(Note: The writer is answering the question: “Should the U.S. push to expand NATO?”)
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is not a rational step if the aim is to blunt the ambitions of the government of Russia.
The first fallacy is the premise that Russia has ambitions that need to be blunted.
Despite claims by some that Russia under President Vladimir Putin is trying to reconstitute the Soviet Union in the territory it held before 1991, Russia has been modest in its aims.
The only territories in which it has indicated expansionist tendencies have been territories that were closely linked to Russia historically.
The Crimean Peninsula never had any connection to Ukraine prior to 1954, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, for reasons that have never been clear, decided to switch it from the Russian component of the Soviet Union to the Ukrainian component.
Crimea had been part of Russia since the late 18th century, and Crimea’s population was and is predominantly Russian, not Ukrainian.
Even Russia’s promotion of separationists in eastern Ukraine is a step that reflects historical links, because in that sector, the population is mixed Ukrainian and Russian.
The Ukraine government had refused pleas for local autonomy from the population of eastern Ukraine, setting the stage for a push for separation.
Even if I am wrong about all that — even if Russia does harbor broad territorial ambitions — expanding NATO is not a rational policy.
Expanding NATO encourages Russia to be defensive and to feel the need to protect itself. In 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland out of fear that Nazi Germany might make a move into Finland.
To date, NATO has expanded significantly into Eastern Europe, creating in the Kremlin the same jitters it felt in 1939.
NATO has brought into membership a number of former Russian allies — Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, East Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Montenegro and Romania.
Even more problematic for Russia, NATO has accepted three countries that were part of the Soviet Union — Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
These expansions set relations between Russia and the West on a downward spiral, following a time after the demise of the Soviet Union when it seemed that the relationship might be friendly.
The West — and specifically the United States — assured Russia that the weakened posture of Russia would not be exploited to expand NATO. But then NATO accepted one Eastern European country after another into its treaty, which dates from 1949. Russia considered the West duplicitous.
The United States should not make the situation even worse by promoting NATO membership for more of Russia’s western neighbors.
Despite the influx, NATO still does not count as members Ukraine, Serbia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Macedonia and Bosnia.
NATO’s expansion has brought a dangerous polarization in east-west relations and has increased militarization on both sides.
President Donald Trump wants new aircraft carriers and upgraded nuclear weapons. He browbeats Western Europe to spend more on its military.
Last year Putin test-launched a supersonic missile that he says can penetrate existing U.S. missile defenses. An arms race is not in the interests of either country.
John B. Quigley is a professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. Readers may write him at Moritz, 55 W. 12th Street, Columbus, Ohio 43210-1391