The October 20, 1997, issue of The Nation contained a ten-page cover story titled “The Case Against NATO Enlargement,” by Sherle R. Schwenninger, then of the World Policy Institute and now director of the New America Foundation’s Economic Growth Program and American Strategy Program.
Schwenninger argued that the expansion of NATO to the east, as planned by the Clinton administration, would render impossible a lasting peace between Russia and the West. “Rather than establishing the foundation for a mutually agreed-upon security order,” he warned, “ NATO expansion opens the door for future geopolitical rivalry by in effect legitimizing Moscow’s efforts to create its own alliance.”
NATO expansion does little or nothing to insure the cooperation or constraint from Russia that will be necessary to solve these conflicts. Indeed, it provides the opposite incentive: for Russia to compete in those areas not formally part of NATO and to exclude NATO from any involvement in areas of vital Russian interest. Russian nationalists could reasonably ask: Since the NATO-Russia agreement gives Moscow little or no say in its own area of interest, why should Moscow allow the United States to have a say in areas bordering Russia and in its sphere of influence?…
What is worse, NATO expansion threatens to create tensions and conflicts in the heart of Central and Eastern Europe that would otherwise not exist. For example, expansion puts back into geopolitical play most of the nations that are to be excluded from the first round of enlargement, making them again potential objects of renewed East-West rivalry. The Clinton Administration justifies NATO enlargement in part as an effort to avoid a new security vacuum in Central Europe, but even as it removes some countries from East-West competition it only increases the potential intensity of the rivalry over others, like the Baltic states and Ukraine. As NATO expands to include Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, the exclusion of the Baltic states from NATO membership and Ukraine from a NATO sphere of influence will become even more important goals of Russian foreign policy.
The Baltic states, of course, joined NATO in 2004.
I spoke with Schwenninger today about how his 1997 predictions of what the consequences of NATO expansion would be have largely come to pass.
Do you feel that recent events have vindicated your essay on NATO expansion?
Substantively the essay stands up well. I was a little surprised The Nation gave me so much space to be so verbose. Space is in much greater demand these days.
NATO expansion negated the possibly of a real peace settlement between East and West, Russia and Europe. It prevented the sort of historical rapprochement that needed to take place, and, in consequence, introduced elements of new historical grievances and mistrust. It created additional security concerns both for Moscow and the West. It fostered uncertainty among those countries that were left out, created new divisions and endless pressures for those it excluded. That dynamic has ebbed and flowed but has constantly emerged and re-emerged over the last fifteen, sixteen years. It could have been avoided.