Friday, August 29, 2014

NATO and the crisis in Ukraine

One of the concerns that is thought to motivate Putin in his policy towards Ukraine is concern about further expansion of NATO. Particularly, the Russian government is concerned that if Ukraine turns away from Russia and towards the EU, it will ultimately be offered NATO membership, bringing NATO bases right to Russia's borders.

Russia doesn't like NATO expansion into the former Soviet block. And frankly, I don't blame them. As I have written several different times, it is totally understandable for Russia to be opposed to NATO expansion. The alliance was formed as an explicitly anti-Russian alliance. When the cold war ended the rhetoric changed so that people no longer talked about NATO in terms of hostility. But the behavior of members of the NATO alliance sent a different message when it dangled the prospect of NATO membership to every other former Warsaw pact country, plus many former soviet republics except for Russia. For the most part those former soviet block countries have jumped at the chance to join NATO expressly because they are afraid of Russia. Add to the fact that Russia had been led to believe that NATO would not expand when it agreed to withdraw from East Germany but the West did not stick to that informal agreement, it is hard to see how the Russians to see the alliance as anything other than hostile to their country. There is no reason for NATO countries to act the way they have unless they still viewed their alliance as anti-Russian.

Last night it occurred to me that if Putin's policy is motivated by his desire to stop NATO expansion, he is doing exactly the wrong thing in Ukraine. By destabilizing his neighbor, seizing some of its territory, and now apparently invading it, Russia is reinforcing the idea that Russia is a danger to its neighbors and needs to be contained.

The whole argument against NATO is that it really is an anti-Russian alliance and that kind of alliance is an anachronism. If the new Russia is integrated into the world economy and poses no threats to its neighbors or the interests of the other NATO countries, then the alliance has no purpose. Russia's own recent actions towards Ukraine completely undermine that argument. In fact, the last few months of news from the Ukraine is the best argument there is for keeping NATO and even expanding it.

ADDING: Like I was saying...  On the other hand, current NATO members would be crazy to admit Ukraine at this point. That would be effectively committing all of the member states to an immediate war with Russia. But NATO could put Ukraine in some "on the road to full membership" status, which will probably just piss off the Russians even more. But will also further demonstrate that if Russia's goal in all of this were to keep Ukraine away from NATO, that policy has been a complete failure.