Bring Russia into NATO

November 01, 1996|By Jonathan Power

LONDON -- Perhaps it was only a campaign promise, but President Clinton committed himself last week to a military decision of momentous historic proportions. He announced that he would press for the expansion of NATO eastward and guaranteed the admission of former European Warsaw Pact members by 1999.

The Kremlin, desperate to keep its relations with Washington smooth, maintains a blithe face. Just before he was sacked, the Russian security chief, Alexander Lebed, was wined and dined at NATO headquarters in Brussels and left for home opining that although he preferred that expansion be left until a new post-Cold War generation had matured, Russia was not going to put serious roadblocks in its way. His successor, Ivan Rubkin, seems almost breezily relaxed about it.

But we should not be misled. Expanding NATO could boomerang, raising East-West tensions and upsetting much of the momentum on arms control developed since Mikhail Gorbachev decided to make peace with America.

Russia, never forget, lost the Cold War after devoting 50 years of its energies to winning it. It is hard for many Russian patriots to understand that NATO not only intends to continue to exist but wants to expand, pushing even closer to the borders of the fatherland. Does the West want to humiliate Russia, taking advantage of the demoralized, underfed, ill-equipped army at a time when Russia, as Walter Russell Meade has put it, ''is a weak state more likely to implode into anarchy than to explode beyond its frontiers in an orgy of conquest and aggression?''

The really sensible policy would be to include Russia in NATO.

The European order

As James Chace has written in World Policy Journal, ''To exclude Russia from NATO violates a cardinal principle of the European order. . . . The victors over France after the Napoleonic wars recognized this in the Congress of Vienna. The France of His Most Christian Majesty Louis XVII was not the enemy, as his foreign minister, Talleyrand, pointed out at a delicate moment in the deliberations of the victorious powers. Thereafter, France became part of the Congress system, a member of the Concert of Europe. It never again became the aggressive power that it had been for almost 200 years.''

This principle was shunted aside by the victors of World War I. Germany was excluded from the peace settlement. It and the new Soviet Union were both shut out of the new League of Nations, all contributory factors to the making of World War II. The same mistake was not made with Germany or Japan after that war. (The hand of friendship was also extended to the West's wartime ally, the Soviet Union, only to be rebuffed by a suspicious Stalin.)

What is needed today is the same Western magnanimity and vision, creating a NATO that becomes an all-European security organization in which both Russia and the U.S. would participate.

The danger of Mr. Clinton's expansion policy is that by arming and training the Central Europeans against the imaginary threat of a resurgent Russia, it will create the very reborn monster he is trying to avoid. Already, fueled partly by the NATO expansion discussions, a critical mass of dangerous chauvinism in the Russian parliament has delayed the ratification of the negotiated SALT 2 treaty that would reduce long-range nuclear weapons from 6,000 to 3,500.

President Clinton apparently has not learned the lesson about creating an opposite and equal reaction. Neither is he a man of peace. A great opportunity for mankind is about to be undone.

Jonathan Power writes a column on the Third World.

Pub Date: 11/01/96

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