Was NATO Expansion Really That Good an Idea?

Writing in the Wall Street Journal Doug Feith makes what I think is actually a pretty good point—lots of countries on the periphery of Russia have Russian minorities to “protect”:

With a victory in Ukraine under his belt, Mr. Putin might manufacture grounds for a Russian military intervention to protect the ethnic Russians in Latvia. They could be for him what Czechoslovakia’s Sudeten Germans were for Hitler in 1938: a pretext for aggression. If Mr. Putin thinks NATO is bluffing when it says it will defend the Baltic states, he may call that bluff. If he’s right, he could destroy NATO without war, the very alliance that destroyed the Soviet Union without war. Nice.

I think that Moldavia or, maybe, Georgia are actually better candidates but he’s got a point.

That does raise a question: is Germany actually prepared to go to war against Russia to protect the territorial integrity of Latvia? Is the United States? Will expanding NATO into former Soviet republics prove to be stabilizing of destabilizing? I’ve always been skeptical of its prudence and unless all parties are very careful we may have the opportunity to find out.

17 comments… add one
  • Michael Reynolds

    It’s a fine idea in theory. As the communists retrenched it made sense for us to push our boundaries forward. Russia has always been one type of trouble or another and the more land we put between them and Germany, France etc. the better.

    Of course if you set out to lengthen the border you have to defend, it’s a good idea to ensure that the geography is workable and that you have the men and material (and doctrine) to defend it. Longer borders plus weaker armies is a bad idea.

  • PD Shaw

    Since I believe the U.S. has troops deployed to the Baltic States (or at least an air base in Lithuania), I assume they would be targets if there was an invasion.

    I think its a bad idea to enter into a defensive alliance with a country with border disputes, which I believe was the case with George; I’m not sure about the Baltic States, particularly with that piece of Russia that Lithuania and Poland surround.

  • PD Shaw

    George = Georgia

  • Baltic state deployment: 11 Estonia, 4 Latvai, 10 Lithuania. By comparison we have more than 40,000 in Germany.

  • PD Shaw

    25 sounds like enough for hostages. 40,000 sounds like Germany has better night life.

  • PD Shaw

    Dave, for someone who probably lives around a lot of Russian-Americans, you don’t sound as nervous as you ought.

  • ...

    40,000 sounds like Germany has better night life.

    LOL, now that’s cynicism at its finest!

  • ...

    Here’s a bit on deployments in Poland:

    The United States has a small team of about 10 airmen stationed in Poland to support military training efforts while NATO has been conducting air patrols over the skies of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for ten years.

    The responsibility for the air patrols rotates every four months and the United States recently took over from Belgium in January.

    That sounds very low to me.

  • TastyBits

    That does raise a question: is Germany actually prepared to go to war against Russia to protect the territorial integrity of Latvia? …

    As a member of NATO, Germany is prepared for the US to go to war against the Russians.

    Is the United States?

    The US is not willing to go to war, but somehow, it does believe that it will protect the territorial integrity of any NATO country.

    Few Americans understand how power works. Military might without the will to use it is worthless. Few Americans understand that people can and will endure years of economic hardship, and most of what Americans believe are necessities are really luxuries.

  • steve

    If Europe isnt willing to fight for Europe, why should we? All moot. Russia depends upon pipelines for its wealth. Nice targets.


  • michael reynolds

    I guess the reason to fight for Europe when they won’t is that we seem to end up involved whether they fight (France 1914) or fall (France 1940.) It’s just more efficient to get in at the beginning. Although it would cut into our war profiteering.

  • Ben Wolf


    I think Russia would benefit more from not exporting its energy resources for consumption by its rivals. We’re lucky in that Putin is as bad at economics as we are, handing the country’s real wealth over to foreigners in exchange for electrons.

  • ...

    Things moving quickly again this morning. Too much to read, unfortunately, though I’d like to see what Kissinger says in the WaPo, as there don’t appear to be any realpolitick types left in the American “elite”.

  • Basically, he says what I said: Ukraine needs to be a Finland rather than a Poland and it shouldn’t be a member of NATO.

  • ...

    Basically, he says what I said: Ukraine needs to be a Finland rather than a Poland and it shouldn’t be a member of NATO.

    Which sounds entirely reasonable, looking at a map. But given Obama’s actions this morning it doesn’t look like the US is planning on being reasonable.

    I got a bad feeling about this….

  • PD Shaw

    But Finland joined the EU, and Ukraine will not be permitted to join EU lite.

  • PD Shaw

    @Dave, your friend Mary Ellen O’Connell has an extended piece over at Opinio Juris regarding international law and the Ukraine situations.

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