Jonathan Power: How Not to Deal with Russia

By Jonathan Power

Let’s be frank: NATO is no longer needed. Indeed, this has been true for some time: once the Warsaw Pact closed up shop there was no good or honest reason for keeping NATO going. The threat that NATO was created to deter disappeared when the Soviet Union collapsed.

It is now time to let the European Union take the strain—whether by trade, investment, diplomacy, or political intimacy (indeed, the hallmarks of a successful union that has mastered the art of expansion and influence by clever use of the carrot)—while America deals with its own problems, brought about by its quest for global influence and application of the Bush doctrine of “preventive war.”

As Mark Leonard, the director of foreign policy at the Center for European Reform wrote in his clever little book of three years ago, “The contrast between the two doctrines is stark. The Bush doctrine attempts to justify action to remove a ‘threat’ before it has a chance of being employed against the United States. It is consequently focused very closely on physical assets and capabilities, necessarily swift in execution and therefore short term in conception, and unavoidably entirely military in kind. The European doctrine of pre-emption, in contrast, is predicated on long-term involvement, with the military just one strand of activity, along with pre-emptive economic and legal intervention, and is aimed at building the political and institutional basis of stability, rather than simply removing the immediate source of threat.”

Passive aggression—the outward expansion of the Eurosphere—is just what the continent needs. For countries such as Turkey, Serbia, or Bosnia, the only thing worse than having the Brussels bureaucracy (with its multitude of new rules) descend on their political systems is to have its doors closed to them.

When the expansion of NATO was first being discussed by the Clinton administration, it was no less than a group of conservative experts, led by Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President George H. W. Bush, who wrote in The New York Times, “Antagonism is sure to grow if the alliance extends ever closer to Russia…. We will have misplaced our priorities during a critical window of opportunity.” And George Kennan described NATO expansion as “the most fateful error of the entire post Cold War era.”

According to former President Mikhail Gorbachev, he was assured in 1990 by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker that if the Soviet Union permitted the reunification of West and East Germany “there would be no extension of NATO’s current jurisdiction eastward.” Gorbachev’s words have the ring of truth. Why at that time would a Soviet president voluntarily concede such an important piece of the chessboard without a reasonable quid pro quo? Jack Matlock, Jr., the American ambassador in Moscow at the time, has indeed confirmed the deal, saying, “When Gorbachev and others say that it is their understanding NATO expansion would not happen, there is a basis for it.”

Washington has rolled all over that commitment, with a supine EU along for the ride. Not only is NATO right smack up against Russia’s borders, but U.S. troops are now to join with the Polish military in operating an American Patriot anti-missile battery. If, as the White House has long maintained, its anti-missile system is only directed at Iran, why has it announced this new agreement with Poland in the week that Russia invaded Georgia? And, needless to say, Poland is a long way from Tehran.

Europe has missed an important beat with Georgia. Brussels should have been more cautious in not allowing the United States to recklessly set the pace, pulling Georgia into its embrace, and aggressively pushing the land of Stalin’s birth to be made a member of NATO.

Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France and also currently of the European Union, has done much to redeem Europe’s position, rushing to Moscow in the first hours of the Georgian crisis to help secure a peace deal while Bush still dozed at the Olympics.

This diplomatic effort needs to be followed up by a dramatic realignment of Europe’s eastward stance. EU membership negotiations should be offered to both the Ukraine and Georgia, and likewise Brussels must reaffirm the goal, as Zbigniew Brzezinski so clearly remarked to me in a Fall 2007 interview for World Policy Journal, that one day Russia too will be invited to join the EU.

This is what the Ukraine and Georgia both badly need, yet the present leaders of their countries do them a disservice by emphasizing their military needs rather than their social, economic, and legal requirements—the remedy to which the EU is far better suited than NATO.

At the moment, the plan is to start Ukraine’s NATO accession talks in December 2008. Unless Europe wants to be party to laying the ground work for a re-ignition of the Cold War, it should veto this and concentrate on expanding the Eurosphere.



Jonathan Power is a syndicated columnist and a contributing editor of Prospect magazine, London. His most recent book is Conundrums of Humanity (Martinus Nijhoff, 2007).

Comments are closed.