Many predicted that NATO expansion would lead to war. These warnings were ignored | Ted GalenCarpenter

RThe Russian military offensive against Ukraine is a act of aggression it will make the already worrying tensions between NATO and Moscow even more dangerous. The West’s new cold war with Russia has become heated. Vladimir Putin bears the main responsibility for this latest development, but NATO’s arrogant and tone-deaf policy towards Russia over the past quarter century also deserves a large share. Analysts committed to a US foreign policy of realism and restraint have warned for more than a quarter of a century that continuing to expand history’s most powerful military alliance to another major power would not end well. The war in Ukraine provides definitive confirmation that this was not the case.

Thinking through the Ukrainian crisis – the causes

“It would be extraordinarily difficult to extend NATO to the East without this action being seen by Russia as unsympathetic. Even the most modest projects would bring the alliance to the borders of the former Soviet Union. Some of the more ambitious versions would see the alliance virtually encompassing the Russian Federation itself. I wrote these words in 1994, in my book Beyond NATO: staying out of European wars, at a time when expansion proposals were only occasional speculation in foreign policy seminars in New York and Washington. I added that enlargement “would constitute an unnecessary provocation of Russia”.

What was not publicly known at the time was that Bill Clinton’s administration had already made the fateful decision the previous year to push to include some former Warsaw Pact countries in NATO. . The administration would soon propose inviting Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary as members, and the U.S. Senate approved adding these countries to the North Atlantic Treaty in 1998. This would be the first of several waves of membership expansion.

Even this first step provoked Russian opposition and anger. In his memoirsMadeleine Albright, Clinton’s secretary of state, concedes that “[Russian president Boris] Yeltsin and his compatriots were strongly opposed to enlargement, seeing it as a strategy to exploit their vulnerability and shift Europe’s dividing line eastward, leaving them isolated.

Strobe Talbott, Assistant Secretary of State, likewise describes the Russian attitude. “Many Russians see NATO as a remnant of the Cold War, inherently directed against their country. They point out that they have dissolved the Warsaw Pact, their military alliance, and ask why the West shouldn’t do the same. It was a great question, and neither the Clinton administration nor its successors have provided even a vaguely convincing answer.

George Kennan, the intellectual father of American containment policy during the Cold War, insightful savvy in a May 1998 New York Times interview about what Senate ratification of NATO’s first round of enlargement would set in motion. “I think this is the start of a new cold war,” Kennan said. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite negatively and that will affect their policy. I think this is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for that. No one was threatening anyone else.

He was right, but the leaders of the United States and NATO continued new expansion cycles, including the provocative step of adding the three Baltic republics. Not only were these countries part of the Soviet Union, but they had also been part of the Russian Empire during the Tsarist era. This wave of expansion had now perched NATO on the border of the Russian Federation.

Moscow’s patience with NATO’s increasingly intrusive behavior is running out. Russia’s last reasonably friendly warning that the alliance should back down came in March 2007, when Putin addressed the annual security conference in Munich. “NATO has placed its frontline forces on our borders,” Putin complained. The enlargement of NATO “represents a serious provocation which reduces the level of mutual trust. And we are entitled to ask ourselves: against whom is this expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances given by our Western partners after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? »

In his memory, dutyRobert M Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense in the administrations of George W Bush and Barack Obama, stated his belief that “relations with Russia had been mishandled after [George HW] Bush left office in 1993. Among other missteps, “US agreements with the Romanian and Bulgarian governments to rotate troops to bases in those countries were an unnecessary provocation.” In an implied rebuke to the younger Bush, Gates claimed that “trying to get Georgia and Ukraine into NATO was really overkill.” The move, he argued, was a case of “reckless disregard of what the Russians saw as their own vital national interests.”

The following year, the Kremlin demonstrated that its displeasure with NATO’s continued incursions into the Russian safe zone had outweighed verbal objections. Moscow exploited a senseless provocation by the pro-Western Georgian government launch an army offensive that brought Russian troops to the outskirts of the capital. Subsequently, Russia permanently detached two secessionist-minded Georgian regions and placed them under effective Russian control.

However, Western (especially American) leaders continued to blow through red light after red light. The Obama administration is shocking arrogant interference in Ukraine’s internal political affairs in 2013 and 2014 to help protesters overthrow Ukraine’s pro-Russian elected president was the most brazen provocation and raised tensions. Moscow reacted immediately by seizing and annexing Crimea, and a new Cold War was underway with a vengeance.

Could the Ukrainian crisis have been avoided?

The events of the past few months have been the last chance to avoid a hot war in Eastern Europe. Putin demanded that NATO provide guarantees on several security issues. Specifically, the Kremlin wanted binding assurances that the alliance would reduce the scope of its growing military presence in Eastern Europe and never offer membership to Ukraine. He backed up these demands with a massive military buildup on Ukraine’s borders.

The Biden administration’s response to Russia’s quest for meaningful Western concessions and security guarantees has been lukewarm and evasive. Putin then clearly decided to make matters worse. Washington’s attempt to Ukraine a NATO political and military pawn (even in the absence of the country’s formal membership in the alliance) could end up costing the Ukrainian people dearly.

The Ukrainian tragedy

History will show that the way Washington has treated Russia in the decades since the fall of the The soviet union was a political mistake of epic proportions. It was quite foreseeable that NATO enlargement would ultimately lead to a tragic, possibly violent, breakdown in relations with Moscow. Insightful analysts have warned of the likely consequences, but those warnings have gone unheeded. We are now paying the price for the myopia and arrogance of the US foreign policy establishment.

  • Ted Galen Carpenter is Senior Fellow for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. Carpenter served as director of foreign policy studies at Cato from 1986 to 1995 and vice president of defense and foreign policy studies from 1995 to 2011.

  • This piece originally appeared in [1945[1945

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