stock and ask: Have recent NATO decisions discredited the liberal Russian political parties and strengthened the conservative ultranationalist and Communist parties?

A common shortcoming of articles predicting the worst in this regard has been the tendency to treat Russia as a unified body. Perhaps this was permissible, indeed necessary, when the West lacked detailed information about the Kremlin during the cold war period. Today, however, a more discriminating analysis is not only possible, but imperative. Russia has a more-or-less free press and more than one hundred political parties (forty-three of which gained enough support to run slates of candidates in the December 1995 Duma elections),(3) Unlike many oversimplified articles by Western pundits with a political agenda, in this article I will draw mainly on statements made by Russians themselves.

I will provide a framework for assessing the impact of the NATO expansion policy on internal Russian politics and public opinion using the positions and motivations of the Russian political parties. After a brief discussion of the Yeltsin administration's viewpoint, I will summarize the views of each of the other key parties across the political spectrum and will show that, while most Russian political parties oppose the expansion policy, they do so for different reasons.(4)

Why NATO Expansion?

The origins of the U.S. decision have been covered extensively elsewhere, and will be touched on only briefly here.(5) In the first term of the Clinton presidency, not long after the Soviet collapse, Washington policymakers acknowledged that the United States has a vital interest in Russia's evolution toward democratic stability and in its incorporation into the newly developing European security order. President Clinton stated as much in his May 1997 document "National Security Strategy for a New Century." A Partnership for Peace (PfP) program between Russia and NATO, signed on 27 May 1997, constituted an important step toward this goal.(6)

Policymakers also realized that Russia still has about 7,000 long-range missiles capable of reaching the United States, and that implementing the START II treaty, which would eliminate 3,000 of those warheads, was a top priority. Yet, concurrent with PfP negotiations between Russia and NATO, the Clinton administration in 1994 abruptly announced a separate NATO enlargement program, with plans to expand the alliance by admitting qualified Eastern European countries. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry disclosed in his latest book that he warned the president at a top-level meeting on 21 December 1994 that "early expansion was a mistake" because it would provoke "distrust" in Russia and undermine cooperation on arms control.(7) NATO allies were also puzzled. As one European diplomat said, "Like everyone else, we assumed that PfP would last for a decade at least, and Clinton took us by surprise in 1994 with NATO expansion. We couldn't afford another split with the USA, after what happened in Bosnia, so we went along with it. …