Assessing the Paradox of North Atlantic Treaty Organization Expansion

Stuart E. Gallagher is a graduate of National Defense University and a recognized expert in Russia / Ukraine affairs. He has served as a Military Advisor to the United States Department of State during the outset of the Ukraine crisis and has delivered briefings on Russian New Generation Warfare throughout the interagency and the Department of Defense. Divergent Options content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessing the Paradox of North Atlantic Treaty Organization Expansion

Date Originally Written:  May 25, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  July 22, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author maintains a keen interest in Russia  /Ukraine affairs. The author contends that North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion and encroachment on Russian borders exacerbates Kremlin paranoia of the West creating a paradox for Western policymakers.

Summary:  The 1991 Soviet Union collapse irreversibly changed the security environment. The world moved from a bi-polar world to that of a uni-polar world overnight leaving the United States as the sole superpower. NATO found itself in uncharted waters and pursued new purpose including the expansion of the alliance. NATO’s expansion since the fall of the Soviet Union and its encroachment on Russian borders creates a paradox for Western policymakers.

Text:  NATO was founded in 1949 soon after the conclusion of World War II. The overall intent of the organization was to maintain peace and stability in Europe. As the Cold War escalated, the Soviet Union responded to the West by founding a security organization of their own – the Warsaw Pact. This organization included all of the Soviet republics and Eastern Bloc countries that fell within the Soviet Union’s orbit and provided a level of parity with the West. By all accounts, NATO was successful in executing its charge during the Cold War. Peace and stability were maintained in Europe. However, in 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union ushered in a tectonic change to the security environment. The geopolitical landscape shifted from a bi-polar world to that of a uni-polar overnight. This immediately left the U.S. as the sole superpower. As the Cold War warriors of the era celebrated this monumental achievement, the Soviet Union quickly descended into chaos.

The government in shambles, the economy devastated, and the military essentially emasculated, it would take decades before Russia would effectively return to the world stage as a great power. The U.S. in essence had become the proverbial dog that caught the car inheriting global primacy and all the responsibility associated therewith. It was a phenomenon that can very aptly be summed up in the famous words of George Bernard Shaw, “There are two tragedies in life – one is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it[1].”

After the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Warsaw Pact was disbanded while NATO endured and grew. It was this moment in time where politicians and journalists alike would call into question the requirement for NATO. Was NATO truly still needed to maintain peace and stability in Europe with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact now defunct? What would be its mission moving forward with no real threat to speak of? The answer was NATO 2.0.

At the height of the Cold War, 16 countries were members of the NATO alliance. During the post-Cold War period, NATO expansion pressed forth despite recommendations from experts such as George Kennan, a well-known American diplomat and historian. In 1997, Kennan predicted that pushing ahead with the expansion “would inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western, and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion,…have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy,” and “restore the atmosphere of Cold War to East-West relations[2].”

Between 1991 and 2020, NATO would add 14 more countries to its roster, increasing the grand total to 30. NATO 2.0 included countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland (former Soviet Union satellite republics); and Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (former Soviet republics). For these countries, this inclusion into NATO was a logical step as “new member states found joining an existing, successful alliance preferable to forming an entirely new alliance[3].” Moreover, many of these countries were intent on protecting themselves from revisiting the oppressive relationship that they had with Russia in years past.

At the outset of NATO expansion, something was left out of the calculus, or perhaps more appropriately ignored altogether – Russia’s response to NATO expansion and encroachment on its borders. Looking to history, Russia has consistently survived existential threats through defense in depth. That is to say, Russia maintained a geographical buffer zone between itself and that of its adversaries, which provided a level of stand-off and protection critical to its survival.

In the words of Henry Kissenger, “Here is a country that has never had a friendly neighbor, that has always had shifting borders, that has never had a clearly defined security arrangement – a country, quite frankly that has been either too weak or too strong for the peace of Europe, a country that at one and the same time has been a central element of the balance of power and a threat to it[4].”

This buffer zone strategy has served Russia well throughout the years from the likes of Napoleon, the Nazis, and most recently from the West during the Cold War. Quite simply, in the Russian mind, geography is equated to security.

So is Russia paranoid? “Champions of NATO expansion aver that it maintains peace in Europe and promotes democracy in East-Central Europe. They add that Russia has nothing to fear[5].” However, the view from Moscow is quite the contrary. To Russia, NATO encroachment is not a perception – it is a reality. Considering Russia’s intimate experience with existential threat, their response may be well justified. The inclination to protect itself from NATO expansion was noted from the beginning when “Russia registered its objections [to NATO expansion] early, frequently, and emphatically[6].” This was not long after the fall of the Soviet Union and at a time when Russia was in no position to dictate terms or push back against the West with any sort of positive outcome.

Unlike the end of the Cold War, in 2014 when the Russian-backed President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted from office, Russia was in a different position, and could dictate terms. At this point, Russia had bolstered its instruments of national power (Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic) that led to the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Eastern Ukraine with limited resistance from the West. The following year, Russia recast NATO as an adversary. George Kennan’s prediction from 1997 was now a reality.

At present, the Western policymaker is now left with a paradox – the NATO 2.0 paradox. If NATO expansion continues, will Europe truly be safer and more stable as the advocates of NATO expansion contend? From a Western lens, “the United States [and the West] would like Russia to see that a great state can live in security and prosperity in a world which big buffer areas do not have the strategic value they once did[7].” However, this is as idealistic as it is unfair as the West continues to encroach on Russia’s borders. And, if Ukraine is any measure of Russia’s response and resolve to protect the integrity of its borders and regional hegemony, it may be prudent to rethink future NATO expansion altogether, for not doing so could very well lead to increased destabilization in the region, more bloodshed and degraded East-West relations with the West gaining little in return.


Endnotes:

[1] Kissenger, Henry. “Russian and American Interests after the Cold War.” Rethinking Russia’s National Interest. (1994): 1.

[2] Menon, Rajan and William Ruger. “NATO Enlargement and U.S. Grand Strategy: A Net Assessment.” Springer Link. (May 2020): 374, https://doi.org/10.1057/s41311-020-00235-7

[3] Menon, Rajan and William Ruger. “NATO Enlargement and U.S. Grand Strategy: A Net Assessment.” Real Clear Public Affairs. May 14, 2020, https://www.realclearpublicaffairs.com/public_affairs/2020/05/14/nato_enlargement_and_us_grand_strategy_a_net_assessment_491628.html

[4] Kissenger, Henry. Russian and American Interests after the Cold War. Rethinking Russia’s National Interest. (1994): 3.

[5] Menon, Rajan and William Ruger. “NATO Enlargement and U.S. Grand Strategy: A Net Assessment.” Real Clear Public Affairs. May 14, 2020, https://www.realclearpublicaffairs.com/public_affairs/2020/05/14/nato_enlargement_and_us_grand_strategy_a_net_assessment_491628.html

[6] Kissenger, Henry. “Russian and American Interests after the Cold War.” Rethinking Russia’s National Interest. (1994): 7.

[7] Menon, Rajan and William Ruger. “NATO Enlargement and U.S. Grand Strategy: A Net Assessment.” Real Clear Public Affairs. May 14, 2020, https://www.realclearpublicaffairs.com/public_affairs/2020/05/14/nato_enlargement_and_us_grand_strategy_a_net_assessment_491628.html

Assessment Papers North Atlantic Treaty Organization Russia Stuart E. Gallagher

Assessing Russia’s Pursuit of Great Power

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Civil Affairs Association and Divergent Options Writing Contest which took place from April 7, 2020 to July 7, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Stuart E. Gallagher has served as a Military Advisor to the United States Department of State during the outset of the Ukraine crisis and is a recognized subject matter expert on Russian / Ukrainian affairs. He can be contacted at: s_gallagher@msn.com. Divergent Options content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization or any group.


Title:  Assessing Russia’s Pursuit of Great Power

Date Originally Written:  April 20, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  May 20, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author serves as a subject matter expert on Russian / Ukrainian affairs. The author contends that Russia has and will continue to pursue great power status seeking legitimacy from the international community.

Summary:  The Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 forced Russia to cede its Superpower status. This event embarrassed Russian leadership who then retooled Russia’s instruments of national power and redefined how Russia engaged globally. This ceding of power also motivated Vladimir Putin and his retinue to pursue Great Power status. Russia will use crises to their advantage, including COVID-19, viewing global power as a zero sum game thereby strengthening itself at the expense of the west.

Text:  As the world embarks on a new decade looking to the horizon and 2035, it is important to take pause and consider the United States future relationship with Russia. Looking back, the United States’ relationship with Russia changed dramatically in the summer of 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union leaving the United States as the sole Superpower in the world. Russia struggled throughout the 1990’s politically, economically, and militarily. In the early 2000’s Russia began to get back on its feet showing early aspirations of returning to great power status as evidenced by systematically retooling and bolstering its instruments of national power (diplomacy, information, military, economic or DIME). In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, a sovereign territory of Ukraine, and destabilized southeastern Ukraine employing what is now commonly referred to as New Generation Warfare. These actions redefined the contemporary security environment in a way not seen since the Cold War. Yet, 2020 ushered in a new and unexpected challenge to the contemporary security environment – the virus called COVID-19. Russia used COVID-19 to its advantage by exploiting the unpreparedness of other countries. Considering Russia’s past actions, it is safe to assume that it will use future events of this nature in the same manner to “legitimately,” in its view, return to Great Power status thereby re-establishing a new level of parity with the United States and other great power nations throughout the world.

A Great Power is “a sovereign state that is recognized as having the ability and expertise to exert its influence on a global scale. Great powers characteristically possess military and economic strength, as well as diplomatic and soft power influence, which may cause middle or small powers to consider the Great Powers’ opinions before taking actions of their own[1].” Russia was thoroughly embarrassed with the collapse of the Soviet Union as demonstrated in an address to the nation by President Putin where he stated that the collapse of the Soviet empire “was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century[2].” At the turn of the century, when Vladimir Putin was about to enter the office of President of Russia, he delivered his manifesto. This manifesto focused on Russia’s past, present, and future struggles, providing a form of road map for what was required to return to great power status[3].

Since the turn of the century, Russia has taken many actions leveraging its vertically aligned instruments of national power to increase its standing in the world. Russia’s most profound action was the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of southeastern Ukraine by Russian backed separatist forces in 2014. However, today, with COVID-19 threatening the world, Russia has adopted a new mantle – that of savior. During a time when the world scrambles to contain COVID-19 and muster resources, Russia has swooped in to the rescue providing expertise and medical supplies to hard-hit Italy, affectionately referred to as “from Russia with love[4].” This assistance was viewed by “senior European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization diplomats less as generosity and more as a geopolitical move asserting Russian power and extending influence[5].” These diplomatic views are understandable considering the dubious, unsolicited “humanitarian assistance” Russia provided in eastern Ukraine in 2014[6]. In another recent instance, Russia provided an Antonov cargo plane full of medical supplies to help ease the burden as the United States struggled with the escalation of COVID-19 on its populace. These acts demonstrated that Russia could do what Great Powers should do in times of world crisis – help. Consequently, a United States concern about Russia’s actions providing legitimacy to their Great Power status quest is justified. Not only will the Kremlin use global-reaching events to highlight their humanity and power, but they will also manipulate these situations in a way that displays the weakness of the west.

One of the banner events the United States had to address in 2014 that redefined the contemporary security environment was the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia. This annexation caught the United States senior leadership off guard resulting in significantly delayed reaction time(s). However, now that Russia has reasserted itself on the world stage as a Great Power, it is time to define Great Power Competition. At present, the United States government does not have a policy or a single working definition for great power competition. Simply put, “without a single definition – they [stakeholders to include: US military, the defense industry, elements of diplomacy and US policymakers] will inevitably develop different, and possibly competing, interpretations of great-power competition, with consequent effects for US national security and foreign policy[7].”

So, as the United States sits in the year 2020 and looks to the future, will Russia’s Great Power status be granted, and what are the second and third order effects of doing so? To complicate these questions further, “there are no set or defined characteristics of a great power. These characteristics have often been treated as empirical, self-evident to the assessor[8].” In other words, granting legitimacy to a state is completely subjective in nature. Considering this fact, Russia could effectively grant itself legitimacy as a Great Power. Whether or not the international community would recognize this legitimacy is another issue altogether. On the other hand, by virtue of its position in the world, if the United States were to grant legitimacy to Russia, the international community would be inclined, if not compelled, to recognize this status as well. This granting of status would also reveal a paradox. The United States granting legitimacy to Russia as a Great Power would arguably re-establish parity more quickly, which would be especially helpful during times of world crisis, such as COVID-19 pandemic. However, this granting could also come at a high price, possibly resulting in another arms race, a series of proxy wars or worse. Regardless, at some point, the United States will be required to address this issue and the outcomes, for said decision(s) will have far-reaching impacts on both United States/Russia relations and the security environment well beyond 2035.


Endnotes:

[1] Neumann, Iver B. “Russia as a Great Power, 1815–2007.” Journal of International Relations and Development 11.2 (2008): 128-151.

[2] “Putin: Soviet Collapse a ‘Genuine Tragedy.’” World New on NBC News.com (2005). Retrieved April 20, 2020 from: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/7632057/ns/world_news/t/putin-soviet-collapse-genuine-tragedy.

[3] Putin, Vladimir. “Russia at the Turn of the Millennium.” Nezavisimaia Gazeta 4, Rossiia Na Rubezhe Tysiacheletii (1999): pp. 209-229. Retrieved April 18, 2020 from: https://pages.uoregon.edu/kimball/Putin.htm.

[4] Emmott, Robin and Andrew Osborn. “Russian Aid to Italy Leaves EU Exposed.” Reuters, World News (2020): Retrieved April 21, 2020 from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-russia-eu/russian-aid-to-italy-leaves-eu-exposed-idUSKBN21D28K.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Ukraine Crisis: Russian Convoy ‘Invades Ukraine.’” BBC News. (2014): Retrieved April 21, 2020 from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-28892525.

[7] Boroff, Alexander. “What is Great-Power Competition Anyway?” Modern War Institute. (17 April 2020). Retrieved from: https://mwi.usma.edu/great-power-competition-anyway.

[8] Waltz, Kenneth N (1979). Theory of International Politics. McGraw-Hill. p. 131.

2020 - Contest: Civil Affairs Association Writing Contest Assessment Papers Civil Affairs Association Competition Great Powers Russia Stuart E. Gallagher