Military and political analysts are putting the war in Ukraine under the microscope of NATO enlargement. The argument put forward is that the US and NATO had given guarantees to Moscow in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union that the alliance would not expand any further. However, despite these guarantees, the transatlantic alliance did the opposite and added country after country, getting ever closer to the Russian border. This argument is predominantly repeated by analysts who oppose the continued support of Western countries to Ukraine and wish for a negotiated end to the hostilities. It is also an argument that indirectly gives a justification for Russia’s actions in Ukraine as self-preservation or self-defense.
Whether the story of broken promises by the US and NATO are true or not, this storyline strips all the countries that joined the alliance of their independent and sovereign decision-making. NATO enlargement, or its blocking, becomes a chess game between Russia and the West, in which all other countries are pawns. Moreover, it removes the key element of sovereignty when applying to join NATO. In reality, analysts should ask why these countries chose to join NATO. And why today do we have Finland and Sweden applying?
If we consider the Soviet era, one cannot say that it left the best memories in the conscience of the people in Eastern and Central Europe. Let’s face it, people wanted to go to the western side of the Berlin Wall. No one was trying to go east, except maybe the spies we see in movies. The USSR’s tanks did not come to Prague in 1968 for peaceful reasons. The Prague Spring was violently suppressed by the USSR and Warsaw Pact members. This defunct alliance was an answer to NATO.
The post-Soviet era was chaos and ruin for Russia. It is undeniable that seeing country after country, some of which were former members of the Warsaw Pact, join NATO must have been a painful vision. Yet, once again, why did these countries decide to join NATO and not stay aligned with Moscow?
The simple answer is that these countries felt threatened. As Russia was able to regroup and regain part of its past power under Vladimir Putin’s leadership, financed by hydrocarbons, it did not offer a vision for these countries. On the opposite side, NATO and the EU do offer a vision. Moreover, NATO offers flexibility to its members. It adapts to the will of every country. For example, France, which left the alliance’s integrated military command under Charles de Gaulle and rejoined under President Nicolas Sarkozy some 30 years later, has not committed its nuclear submarines to the alliance. The current opposition from Turkiye to Sweden’s accession is also proof that each member has a say and sometimes even makes it too transactional.
This is why we cannot view NATO enlargement as a chess game between stronger powers that disregards the will of nations. Today, the war in Ukraine has exacerbated this will and we are reaching the point of no return. Who would have thought that Finland, which historically refused to join NATO, would apply? Helsinki had previously made the strategic political decision to balance its relationship with Moscow while benefiting from the freedoms offered by the West. This meant never taking aggressive actions against Moscow or making declarations that could be perceived as such. Today, Prime Minister Sanna Marin issues threats and urges Russia to end the war in Ukraine.
And this is the other reality. Despite Putin’s capacity to rebuild Russia and project its power again, it is largely an asymmetric posture. And so, this weakening, which adds to the lack of vision, has made Russia less feared. Russia is no longer capable of coercing countries into following its own interest and it does not offer any broader vision to counter what NATO and the EU offer to countries: hope, stability and prosperity.
And so, within these conditions, the question is whether Russia will be downgraded from its superpower status. In reality, the invasion of Ukraine has enabled this possibility, especially with the initial subpar performance of its military. For many analysts, the only element that still keeps Russia in the superpower club is its nuclear arsenal. Yet, if it uses it, it is game over for the entire globe. In fact, it will dig deeper into asymmetrical responses to keep its status. The Russian advances in Africa are a good symbol of this. Funnily enough, unlike in Europe, where it lacked vision and lost influence, it is expressing a vision in Africa — one of freedom and independence from colonialist powers.
We cannot view NATO enlargement as a chess game between stronger powers that disregards the will of nations.
Khaled Abou Zahr
NATO is more than just a military alliance, it is a capacity builder and ecosystem enabler for the greater good. There is no doubt that countries choose to join of their own free will and are not the pawns of the US in that matter. From collective defense to economic benefits within a flexible framework, there is no doubt that NATO offers great advantages to any country. Yet, the objective should always be to avoid being dragged into a global war and to act as a deterrent. Unfortunately, the current escalation in Ukraine could lead to a much broader conflict. This is why, while keeping the transatlantic alliance strong, there should be a path toward negotiations with Russia. A real reset.
Source: arab news