- NATO's expansion has raised the serious
question of what the military strategy of the NATO alliance is. The inclusion
of Poland and Hungary creates certain serious strategic problems that must
be dealt with if NATO is going to be a military alliance as well as a moral
project. There is a rare opportunity and a clear danger defining the strategic
- This past week Poland, Hungary, and the
Czech Republic formally became part of NATO. This means that the mutual
guarantees of assistance in time of war, that have been the essence of
NATO for several generations, have now been extended to these three. If
any of them are attacked then it is the legal and moral obligation of all
NATO members to come to their assistance. This dramatically increases
both the responsibilities and vulnerabilities of NATO. The expansion may
also increase the opportunities. These possibilities need to be carefully
- NATO has become defined in two ways.
First, it has been defined, along with the European Union, as an alliance
among democratic states. To be a bit more precise, it has been identified
as an organization that motivates formerly non-democratic states to become
democratic. The assumption is that membership in NATO and the EU is so
attractive that the formerly socialist states, now freed from Soviet control,
would be motivated to reconstruct their political, social and economic
systems in order to be permitted to joint. Thus, in the first round of
admissions, membership was given as a reward to three countries that had
gone the furthest in evolving into democratic polities with market economies
that do not discriminate against ethnic minorities.
- The second role that NATO has defined
for itself derives from the first. If NATO is a club for democratic capitalist
countries, and if its purpose is to motivate countries to be democratic
and capitalist, then it follows that NATO should also punish countries
that are not democratic and capitalist. One punishment is exclusion.
Slovakia and Romania, for example, both wanted to join NATO, but were rejected
for membership for not living up to NATO's standards. Since rejection,
both have been trying to reform their internal systems in order to be eligible
in the next round of expansion. There is another punishment. In extreme
cases where the anti-democratic, anti-free market behavior of states goes
beyond certain limits, NATO is seen as an instrument of rectification,
imposing penalties on the transgressor, including military penalties.
Serbia has become the exemplar of this treatment.
- NATO has, in other words, transformed
itself from a defensive alliance against the Soviet Union, into a system
of relations designed to regulate the internal political, economic and
social relations of not only member countries, but also of non-members
on the periphery of the NATO alliance. Thus, in addition to admitting
new members based on their adherence to democratic principles, and inducing
others to adopt and adhere to those principles, NATO has become an instrument
for punishing those nations which violate those principles in particularly
egregious ways. Thus, while Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic were
being admitted last week, NATO aircraft were poised to attack Serbia unless
Serbia agreed to permit Kosovo internal autonomy.
- NATO sees itself as being engaged in
low-risk operations. The question of Polish or Hungarian admission to
NATO did not depend on the perception of any strategic threat to Europe.
Instead, their admission depended on moral questions, such as the nature
of their political and economic life. Excluding a country did not carry
with it any particular risk. Including a country did not carry with it
any particular benefit, beyond expanding a community of nations having
shared values. Bombing Serbia was not perceived as carrying with it any
particular risk either. Serbia was seen as isolated, weak and helpless.
- What we are getting at is this: NATO
has evolved into a moral instrument from a strategic instrument. Its evolution
into this moral instrument depends on the accuracy of the core perception,
which is that NATO no longer faces a strategic challenge from any quarter.
If this is correct, then the moral project of transforming all of Europe
into democratic, tolerant, market driven economies is a low-cost, low-risk
operation, certainly within the capability of NATO. But if this perception
is false, if there are still serious, potential risks to European security,
then treating NATO as a moral rather than a strategic project carries with
it enormous risks.
- This issue revolves entirely on the Russian
question: how can we expect Russia to behave in the first decade of the
21st century? Are there any circumstances under which Russia could once
again pose a threat to Europe? Russia certainly attempted to transform
itself into a democratic, tolerant, market driven society. Russia tried
quite hard to fit into what we have termed the Western moral project.
It is our perception that Russia has not only failed in this transformation
but more, that it knows it has failed.
- Now, there is a tendency to dismiss the
ability of Russia to assert itself internationally because of its economic
problems. No one should take comfort from this. First, Russia's military
has certainly suffered from economic neglect. However, this policy is
changing very quickly and the Russian military has become the beneficiary
of additional resources in recent months. This is particularly true of
core units that have always represented the heart of Russian military power.
Much of the Russian military machine remains intact. The very depression
that tore Russia apart preserved the Russian military's cadre. Since the
civilian economy could not absorb them, much of the officer corps is still
intact. Russian research and development have continued with some intensity
and the Russians have developed, if not fully deployed, some excellent
and important new weapons.
- It should never be forgotten that Hitler
took a completely hollowed military force in 1933 and within five years
turned it into the awesome Wehrmacht. As important, the very process of
rebuilding German military strength revived the German economy. Defense
spending is a very efficient way to implement Keynesian deficit financing
to revive the civilian sector. What the Germans had was an intact officer
corps, a strong research and development capability, an idle industrial
plant, and a political consensus that rearmament was essential. All but
the last of these is present in Russia, and we see that political consensus
- It is interesting to note that among
the new members joining NATO as well as among those who are hoping to join,
there is a very different perception of why they are joining. The Poles,
for example, have seen the Russians come and the Russians go. The one
thing that they know without any doubt is that nothing is permanent in
this region. The retreat of the Russians is merely the preface for their
return. The Polish reason for joining NATO was certainly a desire to be
part of the Western moral project. Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary
all certainly see themselves as a part of that project. But the driving
force for membership had less to do with that than it had to do with the
strategic fear of a return of the Russians to their borders and the inability
of any of these countries, by themselves, to protect themselves. Since
each of them was invaded and occupied by Soviet forces, the dread of a
return is real and justified.
- This is the real, underlying weakness
in today's NATO. The older NATO members have adopted a view of NATO that
it is primarily a low-risk moral project. The newer members of NATO see
NATO has a strategic guarantee of their independence in the face of the
inevitability of a resurgent Russian power. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech
Republic view NATO membership as a military guarantee of their territorial
integrity. The rest of the NATO members do not see any threat to their
territory and have focused on using NATO as a force for political reform
- One of the consequences of this is that
Brussels has done almost no serious and meaningful strategic planning for
the defense of the new region. Hungary, for example, is completely geographically
isolated from the rest of NATO. It is separated from Poland by Slovakia,
from the Czech Republic and Germany by Austria, and from Italy by Slovenia.
At the same time, it is being used by NATO forces as a staging area into
the former Yugoslavian territories in support of military operations there.
Obviously, no one expects to have to rush forces to Hungary either to defend
its territory or to defend U.S. airbases there. Alternatively the assumption
is that in time of conflict, Slovenia, Austria and Slovakia would all permit
the passage of reinforcements and material. Now this may be true, but
the test will come in the event of a crisis and in a crisis, the ability
of Russia to assert itself may condition any secret guarantees that may
- The admission of Hungary is a strategic
absurdity without the admission Slovenia. But the deeper mystery revolves
around the defense of Poland. Poland has about a two hundred mile border
with Belarus, which is now federated with Russia. The southern part of
the border is marshland, not suited for military operations. About half
of the border is flat, superb tank country. That border can be defended.
The problem is that Poland also faces an extensive direct frontier with
the Russian enclave around Kaliningrad (the old German city of Koenigsberg).
That enclave is separated from Belarus by Lithuania. Now, if Russian forces
take Lithuania, then the northeastern frontier of Poland becomes almost
indefensible. NATO defenders will have to abandon the eastern part of
the country and retreat to the Vistula River line. This not only means
giving up a third of the country, it also makes Warsaw the front line.
This is compounded by the fact that just as Slovenia hasn't been admitted
to NATO, Slovakia hasn't been admitted. Slovenia is secure, well behind
the lines of any future confrontation with Russia, and without having to
ante up for the common defense. If Slovakia were to ally itself with Russia,
and this is not an unpopular view in parts of Slovakia, the entire southern
frontier of Poland would be exposed as well as Hungary's northern frontier.
- The point we are making here is that
using a military alliance for a moral project becomes very dangerous if
a strategic threat reemerges. Since we see the reemergence of a strategic
threat from Russia, we are arguing that the current shape of NATO since
its expansion is militarily insupportable. It might have been better not
to expand NATO, but having expanded, NATO's eastern frontiers are no longer
defensible. It has become absolutely indispensable that Slovakia and Slovenia
be admitted to NATO if NATO is to be able to defend its frontiers. Now,
this poses a challenge to NATO's vision of a moral project. NATO has been
cautious about Slovakia because of certain anti-democratic tendencies of
its former Prime Minister. Whatever the moral character of the regime,
its location in the Carpathian Mountains makes its inclusion essential.
- There are more serious long-term issues.
The situation on the northern frontier of Poland is unsupportable. Since
the Kaliningrad enclave cannot be liquidated, we assume, it must be isolated.
Lithuania must be included in NATO. Indeed, if that flank is to be protected
fully, the rest of the Baltic States must be included, shortening NATO
lines substantially and anchoring the left flank on the Gulf of Finland.
In the south, Romania must be included in order to anchor the southern
frontiers of NATO in the Carpathians, defending the Hungarian plane. Finally,
and most importantly, a decision must be made on Ukraine. Ukraine in NATO
hands creates a magnificent pincer on Belarus along with the Baltics.
- The Russians won't like this. If our
assumption is correct and Western relations with Russia have already been
ruptured beyond hope, then now is the time to act, before Russia fully
revives and can preempt such moves. If the West does not act now, it will
regret its dilatory behavior for generations. However, if our assumption
is incorrect, and Western-Russian relations can remain at this level indefinitely
or improve, than the West will have created an unnecessary and dangerous
crisis. Turn the matter around. If the Russian view of the West has become
as negative as it appears from what they say, then Russia will assume the
worst of the West and act preemptively. In that case, it is a race over
who will act first in the Baltics, Ukraine, and Slovakia.
- These are the deep and pressing strategic
issues facing NATO. The fate of Kosovo may be morally pressing, but it
is not strategically significant. It is not that moral issues are frivolous,
but they always carry with them a price. That price can sometimes be paid,
sometimes not. The price for Kosovo is not a military price. As a military
operation it is of little cost or consequence. Rather it is an intellectual
challenge. Do the NATO planners who are currently studying strikes on
Serbian towns also have the ability to ask broad geopolitical and strategic
questions about NATO's expansion? Put differently, while NATO goads the
Russians, particularly in Serbia and more generally with NATO expansion,
it may compel the Russians to begin acting strategically again. That development
will compel NATO to respond to, rather than control, events. We believe
that to be what is happening.