The Moscow Integration That Never Happened
NATO's failure to proactively include Russia after the collapse has led to 25 years of ongoing conflict. By examining history, the organization is a fundamentally anti-Russia group focused on surrounding, isolating, and deterring aggression from a country different to its late Cold War identity—the USSR. The introduction of a formal military agreement and a change in NATO's image, led by Western leaders, are necessary to rekindle relations.
In February, Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, Phillip Breedlove, stated that Russia is an adversary to the West, but does the organization itself bear the responsibility?
The 1991 collapse ushered in what policy makers and practitioners believed would rid the West of Soviet-linked aggression indefinitely. However, NATO's initial inaction and naivety concerning Russia's future economic and military capability would eventually shape an isolated and hostile Russia. Inaction was no mistake; it was a conscious decision to exclude an enemy.
Offers to join the North Atlantic Cooperation Council in 1991 and the Partnership for Peace in 1994 were multilateral formalities proposed to the entire region. These can be powerful unifiers in theory, but in practice often only mask differences. Failing to accommodate and compromise with a fluctuating Russian leadership, starting with Gorbachev, led to increasing economic sanctions, state-controlled resources, and Putin's government restructuring. Alongside the European Union, as a study by the Rand Corporation reports, "there is broad agreement that NATO and the EU seek to make Russia pay for its aggression, deter plausible future Russian coercion and threats, reassure NATO member states, and help support the security of non-NATO states, especially Ukraine."
There is no way around the fact that NATO was created to combat the Soviet Union in 1949. The Communist state threatened the entire world, as Western leaders feared the violence of Stalin and the foreseeable domino effect. The agenda, according to Secretary General Lord Ismay, at its beginnings was to "keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down." But did the collapse end the mission of NATO and erase the prejudice of the West?
When the Soviet Union fell, reconstruction and integration back into the world posed a significant challenge, but one that was attainable if NATO leadership was willing. As Mary Elise Sarotte explains, "Gorbachev's 1990 requests to the West to include the Soviet Union in new security structures or even NATO fell on deaf ears. His appeals for funding from Washington were unsuccessful as well . . . originating resentments that have lasted for decades."
NATO passed negotiations with Gorbachev off to West Germany where the Soviets were economically persuaded, resulting in a new mission for NATO and an excluded Gorbachev from the European security structure. Of course, there is merit to the Western argument that the Soviet Union should be neglected and left to fix itself after 40+ years of war. However, in understanding a world of interconnectivity, the Western leaders failed to make a long-term decision, and overlooked the future political implications of an isolated Russia. Instead, the survival and influence of the organization took precedence.
Inaction paved the way for longstanding differences. Europe's interconnected economy and geography bring about considerable geopolitical complications as evident through Russia's condemnation of NATO intervention in the Kosovo War in 1998, Georgia in 2008, Ukraine in 2014, and ongoing US-Russia aggression on the sea and in the fight against the ISIS. These events all cite the expansion of membership and military campaigns conducted by Alliance forces as Western threats to both Russia and its allies. International jurisdiction remains a troubling question in politics, as often the means can justify the ends, but has remained especially controversial in regards to Moscow.
For NATO, these consistent conflicts show the fundamental differences between member states and Russia. Though military action does create a significant threat, as Morena Skalamera states,
"NATO's invitation to include Georgia and Ukraine in the organization became the focal point of Russia's irritation with the West . . . the two entities increasingly perceived each other as destined for competition by dint of geopolitical realities." The Ukraine crisis in 2014 revealed Putin's geopolitical concern, as the Ukraine gas pipeline remains an essential part of the Russian economy and regional influence. Decades of military intervention, enlargement, geopolitical controversy, and economic sanctions against Russia are products of NATO inaction.
In the last 25 years, the NATO-Russia conflicts can be traced back to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Integration into the European security structure was avoided. Democracy in a crumbled state was not pursued. Long-term political and geopolitical problems were not assessed. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization turned its back on Gorbachev's failed state without acknowledging the inevitable bitterness that would divide it from Moscow, and redefined itself as the dominate force in the West. Enlargement and military intervention are methods that have been used by NATO to cope with Russia's aggression, but they demand change.
In no way is this article anti-West or pro-Russia, but it is critical of NATO's posture. Nevertheless, the organization must assume responsibility for its inaction at the collapse that alienated Moscow. Comprehensive military agreements need to be made directly, as there is no existing "agreement between NATO and Russia on how to manage close military encounters. Such agreements do exist, but they are bilateral and don't include most Alliance members." The mutual fight against ISIS must be used to open a dialogue with Putin over partnership, striving for NATO's image to "be seen not as control but as responsibility" in a troubled region. American-led coalitions in the East must work in concert with NATO military reforms, meaning that both Trump's neutrality towards Russia and Clinton's promised continuation of Obama's policy will not be acceptable Western positions.
Andrew Snell is a senior at Virginia Tech studying political science.
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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