Uneasy Expansion: NATO and Russia. (Global Notebook)

Article excerpt

Since the end of the Cold War, relations between NATO and Russia have vacillated between reluctant cooperation and outright antagonism. While Russia has raised many objections to the enlargement of NATO in the past, its opposition has recently abated.

NATO is currently moving toward its largest expansion ever, bringing between four and seven new members into its ranks. Many predicted that Russia would resist a second wave of NATO enlargement even more fervently than it did the first wave in 1999, when former front-line Warsaw Pact members Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic were admitted. Potential new members include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and Macedonia. Despite the fact that some of these nations were members of the Soviet Union, Russia seems willing to accept NATO expansion as inevitable, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has raised no objections to the proceedings. Especially since the recent establishment of the new NATO-Russia Council, Russia has begun to see NATO enlargement as a chance to develop closer ties to the organization and its members and as a means of integration into the world community.

Historically, Eastern European countries have turned to Russia for support and protection. Based upon close linguistic and cultural ties among the Slavic nations, the support of the Russian government was crucial to many countries. Throughout the 19th century Russia championed their claims for independence, and in the 20th century the Russian army played a key role in freeing these countries from Nazi occupation. However, the aftermath of World War II brought many grievances from the Eastern European region as this relationship soured. Although citizens chose communist governments in some countries such as Yugoslavia, Russia forcibly brought Soviet-controlled puppet governments to power in others like Poland and Czechoslovakia. Under the patronage of the Soviet Union, these countries soon adopted Soviet-style policies and acceded to Soviet demands.

The first NATO Secretary-General, Lord Ismay, commented that the organization's function upon its 1949 inception was "to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down" in reference to the balance of power in the North Atlantic region. Following the end of the Cold War, NATO refocused its goals and transformed itself into an organization concerned with regional stability and security; nonetheless, an increase in NATO power and proximity still makes Russia uneasy. Enlargement of NATO to include smaller Eastern European states decreases Russian influence in the region, and the entry of the Baltic states brings the alliance within the former Soviet perimeter. The stated goal of NATO enlargement is to unite democratic countries and to abandon former lines of division. However, many feel that eastward expansion simply moves the dividing line between Russia and the West closer to Russian borders. There is particular concern for the future of the Kaliningrad region within Russia. Wedged between Poland , Lithuania, and the Baltic Sea, this area could soon find itself surrounded by NATO countries, which would cause substantial insecurity given Russia's current weak position vis-a-vis NATO.

Contrary to Russian reservations, prospective NATO member states are eager to join the alliance. Having grown wary of the ubiquitous Russian influence, with history still vivid in the minds of their citizens, these countries have moved away from cooperation--political, economic, and military--with Russia. …