NATO creeping towards Russia’s borders is dangerous-(I told you so twenty five years ago)

Mar 16, 2022
Map of NATO countries
...everybody knows that Russia is the reason for NATO’s expansion. Image: Wikimedia Commons

A great security mistake is being made in Europe with the decision to expand NATO.(An extract from a speech in 1997)

NATO and the Atlantic alliance served the cause of western security well. They helped ensure that the Cold War finally ended in ways which serve open, democratic interests. But NATO is the wrong institution to perform the job it is now being asked to perform.

The decision to expand NATO by inviting Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to participate and to hold out the prospect to others—in other words, to move Europe’s military demarcation point to the very borders of the former Soviet Union—is, I believe, an error which may rank in the end with the strategic miscalculations which prevented Germany from taking its full place in the international system at the beginning of this century.

The great question for Europe is no longer how to embed Germany in Europe—that has been achieved—but how to involve Russia in a way which secures the continent during the next century.

And there was a very obvious absence of statecraft here. The Russians, under Mikhail Gorbachev, conceded that East Germany could remain in NATO as part of a united Germany. But now just half a dozen years later NATO has climbed up to the western border of the Ukraine. This message can be read in only one way: that although Russia has become a democracy, in the consciousness of western Europe it remains the state to be watched, the potential enemy.

NATO’s declaration at the Copenhagen summit of 1991 was admirable. It said ‘We do not wish to isolate any country, nor to see a new division of the Continent. Our objective is to create a Europe whole and free.’ But that sentiment sits impossibly with the expansion of the institution. The fundamental point of principle that NATO enlargement should ‘contribute to stability and security in the entire Euro-Atlantic region and not pose a threat to any nation’ is simply incompatible with enlargement.

The words used to explain NATO’s expansion have been nuanced, and the dangers have been acknowledged. But however careful the words are, whatever the window dressing of the Permanent NATO– Russia Joint Council, everybody knows that Russia is the reason for NATO’s expansion.

The decision is dangerous for several reasons. It will fuel insecurity in Russia and strengthen those strains of Russian thought, including the nationalists and former Communists in the Parliament, which are opposed to full engagement with the West. It will make more likely the restoration of military links between Russia and some of its former dependencies. It will make arms control, and especially nuclear arms control, more difficult to achieve. President Yeltsin’s offer to ‘take the tips off the warheads’ might have been described as a misstatement, or even the unconscious utterance of official briefing, but what are the chances of that happening now, with NATO creeping towards Russia’s western borders?

And NATO expansion will do much less to strengthen the new democracies of eastern Europe than would enlargement of the EU. New strains will be opened up between the ins and the outs among those countries.

It will also weaken NATO itself. The financial costs will be high and NATO’s effectiveness and credibility will be diminished. An American commitment to defend the border of Poland and the Ukraine in all circumstances simply lacks political credibility.


A PROSPECT OF EUROPE Robert Schuman Lecture P J Keating
University of New South Wales Sydney 4 September 1997


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