Russia: The Threat NATO Created Itself
Over the past 25 years NATO has isolated Russia, preventing it from influencing European security. As a result, Moscow is demonstrating its determination to become a global power through aggressive policies. Only an open acceptance of Russia as a global power and respect for its interests can prevent further security escalation in Eastern Europe. Thus, NATO must stop further enlargement. States that perceive Russia as a threat should be able to get protection outside of NATO.
In the events that followed the demise of the Soviet Union and the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, it was difficult to predict just how much of an enormous geopolitical effect the collapse of the Soviet Union would have on the region and the world. However, as early as 1993 James Baker pointed out the parallel between Russia after the end of the Cold War and post-Versailles Germany.
At the time, it was suggested that the only way to support the rise of democracy in Russia and prevent expansionist tendencies was to offer Russia NATO membership, and inclusion in Europe's security apparatus. Strikingly, these remarks went largely ignored and NATO's policies only fuelled Russian isolation from European security.
Exclusion and Isolation
Russian exclusion started with the decision to admit Eastern European states as new members of the organization. The message the enlargement of NATO sends is that Russia is still perceived as a threat to Eastern Europe and the world.
There is also an added dimension of further humiliation: countries which used to be within the Russian sphere of influence are now taken over by NATO as a symbol of victory of the West. In pursuing the policy of enlargement NATO has not only defined its own enemy, but also humiliated it.
In the late 1990's Russian isolation was clear during the Kosovo War as NATO engaged in Kosovo despite strong Russian opposition. The physical presence of NATO troops in Kosovo without a UN mandate was an embodiment of the exclusion of Russia from European security and Russia's inability to have any level of influence on important European matters.
During the past 25 years NATO has excluded Russia from having a real impact on European security, and humiliated it by "taking up" territories which were formerly under Russian control. Russia first showed clear signs of expansionism in its war with Georgia in 2008 when it took over the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia has then continued to reassert itself, most recently in its support and direct military involvement in Ukraine and the subsequent annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.
NATO should stop seeking further enlargement. For example Ukraine and Georgia often use the threat of Russia as an argument for joining NATO. However, if accession to NATO is demanded by countries on the premise of escaping Russia's threats, the perception that NATO seeks to control and defeat Russia in fact increases. If Russia's expansionism is to decrease, NATO needs to stop presenting itself as an enemy.
NATO needs to accept that Russia is a global power with specific interests in the former Soviet Union. Until NATO understands that the states of the former Soviet Union are a top security concern for Russia, Moscow will not stop using force to control these territories.
Even more importantly, the causality between the prospects of further NATO enlargement and Russian aggression is reversed. Russia is using military force because the states which the Kremlin sees as fundamental to its security seek NATO membership.
At the same time, the countries which still perceive Russia as a threat should be able to get protection outside of NATO. This protection should take the form of a non-aggression/non involvement pact between these countries and Russia, based on the agreement that these countries shall not seek NATO membership. Alternatively, the threatened countries could seek to establish bilateral military protection deals with European powers.
NATO needs to examine its own policies, in order to stop Russia from remaining an aggressive and expansionist power. NATO policies in the last 25 years have been designed to exclude Russia from influencing security in Europe and in effect these policies have been fuelling unnecessary resentment towards NATO. I argue that Russia's path towards international aggression has been prompted by NATO itself.
For this reason, I believe that only an open acceptance of Russia as a global power and respect for its interests can prevent further security escalation in Eastern Europe. Similarly, NATO's top priority should be stopping the enlargement process and by extension getting rid of the idea that NATO and Russia are natural enemies.
Jolana Veneny is currently an MPhil candidate in Russian and East European Studies at St Antony's College, University of Oxford. She focuses on Central Europe, its politics, and its relations with the Russian Federation.
This article has been submitted for category B "NATO's Biggest Mistake and Lesson Learned" of the competition "Shaping Our NATO: Young Voices on the NATO Summit". Comments are most appreciated. You can also read the other articles in this category. Learn more about this competition and how you can submit your own text or video in the categories C and D.
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