Thursday, August 21, 2008
On this day:

Another cautionary note on Georgia, Ukraine, and NATO

From the New York Times:

The trouble is, back in 1949, the alliance was formed with a central tenet of collective defense. The famous Article 5 of the NATO Charter stipulates that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all, a principle that assured Western Europe during the cold war that America would come to its defense if Moscow encroached.

But the notion of collective defense is a more complicated matter now that NATO has expanded to include 26 countries, foreign policy experts said, including former Soviet republics like Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, not to mention the Czech Republic and Poland. Although some said that NATO might at least try to rustle up a defense for those countries if they were attacked, the concept of collective defense falls apart completely in the case of Georgia and Ukraine — both smack in Russia’s backyard and sphere of influence — even if they were NATO members.

“If Georgia was in NATO now, would we be defending them? I don’t know,” said Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations. “The alliance needs to make sure that when it takes on pledges of collective defense, it is prepared to stand by them.”

Amen to that. Is there no one inside the administration who has been making that argument to the President? If so, they've been noticeably silent.

If anyone should be making it - or at least counseling the President on the possible repercussions of NATO expansion into Russia's backyard - it's Defense Secretary Robert Gates. NATO is, after all, a military alliance. In the years since the breakup of the Soviet Union, America's foreign policy elites have been prone to either overlook or ignore that fact. Nonetheless, it's as true now as it was when the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in 1949. The familiar language of Article 5 has never changed:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Historically, NATO's strength has derived from the voluntary commitment of each member state to abide by those unequivocal terms.

There's a great deal of wisdom in President Reagan's old motto of "Peace through Strength." And so we have to ask whether the Bush administration's behavior towards Europe - from it's support of Kosovar independence, to it's push for NATO expansion into Georgia and Ukraine, to its rush to deploy missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic - has served to make the allied commitment to collective self-defense stronger or weaker. On each of these three issues, administration policy has exposed deep rifts within the alliance that the Russians and others have sought to exploit. Is there any doubt that they've been successful?

President Bush said the other day that "The days of satellite states and spheres of influence are behind us." If that were true, it would be something completely new in human history. Has anyone informed the Russians?