Oops…Maybe We Shouldn’t Have Expanded the Empire in Europe

John Glaser, March 25, 2014

At the National Interest, Cato’s Ted Galen Carpenter argues Washington’s Eastern European NATO allies “are dangerous strategic liabilities, not assets.” NATO, he writes, has worn out its strategic value and expanding it as we have since the end of the Cold War merely serves to destabilize Europe by provoking Russia and giving us “crises” like Ukraine.

NATO’s relevance to the United States declined dramatically with the collapse of the Soviet Union. One cannot legitimately equate today’s Russia, with an aging, declining population, a military with many antiquated components, and merely the world’s eighth-largest economy, to the capabilities the USSR possessed during its heyday. Russia is a conventional, second-tier power that has some regional interests and ambitions, but it is not even remotely a global expansionist threat, much less a totalitarian expansionist threat.

That reality should have impelled the United States to give NATO a retirement party at the end of the Cold War, transferring responsibility for Europe’s defense to the principal European powers and, gradually, to the European Union. Instead, U.S. and NATO leaders scrambled to find an alternative mission to keep the alliance in business. They soon settled on an especially dangerous one—expanding NATO into Central and Eastern Europe, eventually to the borders of the Russian Federation itself. Critics warned that such a move created needless new risks for the United States, and that some of the commitments virtually invited a challenge from Russia once it had regained some strength. That is precisely what has happened, and Biden’s reassurances threaten to make a perilous situation even more so.

It is not insignificant, as Stephen Kinzer recently wrote, that the U.S. “has brought 12 countries in central Europe, all of them formerly allied with Moscow, into the NATO alliance,” in what he calls a relentless pursuit of “encircling Russia.” And let us not forget that Washington wasn’t planning to stop at those 12. Georgia and Ukraine, among others, were in the running, no doubt. The fact that nationalist hawks in Washington don’t have the ability to perceive the likely consequences of U.S. expansion and intervention, doesn’t make a strong counter-action from Moscow any less likely.

The diplomat George Kennan, essentially the architect of Washington’s Cold War containment policy, predicted it easily in 1997, when he said, “Expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the post cold-war era. Such a decision may be expected…to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.”




18 Responses to “Oops…Maybe We Shouldn’t Have Expanded the Empire in Europe”

  1. You hit ?the nail on ?the head. Are ?the leaders we have doused with insanity or is it just come to plain arrogance? Thinking because we are ?the lone superpower that we can just throw our weight around. Perhaps America has now become drunk with it’s power and idea of exceptionalism. And if so we are going to find ourselves more hated and opposed as ?the desparate terrorist are already showing us. And we will all be headed to ?the abyss.

  2. one shall be. blind or ignorant or well paid by russians to accept this kind of arguments…
    to say that…. former communist countries now part of EU were… former allies of soviet union when they were in fact occupied and held by force and fear behind the iron curtain.. and claim that today russia is a modern country totally different from soviet union is not only diminishing for all eastern european people that gave their lives to free their countries from soviet boot.. but is an insult to the basic democratic principles

  3. the U.S. “has brought 12 countries in central Europe, all of them formerly allied with Moscow, into the NATO alliance,” ……….this is nonsense. It omits the crucial point that the people of these countries were never in alliance with Russia they were occupied. The west is not perfect but there is one critical difference. We did not have to build an Iron Curtain to keep our people in

  4. Time will show if it was the right decision to expand Nato as far, as we did. You can say what you want, the revolution in Ukraine was mostly done by the "normal" people in the street because they also want their freedom and want to be free of corruption. Hopefully the country will steer in a better future now..

  5. Keeping the Soviet spectre alive through NATO policies serves to delay the inevitable decline, in mostly some psychological or cultural sense, of the global ideology which has become "the West". During the Cold War two nuclear giant seem to have erected each other, enlarging each other threats, justifying their own expansions and proxies, all for the "Greater Cause". The post-modern multi-polar world demands changes, even in Russia, but good chance is that by projecting the old spectre onto Russia, they cannot help it now to delay their own reforms. The more tragic example however is the EU and the US, not being able to grow out of the 70's.

  6. They called it the Mason Dixon line.

  7. The point is not whether the former Soviet states were willing or unwilling allies, they were not a military threat. A much invaded Russia is not easily going to accept threatening neighbours large or small. To say that the Baltic states could not be a threat to Russia is to ignore the aggressive role of Turkey in Syria protected by NATO/USA despite the fact that Syria has done nothing to harm Turkey. NATO is an aggressive irresponsible US tool and should be abandoned by the EU not encouraged in its fascist enterprises as in Ukraine.

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  9. US "has brought 12 countries in central Europe, all of them formerly allied with Moscow, into the NATO alliance"…
    Only some Americans and intellectual peasantry could think in such americocentric and primitive way. The US did almost nothing to brought these countries to the NATO, taking into consideration what their citizens did to get back to the West from Soviet empire.
    It is naive to frame the history of the current conflict in terms of bad UE, NATO or US influence as they did not do anything to help Ukrainians to transform their country. Ukrainians were treated by the West like the second category of slaves to Russian oligarchs.
    In fact, these are Putin's projections of his own world of bribery and threat. Nobody remembers now that Putin had his acting agents working in the Ukraine (where is Janukovych now?) and that he used to threaten, blackmail and bribe the country before the aggression.
    Only a fool could believe in Putin's propaganda and give an excuse to his military force in the contemporary Europe.

  10. Oh please, fromcliffs, do be real. The US Government has been bleeding Americans to death with taxes, money printing and credit expansion in order to transfer the pork to Neocon clown circus, who then use some of it to fund these "color revolutions" all over the place. They incite perpetual conflicts everywhere in order to give their various front organizations and "causes" a pretext for continuing to plunder not the world, but Americans, of their blood, treasure, and sacred honor. Regardless how much you yourself may want to be free of the former Soviet Empire and its Russian Federation successor state, you have no right to the wallets of Americans. Nobody is valorizing or even excusing Putin, but oh yes, I AM taking an "Americocentric" point of view. After all, it is the American blood, treasure, and honor over which we are debating here, in this post, or have you conveniently forgotten that? By all means, elect a few anti-Semitic skin-heads, persecute your Russian minority, and get your war on Putin's Russia off to a wonderful start but when someone puts forward the idea that the Neocons here in this country are entitled to conscript my life because they want to adopt your "struggle" as their pet cause du jour, it is you who are being provincial. This is not a debate over whether the secession of Crimea is justified or not (but exactly why do Ukrainians feel entitled to that particular piece of ground, anyway?). Rather it is a debate over whether Americans should have their substance conscripted and used as fodder for the aggrandizement of a class of opportunistic scoundrels and demagogues here in the US.

  11. So was that "aggression"? Obviously not. Russia did not unilaterally invade Ukraine for the purpose of overthrowing the government – something the US does regularly. That's why we keep hearing in the MSM these speculations that Russia will "invade Ukraine" – it's the only way to make it seem that Russia is the aggressor saolun

  12. Troll !!

  13. Drinking the cool aid lately?

  14. Spot on! To even suggest that Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, the Czechs or even Romania were "allied" with the USSR is pretty much ridiculous.
    Anyone familiar with the sociopolitical structures i=of the USSR and their shape-shifted successors absolutely knows that nothing in Russia has changed, and that it is almost incomprehensible that they continue to tolerate living in the same old way.

  15. It is the height of western hubris to think that at some point the continual provocations from NATO expansion would not elicit a response from Russia. For years Russia sat back and did nothing while the western powers reneged on agreement after agreement that had made with the Russians. They because overconfident thinking that Russia was still the weakened basket case that it was in the early 90's. Putin had warned that any attempt to bring Georgia or Ukraine into NATO would be a red line that Russia would act upon but the morons who we call our leaders ignore Russia's warnings and continued to push things. Putin had no alternative but the act against Georgia and Ukraine as Russia's security and long term survival was at stake. Any leader worth his salt would have acted just as Putin did were they put into his position.
    Let us be in no doubt, Russia WILL go to war of the west continues to threaten its interests. And despite some commentators rubbishing Russia's military as antiquated, let us not forget that Russia still has the capability of reducing western Europe and north America into a glow in the dark car park.
    Missile defence I hear you say, well the truth about it is that it fails four times out of five. Now tell me are you ill to put your life in the hands of such a system?.
    The US and Europe has after more than a decade of fighting have not been able to pacify Afghanistan, a basket case of a country with no army or air force to speak of, yet a few thousand lightly armed insurgents have fought the Indispensable nation, the city on the hill to a standstill armed with nothing more than AK 47's and homemade bombs. Do you really think that the US can fight Russia?, RUSSIA???. Hitler and Napoleon failed to beat them. Russia will not surrender think you know this, the only option the west has is to use nukes and that would b the end of us all. For no one will win that one.
    Its time for the west to give Russia the respect it demands and deserves, the alternative can only lead to war.

  16. The central problem of our times is the corruption and rotting of the West and its "capitalistic" system which has now devolved into a predatory banking system. This banking system has become too large to continue. It needs an enemy to scare its minions and new wealth to allow itself to continue to expand. The enemy problem is solvable – Russia and the Muslim World serve that purpose, But where is the new wealth that it needs to feed upon – Ukraine, and the other ex-Soviet nations are cast off "rust belt" countries. They are worn out; they need developing. But the banking system doesn't want to invest; it wants only to consume. Eventually the "free market/capitalistic" system must die. Its death throes will come close to destroying this World.

  17. "Washington’s Eastern European NATO allies “are dangerous strategic liabilities, not assets"

    That was the conclusion of the Soviets, as published in their defense journals just before they pulled out. They did not see themselves as giving up something of value, but unloading something that was dragging them down.

    Now the same could be true, for the same reasons, for us.

  18. First of all, I long ago declared eternal hostility towards anything that “expands the government’s tool box” or its bank account or its bathing-suit areas or whatever else it wants to expand. But the larger point is that it is clear this initiative is just a reiteration of the hypercritical approach to tyranny Washington has displayed for decades.