George W. Bush and NATO Expansion
Paris, April 1, 2008 – The hawks are coming home to roost this week during President George W. Bush's travels. It has been apparent for many weeks that there was little chance for any of his major initiatives to succeed: expansion of NATO, new reinforcements for NATO in Afghanistan, or agreement with Vladimir Putin on missiles in Eastern Europe.
All date from the period in the Bush administration when its members, to use the Leninist phrase, were dizzy with success, and indifferent to criticism or challenge. The assumptions of the administration's foreign policy were that the Afghan and Middle Eastern interventions were successful – mission accomplished! -- and that the time had come to look to Europe, Russia and China.
The neoconservatives and the administration hawks – Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, their acolytes, and most of the Pentagon leadership – considered Russia and China the real obstacles to unchallenged American global leadership.
The most controversial issue the president deals with during his visits abroad this week is the offer of membership action plans, the first stage in preparing a NATO membership claim, to Georgia and Ukraine. Both formerly were part of the Soviet Union. Imagine the reaction of Washington were Mexico or Canada urged to join a Russian military alliance. Or Florida or Texas, after their having declared independence of the U.S.
In cold war Europe, there were important old nations of central, southern and southeastern Europe that had played major roles in the European past and were subjugated by Stalinist Russia after the second world war. These deserved restored independence. Russia acquiesced.
It has not even seriously objected to their joining NATO, notwithstanding the George H.W. Bush administration's assurances that NATO would not be extended to Russia's borders.
Even NATO's extension to the Baltic states has been accepted, although these former Roman provinces, or creations of Baltic Crusader knightly orders, have mixed histories over the ages of Swedish or Russian domination, and only intermittent independence.
In Georgia and Ukraine fundamental internal problems must be resolved before their stability and integrity can be assured. Inside NATO, they risk becoming sources of alliance weakness and internal controversy. Majority Ukrainian public opinion does not favor NATO membership. The country is a divided one, one half Roman (Uniate) Catholic in religion, looking westward towards Poland, and the other half, the poorer half, is Russian-speaking, Russian in culture, and Orthodox in religion.
The governing elite (and their supporters in Poland and elsewhere) think NATO membership is a solution to this internal problem. But if the country is in NATO, the Russian-inclined half of the population will effectively have been subordinated to the other, and a cultural, linguistic, religious and political division that goes back to the 14th century will be envenomed, not settled.
This is neither a good idea for Ukraine nor for NATO, exacerbating internal tensions in Ukraine and involving NATO in a quarrel it cannot resolve, and which weakens the alliance.
Georgia has a better claim to independence as it was a distinct autonomous kingdom as early as the 4th century B.C. Its subsequent history is one of largely unsuccessful struggles against the Persians, Turks, and in modern times, the Russians, to remain independent.
Its difficulties in staying independent have been its small size, predatory neighbors, and most important, so far as NATO is concerned, internal divisions that persist to the present day. Vladimir Putin's Russia supports separatist enclaves that Georgia claims, but that do not wish to be Georgian. Again, whatever sympathy may be felt for the Georgians, NATO membership and conflict with Russia are not the way to solve Georgia's problems.
What is the point of deliberate provocation? The West Europeans generally are against this expansion of the alliance, and they are the ones that have to worry about what turn Russian policy may take in the future.
A favorite refrain in Washington is that the Europeans must build up their military defenses. If the West Europeans do not do so, it is because they do not share the fear that is so marked a characteristic of the United States since 9/11.
The Europeans generally think that now, and in the future, the EU can deal comfortably with Russia on the basis of shared or convergent economic and political interests. If Russia should give sign of becoming a military threat to Europe, which they do not expect, they will no doubt react accordingly. They are much richer, more populous, with a much more powerful and advanced industry and advanced technology, than Russia, and they even have a reputation for a certain military competence when provoked.
Finally, unlike George Bush, most Europeans seem confident that Iran has no reason to fire nuclear missiles at them, and that what happens with the Taliban in Afghanistan does not threaten Europe, nor indeed that it is Europe's business. These views might prove complacent, or even foolish, but that surely is for the Europeans to worry about, which is exactly what Washington still is not ready to accept.
© Copyright 2008 by Tribune Media Services International. All Rights Reserved.
This article comes from William PFAFF