PROVOCATION, NOT LEADERSHIP: NATO'S Expansion Undermines The Struggle For Peace

An address to Santa Barbara Committee on Foreign Relations
Santa Barbara, California, February 3, 1998

Do you remember the "good old days?" I do not mean the days of our youth,or when a quarter was a lot of money, or even as far back as the 1970s. Imean the early 1990s.

The Berlin Wall had suddenly toppled. Democracy raced through EasternEurope. The Communist government of the Soviet Union disintegrated. TheSoviet Union itself imploded. The Cold War was over.

For a moment, we saw a vision of a new world order centered on astrengthened United Nations, the emergence of multilateral diplomacy, thedevelopment of international law, the elimination of nuclear and otherweapons of mass destruction, a peace dividend in which the huge amounts ofmonies devoted to preparation for war would be diverted to building theconditions for peace.

In this vision, NATO, born of Cold War needs, would phase down. TheOrganization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a pan Europeansecurity organization whose 55 participating States span the geographicalarea from Vancouver to Vladivostok, would become the central securityinstrument for a united Europe. The OSCE expressed a comprehensive view ofsecurity: it would foster a cooperative approach to a wide range ofsecurity-related issues, including arms control, preventive diplomacy,confidence-and-security-building measures, human rights, electionmonitoring and economic security.

What happened to this moment of hope?

The Gulf War, the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, slaughters in Africa,ethnic violence in a dozen places all restored fear in the politicalpsyche. The political order needed more time, perhaps a decade or two, toadjust its thinking from a Cold War mindset to a full engagement witheconomic and social development everywhere as the basis for global peace.But the sudden plunge back into a sea of crises made governments lose theirnerve to chart a new course. Peace would be nice but war is real.

Militarism, which drove the Cold War arms race, reappeared. Theexaltation of military values in the resolution of conflict, leading toaggressive military preparedness and a dominant societal standing of themilitary class, reoccupied centre stage.

In this environment, NATO expansion was born.

NATO claims that by bringing Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic intothe 16-member Alliance, the new NATO will "meet the challenges of the 21stcentury." But 50 American former Senators, diplomats and officialsmaintain that NATO expansion would be "a policy error of historicproportions." George Kennan, the father of the U.S. containment policy onthe Soviet Union, says: "Expanding NATO would be the most fateful error ofAmerican policy in the entire post-Cold War era."

Why is NATO so determined to enlarge? Why is the opposition so strong?Why is the U.S. Senate rushing to judgment on such a controversial step?

I come before you as an opponent of NATO expansion. I see the expansionof a nuclear-armed Alliance up to Russiašs borders as provocative, not anact of leadership for peace. In fact, NATOšs expansion undermines thestruggle for peace.

I want to set out my reasons in three main categories:

  1. Instilling Fear in Russia
  2. Setting Back Nuclear Disarmament
  3. Undermining the United Nations

1. Instilling Fear in Russia

It is claimed that the idea of NATO expansion started with the leaders ofCentral and Eastern Europe who wanted to look West in confidence ratherthan East in fear. President Clinton was impressed with this stance andU.S. policy set out reasons for widening the scope of the American-Europeansecurity connection.

NATO expansion would respond to three strategic challenges: to enhancethe relationship between the U.S. and the enlarging democratic Europe; toengage a still evolving Russia in a cooperative relationship with Europe;and to reinforce the habits of democracy and the practices of peace inCentral Europe.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright set out the case cogently:

"Now the new NATO can do for Europešs east what the old NATO did for Europešs west: vanquish old hatreds, promote integration, create a secure environment for prosperity, and deter violence in the regions where two world wars and the Cold War began."
Russiašs early objections to NATO expansion were met by NATOšs assurancesthat it wanted a strong, stable and enduring partnership with Russia basedon the Founding Act on Mutual Relations. Russia would be consulted; aRussian military representative arrived in Brussels; the NATO-RussiaPermanent Joint Council began meeting at the ministerial level. NATOinsisted it was moving away from forward defense planning and reducing itsmilitary capability.

But that is not what Russian leaders see. They maintain that, despiteMoscowšs disbanding of the Warsaw Pact, deeper reductions in nuclear andconvention forces than in the West, the hasty withdrawal of half a milliontroops from comfortable barracks in Central Europe to tent camps in Russianfields, the most powerful military Alliance in the world started movingtoward Russian borders. Offered only membership in a limited "Partnershipfor Peace" rather than full membership in the new NATO, Russia is nowhaving a much harder time achieving the goals of Russian democrats. AlexeiArbatov, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Dumašs Defense Committee, expressedthese fears:

"At best, NATO expansion to the east is seen in Russia as a mistaken policy, prone with complications and new controversies. At worst, it is viewed as the consummation of the Œgrand designš of encircling and isolating Russia, achieving an overwhelming superiority over it and finally doing away with it as a European power once and for all."
Russians are little impressed with Western benign assurances. And theirapprehension increases at the prospect of more East and Central Europeancountries joining NATO in the next expansion wave. Worst of all, they fearthe entry of the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania --Russiašs intimate neighbours -- into NATO. A Charter of Partnership hasalready been signed between the U.S. and the three Baltic nations in whichWashington has promised to do everything possible to get them ready to joinNATO.

How can the West expect the Russians, a proud people who have suffered theravages of war throughout the 20th century, to calmly accept suchisolation? They see a ganging-up of nations against Russia as a travestyon the end of the Cold War.

Why, Russians ask, cannot the OSCE be the guarantor of security for thewhole of Europe? The OSCE was started a quarter of a century ago to serveas a multilateral forum for dialogue and negotiation between East and West. As a regional arrangement under Chapter VIII of the U.N. Charter, the OSCEwas established as a primary instrument for early warning, conflictprevention and crisis management in Europe. In the Charter of Paris for aNew Europe, the OSCE was called upon to contribute to managing the historicchange in Europe and respond to the new challenges of the post-Cold Warperiod. It was believed that the OSCE would replace NATO as the principalsecurity watchdog in Europe. Russia would like to have NATO subservient tothe OSCE. But in NATOšs resurgence, the OSCE is fading.

Why? One reason is because all States in the OSCE have equal status anddecisions are made on the basis of consensus. This does not sit well withthe lone superpower in the world whose military might exceeds the combinedpower of most of Europe.

Why should the U.S. -- exercising its military might through dominance ofan expanding NATO -- create such a permanent source of friction withRussia? NATO expansion is a backward step in drawing Russia into thecommunity of nations.

The expansion process should be stopped and alternative actions taken.

2. Setting Back Nuclear Disarmament

The setting back of nuclear disarmament is the most serious consequence ofNATO expansion. Global security will suffer. In fact, it is NATOšsinsistence that "nuclear forces continue to play an essential role in NATOstrategy" that poses such a threat to peace in the 21st century.

The nuclear weapons situation in the world is at a critical stage. Nearlya decade after the end of the Cold War, more than 35,000 nuclear weaponsremain in the world. No new nuclear negotiations are taking place; theConference on Disarmament is paralyzed. The Russian Duma, fearing NATOšsexpansion, has not ratified START II; START III is immobilized. SomeRussian politicians and militarists, concerned about Russiašs crumblingconventional force structure, are once again talking of nuclear weapons asa vital line of defense for Russia. Even if START II were ratified, therewould still be at least 17,000 nuclear weapons of all kinds remaining in2007. More than 8,500 will be in Russia.

Under Gorbachev, Russia started to move down the road to nucleardisarmament, starting with a no-first-use pledge and other unilateralmoves. When he came to power, Boris Yeltsin projected a sweeping foreignpolicy build on democracy, a market economy, the slashing of weapons, apan-European collective defense system and even "a global system forprotection of the world community." "A new world order based on theprimacy of international law is coming," Yeltsin said.

Such talk has ceased as Russia, ever more desperate for hesitant Westernfinancial assistance, became mired in constant economic and politicalcrises. Instead of offering a 1990s Marshall Plan-scale of help to Russia(which would be in the economic and political interests of the West, notleast in cleaning up the "loose nukes" peril) the West offers an expandedNATO. Since Russia so desperately needs the new eighth seat at the G7Economic Summit, its protests, though not its resentments, are weakened.

Despite the indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) andthe signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a new technologyrace in the quest for more innovative nuclear weapons, led by the U.S., hasbroken out. Since the U.S. so clearly intends to keep producingbetter-designed nuclear weapons, there is virtually no hope that othernations will forego seeking the technology to allow them to keep up withthis race. The world is poised to enter the 21st century in a "cold peace"atmosphere in which the CTBT will go unratified by some of the requiredStates and the NPT may begin to unravel.

The continued retention of nuclear weapons by the five permanent membersof the U.N. Security Council who insist that they are essential to theirsecurity and that of their allies, while denying the same right to others,is inherently unstable. This is an essential point made by theInternational Court of Justice (ICJ) whose unanimous call for theconclusion of nuclear weapons negotiations continues to be rejected by theWestern NWS and the bulk of NATO.

NATOšs continued deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe, even at reducedlevels, along with a refusal to respect the ICJ and enter intocomprehensive negotiations, is in direct violation of the pledge made bythe Nuclear Weapons States at the time of the indefinite extension of theNon-Proliferation Treaty in 1995: to pursue with determination "systematicand progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with theultimate goal of eliminating those weapons."

To lessen fears of the growth of a nuclear-armed Alliance, NATO insiststhat it has "no plan, no need and no intention" to station nuclear weaponson the territory of new members. That is not the point. Not stationingnuclear weapons in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic does nothing toget them out of Western European countries. Nothing less than the removalof all of NATOšs nuclear weapons from all of Europe will suffice todemonstrate NATOšs sincerity.

Though NATO operates in great secrecy, it is clear that the Alliance hasno intention of renouncing nuclear weapons, is determined to maintain anuclear war-fighting capability, and is prepared to use low-yield nuclearwarheads first. It is unacceptable that NATO even refuses to release theTerms of Reference used for its current review of the Strategic Concept.

The expansion of such a nuclear-armed Alliance is not an aid but achallenge to the development of peaceful relations with Russia. A nuclearNATO sets back peace.

3. Undermining the United Nations

The evolution of a world system is imperative if civilized life is tocontinue in the coming Millennium. The United Nations is the essentialcentre-piece of that system. Its over-arching purpose is to maintaininternational peace and security. For this reason, the Security Council isgiven strong powers to enforce its decisions.

But the U.N. is undermined by military alliances that threaten force as astanding policy. The long years of East-West animosity during the Cold Warvirtually immobilized the U.N.šs efforts to maintain peace. In despairduring one of the worst moments of the Cold War, former U.N.Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar castigated the nuclearsuperpowers for their militarism, contrasting it to world poverty of vastproportions -- "a deprivation inexplicable in terms either of availableresources or the money and ingenuity spent on armaments and war." Hecriticized governments for ignoring their own signatures on the U.N.Charter. "We are perilously near to a new international anarchy."

Despite the end of the Cold War, the world still spends $800 billion ayear on the military, most of this amount is spent by the U.S. and its NATOallies. NATO expansion will send arms expenditures even higher. NATO hasalready said that new members will have to make a "military contribution."

Estimates of the cost of NATO expansion vary from $27 billion to severalhundred billion dollars over the next decade, though the U.S.Administration, fearful of a taxpayersš backlash, has been playing down theU.S. share of the bill. Whatever the final cost, the many billions ofdollars to be devoted to new military hardware, thus enriching the leadingarms merchants of the world, is a direct theft from the fifth of humanitythat is poor and marginalized and that needs but modest investment in theireconomic and social development to stabilize regional conditions. This isthe old anarchy writ new.

The U.N. has shown time and again that promoting disarmament anddevelopment at the same time enhances security. In the post-Cold War era,human security does not come from the barrel of a gun but from the qualityof life that economic and social development underpins.

Sustainable development needs huge amounts of investment in scientificresearch, technological development, education and training, infrastructuredevelopment and the transfer of technology. Investment in these structuraladvances is urgently needed to stop carbon dioxide poisoning of theatmosphere and the depletion of the earthšs biological resources such asthe forest, wetlands and animal species now under attack. But the goalsfor sustainable development set out in the 1992 Earth Summitšs majordocument, Agenda 21, are blocked by political inertia, which countenancescontinued high military spending.

It is clear, as the Director-General of UNESCO put it, that "we cannotsimultaneously pay the price of war and the price of peace". Budgetarypriorities need to be realigned in order to direct financial resources toenhancing life, not producing death. A transformation of politicalattitudes is needed to build a "culture of peace". A new politicalattitude would say no to investment in arms and destruction and yes toinvestment in the construction of peace.

A nuclear-armed NATO stronger than the United Nations is an intolerableprospect. Yet the residual militarist mentality in the world continues tosideline the U.N. and even force it into penury. The lavishness of NATOcontrasted to the poverty of the U.N. mocks the most ardent aspirations ofthe peoples of the world.

4. Conclusion: The Role of Civil Society

Put in strategic terms, the risks of NATO expansion far outweigh anypossible contribution to security. The issues are complex and need carefulexamination and extended public debate. A headlong rush into this abysscould indeed be a "fateful error." The U.S. Senate needs to hear frominformed citizens before giving its advice and consent to such anill-considered policy.

Is it too late to stop NATO expansion? Has the U.S. Administration gonetoo far to pull back? Could a five-year waiting period be invoked for timefor sober reflection? What is so sacred about getting expansion done intime for NATOšs 50th anniversary in 1999?

If NATO expansion is to be stopped by the U.S. Senate, civil society willhave to mobilize as never before. The enlightened elements of the publicwill have to lead the way. Much of government seems mesmerized by thesuperficial appeal of the politics of an enlarged NATO.

The historian Barbara Tuchman had a word for such locked-in governmentthinking, which she expressed in her powerful work, The March of Folly:

"Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts."
It was once said of King Philip of Spain: "No experience of the failureof his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence." Thestakes are too high today for trial-and-error. We must shake theGovernment and Congress of the United States of the belief that NATOexpansion serves the peoplešs interest. It does not. It serves only theinterests of the producers of arms. NATO expansion is folly. We mustproclaim this from the roof-tops and help both government and publicrecover the vision of a de-militarized world.

Doug Roche