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Only one new NATO member makes sense: Russia

By William S. Lind
web posted April 29, 2002

One of the first countries to rally to America's support after the events of September 11, 2001, was Russia. In return, the Bush administration praised Russia for its cooperation and hinted at a new relationship with Russia.

The central question is whether each party, Russia and America, regards this new relationship as strategic or merely tactical. That is to say, does each country now regard the other as a significant and permanent ally, or does it see it merely as something to be milked for temporary advantage?

The objective requirement, for both countries, is that the new relationship be strategic. Russia needs America's help as she completes her transition from Communist dictatorship to normal state, with an open political system and economy and a Christian culture. America needs Russia, too, not least because of her geographic position: Russia holds Christendom's vast flank that runs all the way from the Black Sea to Vladivostok. Much of this flank is in contact with the turbulent, expansionist world of Islam; should it collapse inward (as it has already done once, when the Soviet Union fell), the same Islamic forces that struck the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon would achieve a tremendous victory. It is no accident that we find Chechens fighting against us in Afghanistan.

Nor is that all Russia has to offer. Russia has enormous oil and gas resources, resources we will need more and more as oil supplies from Islamic countries grow uncertain. Russia has what may still be the world's best intelligence service, especially in terms of human intelligence (HUMINT), which is far more important in fighting trans-national entities such as al-Qaida than is satellite photography. Russia offers a vast pool of highly developed human resources, especially in technical and cultural fields. And Russia is, simply, part of Christendom, and a very important part. If Christendom is to unite to defend itself against the new Islamic onslaught, Russia must be part of that unity.

So we return to our first question: does each country see its post-9/11 relationship to the other as tactical or strategic?

Russia seems to see it as strategic. Not only has President Putin repeatedly said Russia's new pro-American foreign policy is strategic, he has acted on that basis, sometimes at some domestic cost to himself. Most dramatically, he offered no objection when American troops moved into countries that were once part of the Soviet Union, as part of President Putin's "war on terrorism."

Unfortunately, from Washington the picture is less clear. After initial assertions of a new strategic relationship with Russia, America has returned to some old habits, such as criticizing Russia's attempt to restore order in Chechnya.

But the most foolish action on part of Washington is the plan once again to expand NATO, this time probably including the Baltic states. Given the geography of the expansion, there is only one country it can be directed against (unless we expect al-Qaida to establish a Baltic fleet), and that is Russia. Here, we can only see evidence that Washington's strategic thinking remains mired in the Cold War, and is incapable to adjusting to new realities -- even as it expects other countries to do so.

In fact, there is only one country whose membership in NATO would be important in the new world of Fourth Generation warfare, warfare outside the state, warfare among cultures: Russia. Russia is already fighting in such wars across her southern frontier; indeed, without Russia's support for the Northern Alliance, America's seeming victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan would not have occurred. What do we expect the Baltic states to contribute to this war? Amber?

NATO expansion makes sense only if the next country to receive an invitation to join is Russia. Unless the United States takes the lead in offering NATO membership to Russia and persuading her to join, we have to say that Washington's offer of a new relationship is merely tactical. That, in turn, suggests the Bush administration's grasp of the strategic situation in Europe may be as weak as its strategic understanding of the Middle East.

William S. Lind is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at Free Congress Foundation.

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