Don't Expand NATO

By Mandelbaum, Michael | Newsweek, December 23, 1996 | Go to article overview

Don't Expand NATO


Mandelbaum, Michael, Newsweek


The Clinton administration is rushing ahead with a policy that is all downside, argues a leading foreign-affairs specialist. BY MICHAEL MANDELBAUM

THE PLAN FOR EXPANDING THE NORTH ATLANTIC TREATY Organization, which moved forward in Brussels last week with a vote to name the new members at a meeting in 1997, is a rarity in public policy: an initiative that promises no benefits whatsoever. None of the reasons commonly cited for expansion stands up to scrutiny. Indeed, extending NATO eastward could damage American and Western interests.

Expansion's backers argue that it win protect democracy in the countries likely to join-Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. But democracy is not threatened there. All have problems, the result of four decades of communist rule, but NATO is irrelevant to solving them. Democracy is in far greater jeopardy--and its prospects are of far greater importance to the United States-- in Ukraine and Russia. But they will be left out of an expanded NATO. Nor would the planned expansion contain a resurgent Russia. If Russia were again to threaten its neighbors to the west--something it's too weak for now--Ukraine and the Baltic states would be most vulnerable. Thus the countries that need NATO won't get it and the countries that get it don't need it.

A third argument for expansion is that NATO must fill a strategic vacuum between Germany and Russia. But a new, unprecedented European security order already exists in Europe. At its heart is the remarkable series of arms-reduction agreements signed between the end of 1987 and 1993, including the all-European Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty and the two Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START I and II) signed by the United States and Russia. They resemble previous cold-war arms treaties in form but differ radically in content. They reshape Europe's military forces according to the principle of "defense dominance," making them more suitable for defense and far less so for attack. And they provide for transparency: every country knows what forces all the others have and how those forces are being deployed and operated. This "common security order" makes Europe less vulnerable to a major war than ever before in modern history.

Some say the process of expansion has gone so far that failing to complete it soon would damage the alliance's credibility, weakenlng the West. This reflex is obsolete. During the cold war, the West feared that backing down anywhere would embolden the Soviet Union to press against Western positions all over the world. This was the reason for standing firm in West Berlin even at the risk of nuclear war. But the cold war is over. There is no adversary to take advantage of a Western retreat or delay. Stopping the process of expansion would be embarrassing, certainly. …

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