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Is Bush Looking for Trouble in Europe?




May 2, 2001

LONDON - As if his Star Wars initiative wasn't enough President George Bush is already considering his next provocative move - the expansion of Nato right up to Russia's borders. The world is now in real danger of spinning off its geopolitical axis. Even a defeated, militarily moribund, Russia will feel compelled to respond, at whatever cost of sweat, blood and treasure better spent on development at home, and the consequences of this will be felt the world over. It will confirm the leaders of China in what they are already suspecting, that the U.S is going through a new period of imperialistic expansion. And anything that Beijing decides to do reverberates into Japan, Taiwan and the Koreas and, further afield, into India and thence into Pakistan.

The initial expansion of Nato in 1999 that took in the former Warsaw Pact members, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, was in fact the initiative of President Bill Clinton, a craven attempt to win much needed votes from the East European Diaspora in America's Mid-West. The American statesman, George Kennan, described it then as "the most fateful error of the entire post-Cold War era". The historian, John Lewis Gadis, made the most telling criticism: "Some principles of strategy are so basic that when stated they sound like platitudes: treat former enemies magnanimously; do not take on unnecessary new ones; keep the big picture in view; balance ends and means; avoid emotion and isolation in making decisions; be willing to acknowledge error…..Nato enlargement manages to violate every one of the strategic principles just mentioned."

Despite the virtual absence of Russian aggressiveness and the collapse of Russian military power, it is clear that a powerful segment of policy and academic analysts still believes we should be preoccupied with a hypothetical Russian threat, perhaps some yet unseen nationalist seizing power and somehow, out of Russia's grim poverty, rebuilding Russian military strength, which as we now know, even in its Soviet hey-day was grossly overestimated by the CIA. As Professor Lawrence Freedman recently put it "There is now no particular reason to classify Russia as a 'great power'".

President Vladimir Putin's dubious attitudes towards press freedom not withstanding, the Russia of today not only poses no conceivable military threat it has started to enjoy the virtues of democracy, as became clear in the last parliamentary election when the dead wood of nationalism on the right and communism on the left were cut down to their appropriate size. Indeed by rights the initial expansion of Nato provided plenty of ammunition to those in the Russian establishment who wanted a more robust military attitude towards the West. It did not come to pass, which suggests that both Yeltsin and Putin have bent over backwards not to be provoked.

Yet it does exact its toll. Relations are not as good as they were in the last years of George Bush senior or the early years of Bill Clinton. As Professor Dan Reiter wrote in the current issue of Harvard University's "International Security", it has worked to push "Russian leaders away from the belief that the West is a trustworthy partner in cooperation… Already Nato's Strategic Concept and its 1999 operation in Kosovo have reversed a trend in Moscow's doctrinal development away from the assumption that there are no external military threats to Russia." Even this week's decision by Russia and China to sign a "friendship and co-operation treaty" symbolises a real shift in the foreign policies of both countries, as mutual tensions with the U.S. push them together again. The Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported that China and Russia have come to see themselves as "the main road-block in the way of Washington's global policy of spreading its influence".

All this is profoundly unnecessary. President Bush's camp is determined to extend the reach of American power, at the price of being counterproductive. Their argument that Nato membership strengthens democracy is historical hogwash- did membership of Nato have any influence on the lack of democracy in Turkey or the military coup in Greece in 1967 or heading off the attempted coup in Spain in 1981?

The carrot of Nato membership is unlikely to influence one way or another the countries lined up for the next round of enlargement- Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Since the fall of communism they have all succeeded in establishing constitutional democracies. If any international body can secure democracy and even extend it to the likes of Albania and ex-Yugoslavia it is the European Union. Including a country in the EU, even if only as a candidate member, works to strengthen both economic and political reforms. It is this carrot, which is now visibly coaxing Turkey towards democracy. In the Balkans it could have a more benign effect than anything Nato can do, either in the way of membership or with troops on the ground.

The most telling argument against the need for the expansion of Nato and for the expansion of the EU is that Russia has never opposed the eastward expansion of the EU. Indeed from Gorbachev on leaders have suggested that one day they would like Russia to be a part of Europe. This idea for the future obviously works powerfully at the Russian sub-conscious. How else can one explain Russia's reasonableness in the face of continued American provocation?


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


Copyright © 2001 By JONATHAN POWER



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