The game of world politics is full of twists and developments that often confound analysts and observers. The recent NATO decision to absorb new members from Eastern Europe is one such development. Many scholars had predicted that the end of the cold war, the progress toward an increased European integration and the growing financial squeeze in America would remove much of the glue that cemented the North American-West European relationship since the second world war.
Eventually, some of them waxed enthusiastic: America’s universalistic pretensions would be restrained, its geopolitical weight would be depreciated, and such cold war alliances as NATO would be rendered increasingly irrelevant. The demise of the Soviet ‘evil empire,’ to use Reagan’s parlance, removed from the scene the alliance’s primary raison d’etre and, in turn, the need for a large American military presence on the European continent.
However, the conduct of American foreign policy since the fall of the Berlin Wall has questioned the accuracy of many of these predictions. Despite the depletion of the springs of its economic prowess and the strains that have crept into its relationship with Europe, the US has sought to preserve the cold war order that gave rise to its global postwar leadership. The recent drive to expand NATO is another display of the traditional American foreign policy conduct which is predicated on a preference for military might and a penchant for overt and covert intervention in the affairs of others. The end of the cold war, therefore, has not smothered the age-old hegemonic delusions of American foreign policy-makers. In fact, that momentous event seems to have enticed them to wish away all signs of the progressive decline of American power and to invoke the role of lone superpower.
This characteristic superpower hubris largely explains why US decision-makers have resolved to chart a course that relies on NATO - an American-dominated cold war military alliance originally designed to counterbalance the geostrategic weight of the Soviet bloc - as an instrument for continued US involvement in Europe. Significantly, alternative vehicles for US involvement in Europe as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) - a carry-over from the period of Soviet-American detente whose membership includes more than 50 North American, European, and Eurasian countries - have been largely brushed aside.
Similarly, the American drive to expand NATO has also been shaped by domestic political pressure. The life-history of the idea of an enlarged NATO demonstrates the continued salience of domestic politics in the formulation of the US foreign policy agenda in the post-cold war period.
The genesis of the idea of NATO’s expansion can be traced back to a proposal to that effect put forward by the former German defence minister, Volker Ruche, shortly following German reunification. Ruche hoped that an enlarged NATO could help create a buffer zone between Germany’s new east frontier and the Soviet Union. The initial American reaction to Ruche’s proposal was one of scepticism, with objections centering around how to meet the costs of the proposed expansion. However, pressure on the newly-elected Clinton administration grew from two sides to incorporate Ruche’s proposal into its foreign policy agenda.
On the one hand, the idea gained the backing of the club of Eastern Europeanist academics and practitioners of US foreign policy, most of whose members were born in Eastern Europe and Germany. These include such foreign policy hawks as Nixon’s secretary of State and national security advisor Henry Kissinger, Carter’s national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former US representative at the UN Madeleine Albright (now secretary of State), then-Clinton’s ambassador to Germany, Richard Holbrooke, among others. Echoing traditional Eastern European reflexive and visceral fears of Russia, they embarked on a crusade arguing that the countries of Eastern Europe ought to be included under the west’s security umbrella.
The efforts of the Eastern Europeanist club were joined by those of the political leaders of the East European countries who also pressed the issue of NATO expansion in their meetings with American officials.
On the other hand, the Clinton administration was spurred by a number of influential lobbying groups working on behalf of Americans of East European origins to adopt the goal of an enlarged NATO. It is no mere coincidence, in this context, that in October 1996 Clinton chose a suburb of Detroit with a high concentration of Americans with East European origins to declare that NATO’s enlargement would begin this year.
This combination of political pressures created a propitious atmosphere for the formulation of a foreign policy agenda shaped by a quest for a Metternichian new architecture - an architecture that centers around a new Concert for Europe. Accordingly, despite all assurances given to Russia in the recent ‘Founding Act,’ an enlarged NATO remains committed to the goal of balancing the potential military power of Russia. As such, rather than enhancing the prospects of an ostensibly more unified Europe, NATO’s expanders in Washington could be sowing the seeds for a new division in Europe.
Muslimedia - July 16-31, 1997