Russia’s NATO fears are understandable

Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has expressed ardent opposition to suggestions from leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that the Western military alliance be expanded into Eastern and Central Europe. NATO Secretary General Xavier Solana’s plans to begin admitting new European members as soon as July of this year is prompting fears among Russian diplomats that their nation will soon be surrounded by potentially hostile forces. Moscow is also concerned that the expansion will exclude Russia from the maturing European markets.
Now that it has removed all of its troops from eastern Europe and the Baltics, Moscow is understandably skeptical about the potential deployment of NATO forces to those regions. Russia’s worries that the expansion of a military and economic infrastructure, modeled on already-developed Western capitalist democracies, will create substantial divisions among the area’s emerging free market systems are similarly justified. The very act of expanding NATO suggests that Western nations haven’t given up their Cold War mission to dominate the political and economic systems of eastern and central Europe.
Solana is now seeking to cultivate a collaborative relationship with Moscow in order to preclude a disruption of the region’s security balance during NATO’s proposed expansionary period. In a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov last week, however, he failed to address concerns that NATO enlargement means further excluding Russia from the growing European markets. Now that the Cold War has ended, Moscow is right to question the purpose of a Western military alliance that aspires to integrate more nations with no arrangement to give Russia an equal say on security issues and economic reforms.
Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are the principal countries clamoring loudest for NATO membership. They are also the nations that Solana has slated to admit later this year. Each is testimony to the underlying economic priorities energizing the West’s calls for expansion. NATO supporters, including President Clinton, insist enlargement will bolster the emerging democracies and ensure a strategic military balance in the area. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are, however, already the three most economically secure and democratically developed countries of all the former Soviet bloc nations. Those most in need of economic and political support, such as the Baltic states, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine, aren’t part of NATO’s projected short-term plan. Expanding NATO without accounting for the widespread implications of creating economic and political fissures throughout Europe is certain to exacerbate already disturbing inequalities among the new democracies.
More time and thoughtful deliberation is needed before Solana plods ahead with his expansionary agenda. Hastily handpicking profitable markets for inclusion will undermine central and eastern Europe’s burgeoning economies. NATO cannot be permitted to restructure the planet through subordinating the less economically developed nations of the region to the economic stratagems of Western powers.