Is NATO Expansion Bad for Russia?

By Uffe Ellemann-Jensen

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Russia's main argument against NATO enlargement is that it would threaten its security. That is nonsense, and Russia knows it.

  But the Kremlin has found that behaving like a spoiled child gets results: the right to influence developments in former Soviet countries. In other words, Russia is being allowed to re-assert its sphere of influence -- a concept that should have been superceded by that of "Europe Whole and Free," which the entire European Union appeared to have embraced when communism collapsed.

But no: 1989 was not the end of history. History threatens to return.

European opponents of a Membership Action Plan for Ukraine and Georgia argue that neither country is ready for NATO membership. Too many question marks about their national unity are said to exist, too many internal conflicts linger, and their records on political and judicial reforms are supposedly dubious.

But the membership process does not imply an automatic right to NATO membership. On the contrary, Membership Action Plans would put heavy demands on Ukraine and Georgia. Both would have to answer a lot of difficult questions and convince others that they are able to live up to NATO's democratic requirements before being allowed to join.

Therefore, it would also be in Russia's interest to see such a process started. Russia has valid concerns regarding the huge Russian-speaking minorities in both countries, and these concerns are best dealt with in the framework of the Membership Action Plan process, where the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's very strict rules on treatment of minorities provide the benchmark.

Indeed, the process of the Membership Action Plan ensured protection for Russian minorities in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania -- all former Soviet republics that are now members of NATO.

The crux of the matter is Europe's lack of political will to forge a unified stand toward Russia. This has led the Kremlin to pursue a classic "divide-and-rule" strategy by tempting some big European countries into bilateral agreements -- particularly on energy issues -- that preclude a common EU position.

This is sad -- both for Russia and Europeans -- because it strengthens the hand of those in Moscow who want to pursue a policy of national pride rather than national interest, and it weakens the possibilities of establishing a real common European foreign and security policy.

But it is saddest for the countries that are once again being left out in the cold. NATO is supposed to be a beacon for countries struggling to establish democracy and freedom. The Bucharest summit suggests that the beacon has been switched off.

Uffe Ellemann-Jensen is the former foreign minister of Denmark.© Project Syndicate.

By Andrei Liakhov

Until 1991, NATO's primary goal was to contain the threat that was thought to originate from behind its Eastern borders. The goal now seems to be to move the eastern borders as far east as possible. This expansion enhances NATO's strategic defense forces, of which the United States is the main beneficiary. Washington also has detected a major opportunity to prevent Moscow from re-emerging as its rival through Cold War-like containment policies. NATO expansion is viewed by the United States as a key component in this policy.

Any NATO enlargement to include Georgia and Ukraine would inevitably lead to a new arms race in which Russia would clearly be the underdog. Russia has been deprived of much of the clout it had with the Soviet defense industry, particularly the missile research and development facilities based in Ukraine and the ability to mobilize substantial human and financial resources. Making Russia the underdog seems precisely the game that the United States is trying to play at the moment by pushing for Membership Action Plans for Ukraine and Georgia.

Another goal of encircling Russia is to control the export routes of its natural resources. NATO has added energy security to the list of its missions, and it may be interested in controlling Moscow's cash flows and influencing its economic development.

Having started to research the impact of energy supplies on national security much earlier than the West, Moscow has come to the conclusion that it must invest vast sums of money into diversifying export routes to maximize its earnings from hydrocarbon shipments. This became possible only after the meteoric rise in the price of hydrocarbons.

The policy of military and economic containment is ultimately directed at preventing Russia from emerging as a major international power.

Having experienced a history with lengthy periods of near isolation from the rest of the world, Russia could, in theory, survive a NATO encirclement. But the price that the Kremlin would pay to keep up with a new arms race and to safeguard its national interests would be very high.

The Kremlin might resort to former tried and true methods to counter a NATO expansion. The result would likely work against advancing democracy and civil society in the country. As during the Soviet period, a bloated defense budget probably would spark new social tensions. This would also mean that the Kremlin would take an even tougher stance toward the West, leading inevitably to a new Cold War.

We should be worried about NATO's intent to pursue the Membership Action Plan for Georgia and Ukraine. This will deal a serious blow to plans by President-elect Dmitry Medvedev and President Vladimir Putin to turn Russia into a democratic, prosperous state.

Andrei Liakhov, an adviser to the president of the Soviet Union from 1990 to 1991, is a London-based consultant.