NATO Enlargement and Relations with Russia

Hier ein Statement, das ich vor kurzem auf einer Sicherheitskonferenz abgegeben habe:

Most speakers at this eminent conference have deplored the lack of trust and confidence between NATO and Russia. Celeste Wallander just proposed to explain this mistrust by John Herz’ security dilemma. Herz suggests that states arm against each other because of fear and not due to aggressive intentions. The strengthening of one state’s military posture forces another state to strengthen its military potential as well, which in consequence makes the first state to enhance his armament even further

I do not doubt the value of Herz’ concept to explain international relations. Sometimes however, mistrust is based not on false perceptions but on accurate assessments. Let me recall an episode mentioned by the Greek historian Xenophon. The historian writes about Greek mercenaries led by Klearchos who distrusted the nearby Persian platoon led by Tissaphernes. Both sides enforced their defences, because of fear of each other. Eventually, Tissaphernes invited Klearchos to his camp to talk about the mutual mistrust which he allegedly wanted to overcome. When Klearchos visited the Persian camp, he was killed by Tissaphernes. This episode illustrates, that sometimes states have aggressive intentions, when they arm themselves against another state.

In my brief statement I will speak about what I refer to as the ‚dual nature’ of NATO’s expansion to the east. Enlargement has been promoted by two separate camps with different intentions and we need to be aware of this double rationale.

NATO enlargement has been a remarkable success for the acceding countries, but it came with very high cost. It rebuffed Russia at a time, when this country sought equal partnership relations with the US and NATO. The West, with its dominant narrative of the end of the Cold War as a victory of the West over Russia, wanted to take the lead expecting Russia to fall in line, when Russia was keen to work on a new security arrangement for the European theatre. This has shattered Russia’s trust and confidence in the West right up to now.

The supporters of a co-operative relationship with Russia in the West were superseded by the advocates of NATO’s enlargement, which, from the very started did not include Russia (Tsygankov 2013).

NATO’s expansion has been promoted by two advocacy coalitions with very different intentions. One the one hand, enlargement was pushed by the liberal camp in the USA and NATO countries, which subscribed to the idea of a community of democracies. In this regard enlargement was quite successfull. It

  • contributed to the consolidation of transitional democracies in central and eastern Europe (although much less than the EU enlargement process)
  • helped stabilize fragile national identies and contributed to state-building
  • provided security guarantees to nations which still felt threatened by Russia
  • contributed strongly to the transformation of the militaries in ceE.

Frankly speaking, however, from a realist perspective it was more than an effort in consolidation and enhancement of the central and eastern European countries. It was part of a comprehensive strategy of US primacy, eager to earn the dividends of its alleged victory in the Cold War and the collapse of the bipolar international order. It was a brilliant exercise in offensive realism, an effort to expand US power at a time when its erstwhile adversary – Russia – was seriously weakened. This was true for the Clinton Administration, and even more so for the Bush-43 administration. This was the other nature of NATO enlargment pushed by the camp of Western expansionism.

This strategy of primacy nurtured the lack of trust between Russia and the West. The widening imbalance of power between the two camps – be it hard or soft power – made it even worse (Tsygankov 2013).

The enlargement only came to a halt when Russia used military force in Georgia to demonstrate that there a red lines which ought not to be crossed by NATO. When Russia turned more assertive, enlargment came to a grinding halt.

Russia is both incuded in and excluded from NATO: it is partially included by the NATO-Russia Council but it is principally excluded from accession. This does not provide stability.

Third wave enlargement may not be on the table at the moment, but it is in the cards. My position on the accession of countries of the former Soviet Union to NATO is outright negative. NATO must not reach Russia’s borders if it is going to stop at Russia’s borders. Such a Europe might be free but not whole when Russia is the one country to be left out.

A third wave is not a prudent step to take. Hans Morgenthau, a classical realist, strongly argued for states to pursue an enlightened self-interest, which is based not only on one’s own vital national interests but also takes into consideration the legitimate national interests of other states. It’s time to break with offensive realist and primacy strategies and start devising a security community that includes Russia. This needs to be done in order not to alienate Russia any further because the West needs Russia as a partner on issues which are of vital interest to the Western camp.

This is not to say that the security interests of a country like Georgia should not be properly addressed, but for the time being offering membership to Georgia or Ukraine brings too small a benefit at far to high costs for NATO.”

One thought on “NATO Enlargement and Relations with Russia”

  1. Good and accurate argumentation; In a way we have been much further down the line of solving European security and establishing a comprehensive peace order 20 years ago, at the end of the Helsinki process. The Charta of Paris of Novemvber 1990 signed by the USSR, the USA et al. is and was the peace treaty for Europe after the Cold War. But it was pushed into oblivion by the two waves of NATO extension to the East. Medwedew tried in his confused way to pick up elements of the Charta in 2009, one of he few and rare Russian initiatives. And again his proposal for a comprehensive European security architecture was coldly pushed aside by the US and their transatlantic allies in Europe, esp. of the former Warshawa pact states like Poland etc.. Now were are in a mess: no institution works, not even the NATO-Russian-Counsel and the EU does not have such an instrument at hand. The problems will not go away, neither in the Ukraine or in the belt of countries in between the Baltic Sea and black Sea. We must push for common institutionlized responsibility of the European states.

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