NATO Expansion: A Dangerous Folly

by Patrick J. Buchanan – July 8, 1997

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is counsel Bill Clinton should have followed before making his frivolous decision to expand NATO into Eastern Europe. For it is clear that NATO expansion is already dividing, and may eventually destroy, the great Western alliance.

Handing out war guarantees to parts of Europe where we have never fought before reflects the substitution of sentimentality for hard thought. There is no vital U.S. interest where we are, right now, being committed to fight. Clinton is treating a military alliance like a country club, which, thanks to his magnanimity, is finally opening its doors to excluded minorities.

Even when the Soviet Empire was at its ugliest, crushing the Hungarian revolution in 1956 and the “Prague Spring” in 1968, the United States never considered going to war. If Cold War presidents would not challenge Communist Russia, would a peacetime president go to war against an imperialist Russia? Why?

U.S. forces are being drawn down all over the world. Fewer than 100,000 remain in Europe. The 600-ship navy is history. The defense budget has been shrinking for a dozen years. How does Clinton propose to defend these countries? Where does he propose to get the money? Alliances are undertaken to strengthen nations. How is America strengthened by being allied with Slovenia?

Even before the engraved invitations have gone out to Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, Clinton has managed to:

– antagonize Moscow, driving her toward China and Iran, and delay destruction of Russia’s strategic weapons.

– leave the tiny and excluded Baltic republics and Ukraine more, not less, exposed to Russian pressure.

– divide Europe into “have” and “have not” nations, creating deep resentment in nations like Slovakia, Rumania and Bulgaria.

– split a U.S. foreign-policy community and destroy the national consensus over NATO.

Quite an achievement.

In fairness, the president was neither first, nor loudest, in calling for NATO expansion. That honor goes to the interventionist wing of the Republican Party. In 1994 and 1996, Republicans played naked ethnic politics, committing future generations to go to war for the ancestral lands of voters they were courting.

Though the issue here, whether to fight a nuclear-armed Russia at the Polish frontier, is among the gravest, it has been dealt with with utter frivolity. News reports have Republican leaders offering NATO memberships — i.e., permanent war guarantees — to virtually every Eastern European delegation to arrive on Capitol Hill.

After Madrid, it will be up to the Senate, which must assent to NATO expansion, to defend the U.S. national interest. Humiliating though it may be, the Senate should reject NATO expansion.

Looking back, there is one reason the United States is the only nation that entered the 20th century as a first-rank power and is leaving the century as a first-rank power. That is because America stayed out of the world wars until the other great powers had bled themselves almost to death.

World War I brought down the German, Russian, Ottoman and Austrian empires. World War II brought down the Japanese and was the death knell of the British and French. But, in the first war, U.S. Doughboys did not enter the Allied lines in great numbers until the final year. In World War II, Americans did not go ashore at Normandy until four years after Hitler had overrun France.

As far away as possible from a Eurasian land mass on which all the great wars of the 20th century have been fought — separated by thousands of miles of oceans — America is truly blessed. As our first and greatest president admonished us, “Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European Ambition, Rivalship, Interest …

Our war, the Cold War, is over. We ought not surrender in this new century our greatest advantage in the old. America’s role is not that of a front-line fighting state in Europe or Asia. It is to be the Arsenal of Democracy — the strategic reserve of Western civilization, the republic that always retains the constitutional freedom to decide when, where and whether to fight. And we ought not to have that ultimate decision made for us either by the dead hand of the past or the pandering politicians.