The Future of NATO, continued

In response to my earlier post, a friend writes (via g-chat):

you realize the nato charter commits us to nothing, right?

it allows collective self-defense

“as we deem necessary” – we get to choose

i say let russia in too

it is a non-binding and irrelevant organization that does not, in just about any real way, limit our sovereignty
not to mention
that Putin said the exact same thing about every eastern/baltic state
and so did yeltsin
and so did gorbachev
and yet NATO and the EU have expanded
Again, I find it extremely difficult to imagine the United States refusing to extend military aid to a NATO ally under Russian attack. Invoking Article 5 after the September 11th attacks sets a clear precedent that treats an attack on one member as an attack against the alliance. Here’s how NATO Secretary-General George Robertson explained the treaty’s collective security arrangement after September 11:
The secretary-general added: “The (NATO) Council agreed that if it is determined that this was an attack directed from abroad against the United States, it shall be regarded as an action covered by Article V of the Washington Treaty, which states that an attack against one ally is an attack against them all.”
Would that interpretation get thrown out the window if Georgia joins the alliance and Russia attacks? Are we implicitly conceding that there are two tiers of NATO membership – one for Very Important Countries who merit defending and another for peripheral members in Eastern Europe and the Caucuses? Treating collective security as optional anywhere east of Berlin is an effective way of ruining NATO’s military credibility, but I’m not sure what it does to actually deter Russia.
One also has to imagine the political context of a McCain presidency. McCain’s aggressive pose has been greeted with rapt approval by the political right, who evidently regard any diplomatic concession as tantamount to appeasement. If McCain lets Georgia (or Ukraine) into NATO to deter Russian aggression, would he really have the political wherewithal to back down from a confrontation with Putin, even if Article 5 doesn’t explicitly require a military response? Given his absurd posturing on the subject, I doubt it.
Granted, my friend is correct to point out that political doomsayers have long predicted NATO expansion will provoke Russian retaliation. A couple of things have changed since the 1990s, however:
  1. We’re not talking about NATO membership for Poland or even the Baltics anymore – we’re talking about the Ukraine and Georgia. Whether we like it or not, Putin seems to consider both countries within Russia’s informal sphere of influence. Georgia and Ukraine have deep cultural and ethnic ties to Russia that pre-date Soviet imperialism. Their close geographic proximity is another factor to consider.
  2. 2008 is quite different from 1998. Sky-rocketing oil revenues, more military spending, cyber-attacks on Estonia, and the recent Georgia incursion all suggest that Russia is much more assertive than it was a decade ago.

If you think NATO should become a non-binding organization that enhances civil-military relations and meets to discuss counter-terrorism and collective security, that’s fine. But that’s not how John McCain (and evidently Sarah Palin) see things. They view it as a military alliance intended to deter Soviet Russian aggression. And that’s a really bad idea.

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