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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Too Little Straight Talk On NATO

So much nonsense is talked about NATO expansion at the very highest levels of government that it has become difficult to grasp just what it is that Russia and the West are arguing about.

The public positions of NATO and the United States on expansion are simply tortured. There could be no better example of this than Wednesday's duel sallies by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher in Prague and NATO General Secretary Javier Solana in Moscow.

Christopher reassured his audience of former East European Soviet satellites in Prague that regardless of what Moscow says or does, expansion will go ahead. Doubtless that was well received among countries that look to NATO as insurance against any change of course in Moscow.

But then Christopher and Solana, who had the unenviable task of making such statements palatable to the Russians, said Moscow had nothing to worry about. NATO expansion was not directed against Russia; indeed NATO and Russia have a great future as partners in ensuring a secure Europe.

Nonsense, say the Russians, and they are right. Poland wants into NATO to protect it against Russia. And where military alliances are concerned, either you are in them, or you are a potential threat and will be treated as such in strategy meetings, war games and the grand world of geopolitics.

But the Russians too are having trouble making sense on the NATO question. Moscow describes expansion as a hostile act that would lead to war, yet it is quite clear that Poland does not want to join NATO so it can attack Russia.

The nub is that Moscow desperately wants to be treated as an equal to Washington on the geopolitical stage. That desire makes it impossible to join NATO, which would involve submitting to U.S. command, or to consider the Western alliance as anything but a rival. NATO expansion, ipso facto, constitutes a geopolitical threat.

The nearer NATO comes, the less ability Russia has to call the shots in what it considers its own backyard. This is what both Russia and its neighbors are really fighting about.

The trouble for Moscow is that it no longer is a military superpower on a par with the United States. It has a vast nuclear arsenal, to be sure, but not the effective, funded, mobile conventional forces required to project power. As a result, Moscow has little leverage with which to stop NATO from doing as it wants.

So, NATO is ploughing ahead regardless, but at great risk. There is tremendous sensitivity among Russians about the declining status of their country, whose closest neighbors may one day have to suffer the force of a wounded bear provoked.