20 August 2008

Russia and NATO: An Immodest Proposal?

In light of the provocative U.S. action to deploy anti-missile components in Poland on the pretext of intercepting Iranian missiles, it looks like the U.S. and NATO are further apart from Russia than ever, and that makes Andrew Meier's proposal in today's Los Angeles Times look completely outlandish. The way to reconcile Russia to its neighbors joining NATO, he suggests, is to invite Russia itself to join.

Meier notes that Boris Yeltsin expressed interest in joining the alliance almost as soon as the Russian Federation supplanted the USSR. Even Vladimir Putin, when he first took office, told a British interviewer that Russian membership wouldn't be a bad idea. Meier himself seems to think that a strategy of engagement and integration, including opening more markets to the Russian oil industry, is the best hope of rendering Russia less belligerent and more trusting of the U.S. and the West.

"If our goal all these years, since the Soviet breakup, has been 'Get them to play by our rules,' " one former high-ranking national security aide in the Bush and Clinton administrations told me recently, "what better way to do it?"So too on the diplomatic front. Now is the time, before the conflagration in the Caucasus spreads, to reverse course and embrace Russia more tightly than ever.

Meier's idea depends on a rather naive notion of NATO. It was formed as an anti-Russian (i.e. anti-Soviet) alliance, and it would rather defeat the purpose if Russia joined the group and acquired an ability to obstruct action from within. Likewise, it's pretty obvious that the Bush administration sees NATO as its best hope of checking Russian ambitions in Europe. NATO with Russia would only give people like John McCain more reason to cry for a "League of Democracies" that would be self-evidently anti-Russian. The fact Meier misses is that there are people over here who want to fight Russia, or more specifically, fight Putin. They'll only be satisfied with, and comfortable with NATO including, a Russia whose democratization would be proved by its docility in world affairs.

Russia might well revive its request to join NATO if they thought they could sabotage it, but the U.S. will never let it happen. For their part, American politicians should heed people like Pat Buchanan, who published another column on the subject today. He writes:

Vladimir Putin is no Stalin. He is a nationalist determined, as ruler of a proud and powerful country, to assert his nation's primacy in its own sphere, just as U.S. presidents from James Monroe to Bush have done on our side of the Atlantic. A resurgent Russia is no threat to any vital interests of the United States. It is a threat to an American Empire that presumes some God-given right to plant U.S. military power in the backyard or on the front porch of Mother Russia. Who rules Abkhazia and South Ossetia is none of our business.

I don't agree entirely with Buchanan's viewpoint, to the extent that I understand it. I'd like to see the U.S. renounce the Monroe Doctrine while Russia renounces a "sphere of influence" in its "near abroad," while Buchanan accepts the legitimacy of both spheres. But I'm not going to insist on my moral preference in spite of all resistance and the reality of the world, and neither should Bush, McCain or Obama. On that, I agree with Buchanan.

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