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Expanding NATO Makes America Less Secure

NATO, the alliance informally known as North America and The Others, remains committed to expansion. Powerhouse Montenegro, with 2080 men in uniform, will be the next entrant. Other governments are knocking on the alliance door. 

Unfortunately, past NATO expansion made the U.S. worse off by multiplying Washington’s military guarantees. Newer accessions would do the same. 

NATOThe transatlantic alliance was created in 1949 to protect war-ravaged Western Europe from the Soviet Union. The end of the Cold War changed everything. The U.S. no longer needed to shield Western Europe from Moscow. 

Yet NATO proved to be as resilient as other government bureaucracies. So the alliance expanded both its mission (to “out-of-area” activities) and membership (inducting former Warsaw Pact members). Washington’s military obligations multiplied even as the most important threat against it dissipated. 

Then no one imagined that the U.S. might be expected to fight on new members’ behalf. The alliance was seen as the international equivalent of a gentleman’s club, to which everyone who is someone belonged. 

Alas, Russia did not perceive moving the traditional anti-Moscow alliance up to its borders as a friendly act. NATO compounded expansion with an unprovoked war against Serbia, a traditional Slavic ally of Moscow, and proposals to include Georgia and Ukraine, the latter which long had especially close historical, cultural, economic, and military ties with Russia. 

Russia’s confrontation with Kiev set off near panic in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. They, along with Poland, have been pressing for “their” allied, meaning U.S., garrisons. And the Obama administration obliged, committing $3.4 billion to a “European Reassurance Initiative” and an armored brigade for deployment in Eastern Europe. 

Who will come next? There have been bizarre proposals over the years to add Russia (what is an alliance that brings in the country against which it was formed?) and China (what security interests does the rising Pacific power share with the “transatlantic” club?). 

Three years ago there was a brief boomlet for Colombia, in South America. Australian accession once rated support from Rupert Murdoch. 

Israel has its partisans. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq some pundits proposed that nation as well as Egypt. 

More dangerous for America, since they are more plausible, are proposals to induct Balkan states. Macedonia, with all of 8000 men in uniform, wants in. Bosnia’s ambitions remain hindered by internal division and discord. The Serbian government is interested, despite that country’s role as NATO bombing target in 1999. There is congressional support for Kosovo’s membership, even though Pristina has a reputation as a gangster state, run by former terrorists. 

Finland and Sweden are candidates, though their primary task would be to back up the Baltics. But Helsinki and Stockholm would take on Russia only if America was prepared to support them—in a conflict which would not be in Washington’s interest. 

Most dangerous would be adding Georgia and Ukraine. Tbilisi long has had its partisans. David J. Kramer and Damon Wilson of the McCain Institute and Atlantic Council, respectively, wrote about “Georgia’s frustration,” but the latter is of no concern to the U.S. or Europe. So long as alliance membership is about security rather than charity, the issue is the interest of existing members. 

And the latter would be foolish to induct Tbilisi. Georgia triggered a short war with Russia in August 2008. To bring such a state, even under presumably more rationale leadership today, into NATO would offer America no substantial security benefits: Tbilisi’s contributions to U.S. missions to Afghanistan and Iraq were welcome but not worth a military guarantee against nuclear-armed Moscow. 

A majority of Ukrainians favor alliance membership and President Petro Poroshenko said that accession remained a “strategic goal.” However, Kiev is an even worse candidate. 

Ukraine is involved in an active conflict involving Russia. Ukraine matters much more to Moscow than America, so Russia will take far greater risks and endure far greater costs to achieve its ends. That would not change if Kiev joined NATO; only the dangers for the U.S. would increase. 

The alliance—at least led by the U.S.—is obsolete. The Europeans collectively have a larger economy and population than America, and one vastly larger than Russia. There is no reason for Washington, which is very busy in Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere, to continue defending its prosperous, populous cousins across the Pond. 

At the very least the U.S. should halt NATO expansion. If the European members of the alliance want to defend weak, distant states, that should be their decision and responsibility. However, Washington should not risk the lives and wealth of its citizens for no good reason.

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