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NATO Expansion Makes Less Sense Than Ever

Irakly Areshidze and Elena Suhir make [1] a terrible assumption and offer an equally terrible suggestion:

Surrounding Russia with NATO members will not only curb Moscow’s imperialist ambitions, it will also strengthen the cause of democracy inside Russia.

There are a lot of bad ideas for the U.S. and EU response to Russia’s incursion, but the idea that they should rush to expand NATO is one of the very worst. Aside from the fact that NATO won’t and officially is not supposed to bring in new members that have ongoing territorial disputes with their neighbors, advocates for expansion don’t seem to understand that “surrounding Russia with NATO members” is one of the things that makes Russia so hostile to the idea in the first place. It is the fear [2] of being surrounded by an alliance that it still regards as a major threat that has driven much of its opposition to bringing former Soviet republics into the alliance. Western governments have repeatedly failed to anticipate how Russia would react to their plans for incorporating more countries into the alliance, and for a while they could afford to do that because Russia was not prepared to do anything in response. Over the last decade, that changed, but many Westerners remained oblivious to the change. Dragging Ukraine into NATO–and it would probably still have to be dragged in [3] against the wishes of a large part of its population–is just the sort of thing that could trigger the escalation and conflict that everyone should be trying to prevent. One of the worst things that the alliance could do to itself at this point is to undermine its existing security guarantees by extending them to countries that we already know we’re not going to fight to defend. It wouldn’t anyone any favors, and would be more likely to invite the intervention that it is supposed to deter.

P.S. Surrounding Russia with NATO members is more likely to cause the state to become more authoritarian, illiberal, and paranoid, and it would make it much less likely that Russia would undergo peaceful political change to a more pluralistic and liberal order.

27 Comments (Open | Close)

27 Comments To "NATO Expansion Makes Less Sense Than Ever"

#1 Comment By Keith On March 4, 2014 @ 11:24 am

“advocates for expansion don’t seem to understand that “surrounding Russia with NATO members” is one of the things that makes Russia so hostile to the idea in the first place.”

You are 100% right about that, but I am not sure they “do not understand” that–i think they understand that perfectly well and just do not care…

#2 Comment By Rob in CT On March 4, 2014 @ 11:50 am

Some people really, REALLY miss the Cold War.

#3 Comment By WillW On March 4, 2014 @ 11:54 am

Yes of course. Let’s just make Summer 2014 the same situation that existed in Summer 1914. That worked out well for everyone, right?

#4 Comment By Andrew On March 4, 2014 @ 12:57 pm

Irakly Areshidze

The name, that speaks volumes. Well, Saakashvili now teaches at Tufts. New generation of American politicians will be really well-“educated” in the craft of statesmanship;-)

#5 Comment By WorkingClass On March 4, 2014 @ 1:03 pm

Imperial Washington has been busy surrounding Russia and Iran beginning in earnest with the Clinton Administration. Russia, backed by China, has abandoned its policy of appeasement and stopped American aggression at Syria and now Crimea. The New American Century lasted fourteen years.

#6 Comment By SteelyTom On March 4, 2014 @ 1:15 pm

You get to choose to live in one of two cities for the next month, Sevastopol or Tallinn. You’d like to make sure your kids are safe. Which would you choose?

#7 Comment By James Canning On March 4, 2014 @ 1:15 pm

What utter lunacy, to propose “surrounding” Russia with Nato members! Idiocy of the first order.

#8 Comment By Pasha On March 4, 2014 @ 1:48 pm

Surrounding Russia with more NATO states? Definitely a bad idea. Re-affirming ties and crafting policy to ensure the actual defense of existing NATO members? That’s not such a bad idea.

If Putin is acting to protect Russian populations outside of Russia whenever he deems they are “threatened,” Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and even Poland might appreciate some reassurance that NATO isn’t completely meaningless.

#9 Comment By Felix Keverich On March 4, 2014 @ 1:51 pm

Their argument makes zero sense, unless you assume that “Democracy” is just an euphemism for US/Western power and influence.

#10 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 4, 2014 @ 1:55 pm

Surrounding the Russians,

‘cold war strategies” in reverse. Unless Russia intends to invade a NATO member or some peaceful nation it’s hard to justify our intervention.

#11 Comment By CabrilloBob On March 4, 2014 @ 2:19 pm

“..would make it much less likely that Russia would undergo peaceful political change to a more pluralistic and liberal order.”

You mean like we have the US police state?

#12 Comment By VikingLS On March 4, 2014 @ 3:48 pm

Steelytom, Having actually lived in Tallinn I’d consider my kids safer there than in many cities in the USA. That’s not because Estonia is a NATO member though.

#13 Comment By VikingLS On March 4, 2014 @ 4:13 pm

It’s nice to see that even at the National Review most of the commentors see this as crazy idea.

Ukraine put a man in charge of their Navy over the weekend who immediately defected to the Crimean side. Does that really sound like they’re going to bring anything to the table.

#14 Comment By Flavius On March 4, 2014 @ 5:20 pm

Obama, born 1961; Cameron, born 1966. Do they know anything about the wars, hot and cold, of the 20th century? If called upon 3 weeks ago to say something verifiably correct about the Ukraine and then to elaborate on the subject for 3 minutes without resorting to bromides and platitudes, would either man be up to the task? Would any of their most intimate advisors? Would Putin?

#15 Comment By Ken Hoop On March 4, 2014 @ 6:15 pm

Dan are you just being politic when you call for Russia to become more pluralistically liberal?
For myself and other conservative sympathizers with Eurasianism as the only viable counter to the lawlessly bloody culturally levelling American Empire, Russia needs to be succesful in effecting a Eurasian Union, ultimately spanning Europe and with Germany as an equal partner.
That requires a strengthening of Tradition in Russia, not lapse into modernistic decadent liberalism.


#16 Comment By Jim C. On March 4, 2014 @ 6:46 pm


There are these things called “books” that exist in places called “schools” wherein people that were not born when a particular event took place or were very young could still become educated on those events by reviewing the recorded knowledge of others and prior generations.

Joking aside, I think it’s safe to say that all the men, particularly Cameron, you mentioned had some understanding of the 20th century wars.

Maybe not direct, first hand knowledge depending on age, but they probably had some knowledge of the causes and motivations of the various 20th century wars.

Nobody can be experts in every subject area but there are probably state department advisers that can fill in the blanks.

#17 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 4, 2014 @ 8:24 pm

“There are these things called “books” in places called “schools” wherein people that were not born when a particular event took place could still become educated”

I suppose you are thinking that one could be enlightened, rather than indoctrinated, by the myths taught as histories in public schools designed to socialize children. If our leaders are so ignorant as to never have moved much beyond those books, it is doubtful they are much enlightened beyond Rumsfeld’s famous “unknown unknowns.”

It won’t be so much that what hurts us all will be what they don’t know, but what they think they do, but really don’t.

#18 Comment By Flavius On March 4, 2014 @ 9:27 pm

Jim C
“…I think it’s safe to say that all the men, particularly Cameron, you mentioned had some understanding of the 20th century wars.”

Safe? Books? Schools? Do you really think that these strivers have read any books about the war travails of the 20th century; or that Oxford or Columbia in the early 1980’s was encouraging their students to dwell on the unpleasantness of history’s bloodiest century? The 1980’s in the elite Universities of the West was not about History, it was about politics, and self esteem. Did I just say Obama and Cameron?
Some understanding? I suppose they may have seen a documentary or watched a television show – yes, I agree, they likely have some understanding that there had been some wars fought and that the Russians, or Soviets, or whatever you want to call them, had been somehow involved…

#19 Comment By bones On March 5, 2014 @ 1:07 am

Flavius, I think I get your meaning: Guys like Cameron and Obama came into adulthood just as the West ‘won’ the Cold War. Without a doubt it has made them much more accepting of hawkish narratives about the ascendancy of NATO and liberal democratic capitalism in general. What they should have studied is boring old ‘realism’. Pull out some dusty Kenneth Waltz books article – if for nothing else than to remind themselves of the hard, black and white decisions states will make when pushed to (their self identified) limit.

#20 Comment By RandomJoe On March 5, 2014 @ 1:45 am

@Ken Hoop

I think there needs to be counterbalance in this world. Having one nation dictating things aient good.

However, I am not such a supporter of EuroAsian Union.
I believe it would be best if the US left Europe (and the world) alone and the EU and Russia cooperated. At the moment the EUs policy are ruining European countries and people. It has become very globalist and liberal.
However, I just dont see EU nations and Russia agreeing unless the EU is reformed.

#21 Comment By RandomJoe On March 5, 2014 @ 1:51 am

I honestly think NATO should have been disbanded when the Warsaw Pact ended.
This organization isnt really necessary.

#22 Comment By Harry Huntington On March 5, 2014 @ 8:19 am

Unmentioned of course is what the folks in Beijing think about this little dust up in Ukraine. I would expect Beijing is delighted by the current course of events. If we consider China to be the real enemy in the coming years (and it is the real enemy), the United States’ natural allies against China would include Russia, Japan, South AND North Korea, Vietnam, and India. How goes that anti-China coalition? Not so well.

The problem here may very well be the same problem the US had before World War 2. Before World War 2, everyone spoke German, few spoke Japanese. The problem today is that when President Obama was at Columbia, everyone was studying Russian not Chinese.

#23 Comment By Puller58 On March 5, 2014 @ 9:07 am

NATO’s performance in Afghanistan is the same difference as the EU’s performance. Small countries with limited populations can’t be expected to do much more than show up. Russia is not going to be threatened by such a motely crew.

#24 Comment By eero iloniemi On March 5, 2014 @ 9:08 am

SteelyTom ask would my kids feel safer in Sevastopol or Tallinn? (presumably he thinks the choice is Tallinn). I live in non-Nato Helsinki and I know lots of people from Tallinn who would rather live here (actually about 10 000 already do)

#25 Comment By Дмитрий On March 5, 2014 @ 10:10 am

Правильная статья. И среди американцев есть здравомыслящие люди. Proper article. And Americans have sane people.

#26 Comment By William On March 5, 2014 @ 10:13 am

If only Russia could have been brought into the EU and NATO, it would have gone a long way to improve global security. Alas, that window of opportunity passed in the 1990s and won’t open again anytime soon.

I’m not so sure any and all NATO expansion has been misguided, since countries like Poland and the Baltic States are now securely in the Western sphere and don’t create tensions now. However, the Ukraine and Georgia were never good targets for expansion so long as Russia considered these part of its sphere of influence. Why provoke a nuclear bear?

#27 Comment By Noah172 On March 5, 2014 @ 6:19 pm

Obama, born 1961; Cameron, born 1966. Do they know anything about the wars, hot and cold, of the 20th century?

McCain, born 1936; Bush, born 1946; Romney, born 1951; H. Clinton, born 1946. What do they know?