Skip to comments.NATO’s New Neighbors
Posted on 05/17/2012 8:34:54 PM PDT by neverdem
In late February of 2002, the New York Times reported on the creation of the NATO-Russia Council, with officials heralding a new era of cooperation and trust between Putin’s Russia and the alliance of democracies. They were former rivals and future friends, with a period of strategic partnership easing the transition. Yet the tone of the reporting betrayed the presence of tension in the proceedings.
The Times headlined the story: “NATO Offers Russia New Relationship, but Without Any Veto.” As if repeating this like a mantra would make it true, the report stated, in the second paragraph, that Russia “will not have a veto over any NATO political or military policies.” The story closed with a third mention of the lack of a veto, but then offered a striking bit of foreshadowing: “[NATO] want[s] to counter concerns that Russia will use the new relationship to try to divide Europeans from Washington.”
Fast-forward to the 2008 NATO conference in Bucharest. At a meeting of NATO foreign ministers presided over by Condoleezza Rice, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier made a case against Georgia’s accession to NATO predicated on the troubled breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, calling them “frozen conflicts” with Russia. Then the pile-on commenced. One official called out Germany’s hypocrisy, noting that West Germany was admitted to NATO in 1955, despite its own “frozen conflict” with Moscow that wouldn’t be solved for another four decades. Poland’s foreign minister then spoke up, referencing the Munich Agreement of 1938. Rice, according to her own recollection, pleaded with Steinmeier: “We can’t let [Moscow] split the alliance.”
But in the end, Russia did divide the Europeans from Washington, since Georgia’s NATO aspirations were vetoed over Russian concerns. This history is worth recalling now because on May 20 and 21, ten years after the creation of the NATO-Russia Council, the U.S. will host a NATO summit under a dense cloud of geopolitical tension. Since 2002, both Russia and China have expanded their spheres of influence in attempts to nudge the world closer to “multipolarity.” As American influence recedes, the strengthening of democratic alliances will be essential. And no such alliance is more important to this effort than NATO.
Which is why Russia and China have been subtly — and sometimes not so subtly — constructing parallel alliances to counterbalance those of the West. Both countries have taken a two-step approach: create a buffer zone between them and the West, then attempt to pull nonaligned countries into their orbit. As an example of the first step, Vladimir Putin seems to have effectively vetoed, or at the very least postponed, Georgia’s admission to NATO. And as part of the Obama administration’s “reset,” Putin was able to get a proposed missile shield based in Poland and the Czech Republic scrapped. An example of the second step is the proposed Eurasian Union, ostensibly a trade union consisting of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, as well as Central Asian states such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The economic ties among members of this union would be expected to lead to deeper political assimilation down the road. It’s unclear if Ukraine is quite ready to make the leap; it is simultaneously being courted by the European Union as well. And Central Asian states may balk at moving toward more reliance on Russia, and eschewing prospects of Chinese investment. But regardless of which way these states go, as the European economic crisis continues apace, Europe’s influence on them will wane considerably.
China has followed a similar model. Its support for North Korea sustains an evil and dangerous regime, but it also provides a buffer zone for China to extend its influence toward South Korea, which hosts tens of thousands of American military personnel. In addition to the North Korean land buffer, China has sought to extend its zone of control, somewhat brazenly, to the South China Sea. China’s assertion of sovereignty over portions of the resource-rich waterway immediately rang alarm bells in neighboring capitals. Twenty years ago, the Philippines asked the United States to leave its naval base at Subic Bay; now the two countries are conducting joint military operations to prepare the Philippine coasts for possible Chinese military aggression.
Coincidentally, China’s and Russia’s spheres of influence overlap a bit as well. In November 2010, Tang Yongsheng, deputy director of the Institute of Strategic Studies at China’s National Defense University, penned an article in the State Council’s journal Xiandai Guoji Guanxi arguing that as both a Pacific nation and a nation in the heartland of Asia, China needs to pursue a western landward strategy across Eurasia as well as an eastern seaward strategy in the Pacific. On its western border, China has been consolidating its influence in Central and South Asia via the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Over the last decade, China has cemented economic, energy, and political ties with Central Asian republics and drawn additional regional players into its orbit: Iran, Pakistan, India, and now Afghanistan — which applied to be an observer on the SCO last June. Moreover, in the eastern Mediterranean, NATO member Turkey is also seeking a seat in the SCO as a dialogue partner. Thus, China’s westward efforts bump up against NATO’s eastward forays, including attempts to establish a new North-South silk road linking South Asia with Central Asia via Afghanistan (using the Northern Distribution Network). Meanwhile, China’s SCO expands westward, building its own horizontal silk road linking China with Iran and Turkey via Afghanistan.
These widening alliances would be less of a threat if the Obama administration practiced smart diplomacy. But it doesn’t. And so it is imperative that our key alliance, NATO, be strengthened, by moving forward on its proposed missile shield; shoring up its strategic partnerships with continued enlargement; and enhancing cybersecurity measures to better protect NATO against the rash of recent cyberattacks it believes are coming from China and Russia. But all these issues would require NATO to implement the most important change of all: Finally, after ten years, live up to its promise and remove the implicit Russian veto.
— Seth Mandel is assistant editor of Commentary magazine. Christina Lin is a visiting fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University.
1) To call Russia's bluff and take their veto, NATO needs the stones to throw down.
2) Russia may not be bluffing.
We’re in strange times. Russia’s biggest threat happens to be NATO/US/Europe’s biggest threat: Certain members of a certain religion of peace....
Absolutely correct, I believe China sees future conflicts with Islam also.
Russia may have been more kind to us without Ziggy.