The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is intended to “keep the Americans up, the Germans down and the Russians out.” So goes the old post-WWII Washington adage. In today’s international arena, this is a dangerous and completely outmoded premise.
Yet this maxim is still the foundation which many politicians use to advocate the further expansion of NATO into states that are not prepared to accept it. In the coming years, the greatest source of trouble for the world will not be Russia and Germany, but rogue states and terrorists groups – organizations that operate outside the laws and norms established by the U.N. and international law.
Germany is far beyond the capacity and the need for a large-scale war – it is already mightily successful. Russia on the other hand is attempting painful economic and social reform, trying to reverse 70 years of Iron rule. It is a relatively well-known fact that democratic capitalist states, for all their iniquities, refrain from fighting one another.
With the advent of weapons of mass destruction (which Germany does not possess), war has become too costly. Furthermore with electronic money and markets, the benefits are far too meager for any democratic capitalist state to utilize military operations.Germany fits into this category of state. It is one of the economic centers of the world, is interdependent for trade with all of its neighbors and has never been further from war.
Moreover, the European Union has virtually guaranteed peace on the European continent by enhancing this interdependence with a common market and currency, thus extinguishing the incentive for war in Europe. To consciously “keep the Germans down” is ridiculous.
The newly democratic Russia is not as well-settled as Germany. The capitalistic reform’s inability to spread roots as fast or as deep as the state would want has resulted in economic confusion.
A seven-year economic decline has also left the economy in a state of depression. However in this case, the lunatics are not running the asylum, and Russia is not totally weak. Boris Yeltsin â€” though not the healthiest or most stable of men â€” still controls the government, as he indicated by sacking his cabinet in late March. Most importantly, Russia has the single element of military power that gives state leaders ulcers: nuclear weapons, thousands of them.
Forget that the once formidable Russian army was humiliated by the Chechens; they still possess the power in their nukes to destroy the world.
And as The New York Times Magazine reported last month, President Yeltsin is still accompanied by an attachÃ© handcuffed to a silver briefcase containing the famous “button” that can release a barrage of a nuclear weapons still aimed at American targets. Yes this is scary, but the notion of assured mutual destruction still holds, and at the moment we have nothing too substantial to fear. Contrary to the belief of some hard-line, anti-Communist relics, Russia is in no hurry at all to start a war.
The Nuclear Trade
What is frightening is what is happening outside of Yeltsin’s direct control: the export of Russian nuclear parts and information to rogue states, an internationally illegal action.
Due to the government’s cash shortage, nuclear scientists are no longer being paid, and there is a growing and lucrative market for parts of nuclear weapons, with vital information sold to the highest bidder. As elucidated by William C. Potter in the New York Times, the Russians no longer have the funds to enforce the dozens of rules and regulations they possess concerning the export of missiles to Iran and nuclear parts to Iraq and Libya, among others.
There is even growing evidence that the government may be involved with this trade at some level. Since 1993 Iraqi delegations, official and unofficial, have been meeting at Russian Military Industrial sites, solidifying military contracts with Russian manufacturers. Furthermore, U.S. and Israeli information sources state that because of substantial aid from Russian advisors and companies, Iran is on schedule to manufacture a medium range ballistic missile â€” the “Shihab 3” â€” by the end of 1999. Since all visits to “sensitive” military sites are authorized by the Russian Federal Security Service, it is evident that some government cognizance of the Iraqi presence exists.
There are more disturbing reports of former Soviet nuclear missiles stored in padlocked sheds. Are not padlocked sheds too precarious a protection to house weapons that in the wrong hands could kill millions? The reason for the inadequate housing of weapons is that the whole Russian defense budget for 1996 was approximately $69.5 billion1.
It is probably lower today. Conversely, the 1997 US defense budget was $255 billion, and it spends $25 billion a year just maintain its nuclear weapons.
How can we expect Russia to keep up with that when many of its soldiers are begging in the streets of Moscow?
The expansion of NATO to include Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic, and perhaps the Baltic states further down the road, would only perpetuate the exclusion and alienation of Russia. Russia cannot be included in NATO because it is not ready, it is still economically backward. But instead of further alienating our former great enemy, why doesn’t the United States concentrate its efforts on helping it achieve democracy as it did after WWII for Germany and Japan with the Marshall plan?
The combination of estranging the former Soviet Union, contracting a ring of NATO states around it and wallowing in a Cold War mentality will serve only to strengthen the Russian Nationalist sentiment and reduce democracy and capitalism, the harbingers of peace in Europe. By paying the salaries of Russian nuclear physicists and maintenance workers, paying for the safe housing and ultimate destruction of Russian nuclear weapons, helping it pursue democracy, and giving it an economic foothold, the Untied States could achieve the goal NATO sought for four decades: to change Russia from foe to friend.
The money saved from not expanding NATO should be invested in safekeeping Russian weapons, which would benefit the entire global community, not just Europe and the US. The US would in this way be taking a pro-active role instead of the passive “hedge against pessimistic outcomes” which former Secretary of Defense William Perry2 warned against. The Cold War days are over and it is time to shed those old defense and containment â€” minded policies for ones that make sense.
It is true that the new NATO states have become more democratic and well functioning states, but can they really reinforce the alliance? As illustrated by the trade of the Czech Republic’s only modern fighter planes, the 10 MIG-29’s, for Polish helicopters.
If they make such gains, why not include them in the EU, instead of the NATO military alliance? Because of this power deflation the NATO which Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary will enter will be much different from what they would have expected. It will be a nebulous “Cooperative Security arrangement,” rather than a system of collective defense. But why attempt to bolster a military commitment at all, if its sworn enemy, communism, no longer exists? New techniques in thwarting rogue states and organizations â€” the real problems â€” call for a metamorphosis of mission and implementation, and must be discussed before new expansion is hastily settled.
1 From “Instead of NATO” by Ronald Steel, The New York Review.
2 This was said at the Wehrkunde Conference in Germany on Feb. 6, 1994