NATO Expansion: Unnecessary and Provocative

by Patrick J. Buchanan – April 30, 1998

A century ago, William McKinley, a teenage veteran of Antietam who had wanted his presidency remembered as a time of prosperity and peace, took America to war with Spain. It lasted four months, ending in total triumph for the United States, which lost more men to fever in Florida than to gunfire in Cuba.

Flush with victory in the “splendid little war,” McKinley made the most fateful foreign policy decision of the century. Against the protests of poets, scholars and statesmen from Grover Cleveland to William Jennings Bryan, McKinley annexed the Philippines. America assumed the rule of an alien people it had no intention of allowing to become U.S. citizens. America had become an empire.

With annexation came a deepening U.S. involvement in the imperial conflicts of Asia, which led to Pearl Harbor and ultimately U.S. involvement in wars in Korea and Vietnam.

In the triumphal hubris of 1898, Americans forgot the warnings of George Washington about empires and foreign entanglements. And we have forgotten them today.

Reveling in our Cold War victory, the Senate is joining Bill Clinton in handing out permanent security guarantees to Eastern Europe, where no president has ever seen a vital interest and no U.S. army — not even Gen. Eisenhower’s — ever fought before.

Consider who is leading us into this open-ended commitment to go to war, the instant Poland’s borders are breached. Is it not ironic that NATO’s expansion, so provocative to Russia, is being carried out by Democrats who used to charge President Reagan with being provocative because of his “Evil Empire” rhetoric and Strategic Defense Initiative?

NATO expansionists argue that by bringing Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in, we consolidate the gains of our Cold War victory. Do they not realize that it was not NATO that drove the Red Army out of Europe? That army was ordered out by Moscow on an understanding, given by a U.S. secretary of state, that NATO would not be moved east to the border of Mother Russia.

Today, we are in violation of that understanding and dishonoring our word. If a second Cold War comes, and it appears on the way, the responsibility will rest as much with Washington as with Moscow.

What about the former captive nations, we are asked. Do you want to leave them to Moscow’s mercy? The answer is no. But the way to keep these nations free is not through an absurd threat of nuclear war but by making Russia a partner and ally, and by giving Moscow a diplomatic, political and economic stake in its western connections too rich to risk by recreating an empire Russia gave up.

By extending war guarantees to Eastern Europe, America gains nothing in the way of security yet adds enormously to its risks and obligations.

With NATO expansion, we give up forever our freedom to decide when and whether to go to war. We give up forever the opportunity to bring the boys home, and we lock ourselves forever into virtually every future European war. NATO expansion entails a contemptuous dismissal of the wisdom of America’s greatest men, who warned us again and again against permanent alliances.

That One Worlders are doing this is easy to understand; that self-professed conservatives are collaborating seems inexplicable — further proof that there is no true conservative party in Washington today.

Feeling deceived and humiliated, Moscow is now opposing U.S. policy almost everywhere — lining up with Serbia in Kosovo, taking Saddam’s side on sanctions, selling anti-aircraft missiles to Cyprus to deepen the Greek-Turkish rift, bullying Latvia, shipping nuclear technology and missile components to Iran, and forming a strategic partnership with China.

Meanwhile, our European allies show little willingness to pay for NATO’s expansion and no enthusiasm for Clinton’s desire to bring in the Baltic republics. Indeed, does anyone seriously think that France, which lined up with Moscow in the Gulf crisis, would join us in a war on Russia over Poland? Would Germany, which warned Reagan it would not even put Warsaw in default over the crushing of Solidarity, declare war on a nation with 10,000 nuclear weapons over a crisis with Poland?

NATO expansion will thus one day come to mean a unilateral U.S. war guarantee to Eastern Europe. And every lesson of history tells us that this is hubristic folly.

NATO expansion takes away from future generations the right to decide themselves when and where to go to war, and ensures the enmity of a revived and nationalistic Russia. And how does that make America more secure?