NATO Expansion: Lessons Not LearnedDecember 16, 2015
Failure to Communicate
Recently, NATO extended an offer of membership to Montenegro. The announcement was couched in the usual tagline of offering “assurance” to Western Balkan states concerned with possible security issues (Russian assertiveness) and “reassurance” to current NATO members in the neighborhood. With the utmost respect to Montenegrins and other newer NATO entrants, it seems that they are not expected to reciprocate and offer assurance or reassurance to NATO in turn, which really means the United States. Yet, reciprocity is one of the hallmarks of any successful alliance. The idea that the U.S. considers Montenegro an ally worth risking further deterioration of US-Russian relations in the wake of Ukraine, Syria, the Sinai air disaster, the Paris bombings, and recent Turkish actions is quite idiotic.
Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 should have taught NATO the possible dangers of over-extension. The latter episode in particular should have been quite instructive (to NATO as well as the EU) as to the need for dialogue between major powers before actions to be taken which might be perceived as infringing upon the security interests of other involved parties. Relentless expansion of one’s own sphere of influence while denying a corresponding sphere of influence and concomitant security interests to one’s counterpart reeks of hubris, stupidity, and miscalculation, the usual tragic precursors to war in the past.
Security Architecture and Infrastructure Crumbling
Two hundred years ago at the Congress of Vienna, the major powers of the day agreed to form an equilibrium of sorts which was intended to reduce the chance of a major European war re-occurring. In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, Austria, Prussia, Russia, Great Britain, and France came to an understanding which in essence stated that if any one of the powers took actions which infringed upon the security interests of another state, it would potentially face consequences from the remaining powers as well. With the exception of the Crimean War, this model served as the basis for peace on the European continent for almost a hundred years, until the outbreak of World War I. Following the Treaty of Versailles, there were attempts to replicate the Congress of Vienna model with the formation of the League of Nations. The League ultimately proved unsustainable because of the non-participation of the United States.
The model was replicated once more in the wake of World War II with the creation of the United Nations’ Security Council, whose permanent members also numbered five, akin to the original Congress. In his infamous New York Times op-ed piece, President Putin warned explicitly that the Security Council was in danger of becoming obsolete if certain members, namely the U.S., kept taking actions which violated its norms. Members of the Security Council have the not unrealistic expectation that their interests will be taken into account. If not, the entire international security architecture becomes imminently more unstable.
Wisdom and Alternatives Needed
In addition to hurting US-Russia relations and ultimately undermining the US position in the international community vis-a-vis the United Nations, constant NATO expansion lends credence to the argument for alternative security structures. One such structure is China’s Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA). Among CICA’s tenets is the belief that alliances reflect a Cold War mentality, evident in the expansion to Montenegro and the populace’s subsequent division as result of common Orthodox ties with Russia. Another more fundamental CICA platform is that ultimate, “perfect” security for one party cannot be obtained without inevitably diminishing the security concerns of other parties.
Summarily, two post-World War II events are worthy of discussion here. However militarily feasible (if at all), it was considered politically infeasible to attack our ally, the Former Soviet Union, following the defeat of Nazi Germany. This suggestion by General Patton, in addition to other decisions taken, led to his eventual dismissal by General Eisenhower. Shortly afterwards, during the Korean War, General MacArthur talked about expanding the war to include China and actually advanced to the Sino-Korean border, which provoked a response from China, pushing the General’s troops toward the sea. MacArthur was eventually relieved by President Truman. The combined suggestion from the two popular generals was that there could be no ultimate security for the United States while both the Former Soviet Union and Communist China continued to exist. More wisdom and forethought in the likes of Truman and Eisenhower is desperately needed now.