Russia and the West’s Dangerous Clash: Time for NATO & EU Expansion East?

Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and President Barack Obama, July 8, 2014 (photo: NATO)

Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and President Barack Obama, July 8, 2014[T]he North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), while modestly buttressing defenses in member states in Central Europe and the Baltics, has left Ukraine out in the cold. The Alliance has spent treasure and dispatched legions to fight in faraway Afghanistan, but neglected security interests closer to Europe. At its summit in Wales on September 4-5, NATO urgently needs to define a bolder vision to secure them. . . .

In June, NATO foreign ministers decided that, at present, neither Georgia, nor any other aspirant should be offered NATO membership. This stance may cause Putin to err in thinking his policy of destabilizing neighbors has earned him a veto over NATO enlargement. Thus, it is vital that in Wales, NATO leaders reaffirm the open door.

They should also make explicit what more Georgia has to do to become a member, and commit to admission when it meets the standard. The criteria should include further democratic progress—politically motivated arrests of supporters of the previous government must end—and economic reform. NATO leaders should not condition admission on a resolution of the conflicts over Abkhazia and South Ossetia; this would only give Russia a further incentive to stir up trouble.

What is happening in Ukraine will not trigger NATO’s mutual-defense commitment. Yet the rebellion in eastern Ukraine, led by Russian intelligence officers and abetted by the potent weaponry and military strikes from Russia, is harming the credibility of the Alliance.

NATO members ought to realize that by refusing to supply defensive arms to Ukraine, they are harming not only its security, but also that of its NATO neighbors. At the upcoming summit, Alliance leaders should unveil substantial new measures to help Ukraine counter Russian aggression. For example, NATO and its members should do much more to help Ukraine gain control of its border with Russia, stem the flow of weapons to the rebels, and guarantee free navigation by merchant shipping into Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea.

In Wales, NATO must show that the eastern edge of the Alliance is not a cliff, beyond which the Alliance is impotent and uncaring. European Union leaders should not allow their continent to be defined by a new Berlin Wall, but by respect for universal values. Those in Europe’s east that share them will deserve more support than Ukraine is now receiving. And when ready, they will merit EU and NATO membership.

One day, even Russia may have a functioning democratic political system, treat its minorities and neighbors fairly, and seek the peaceful resolution of conflicts—at which point Western organizations could welcome it in.

Ian Bond is Director of Foreign Policy at the Centre for European Reform, and was British Ambassador to Latvia. Denis Corboy is Visiting Senior Research Fellow at King’s College London, and served as European Union ambassador to Armenia and Georgia. William Courtney was U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan and Georgia. Kenneth Yalowitz is a Wilson Center Global Fellow and served as U.S. ambassador to Belarus and Georgia.