North Atlantic Trade Organization (NATO) is an intergovernmental military alliance based on the North Atlantic Treaty signed in 1949. The members of NATO have a mutual response of defense to attack by an external party. They maintain that an attack on any one member is an attack on the whole group of nations. at the beginning The first NATO Secretary General, Lord Ismay, famously stated the organization's goal was, "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down" (Reynolds, 1994,pp. 13).
Mearsheimers study on offensive realism as cited in (Sundevall, 2011, pp. 2) assumes that “…states are rational power maximizes…always trying to gain more power at the expense of others. Sundevall goes ahead to state that, “NATO’s …expansion (according to Mearsheimers) seems to be the opposite of rational state behavior” and that “states do not …expand alliances when they are threatened” (2011, pp. 2)
The NATO expansion eastwards has led Russia to reassess strategic imperatives in their western boarders because of the mutual distrust resulting from the new alliance formed between the former enemies during the cold war. The countries view the security of one member country as a threat to the others. The expansion has led to a politico-military response between the former states which formed the Soviet Union. The response main aims are defense and security cooperation between the states (Black, 2000).
The main problem is the perception of NATO by Russia and Belarus as a potential enemy thus the need for the republics defenses to protect themselves from western approaches. The presidents of Belarus have even mooted a planned desire to turn the alliance with Russia into a powerful deterrent to NATO activities. Russia and Belarus are closely monitoring the surety issues that will result form the proposed NATO expansion. The two countries are planning to have a joint security organization to tackle the new security challenges that will be posed by the eastern NATO expansion. They also plan to determine their sphere of influence while at the same time strengthening this sphere (Black, 2000)
Black (2000) further states that although Russia has tried to come to terms with the eastern expansion of NATO, her partner Belarus has adopted a more rigid stand of no expansion, leaving it in a situation of waning relationship with the west. Belarus has often accused NATO and the United States of harboring plans to invade it. NATO has thought of improving its relationship with Russia but not with Belarus because of their poor human rights record and the allegations that they sell weapons to states that support terrorism. Russia has also been accused by the other NATO members of harboring imperial ambitions (Barany, 2003).
The opposition to NATO expansion arises fro issues of security thus the military cooperation between the two states which will eventually lead to a new geopolitical map of Eastern Europe. Russia views Belarus as the necessary entry point to the eastern block of Europe thus an important partner in the military strategies of Russia. In addition to that, it provides direct access to central Europe necessary to exert Russia’s influence in the region which mainly relies on NATO for its security. Thus Belarus is a very strategic partner in the security plans of Russia (Barany, 2003)
According to Duignan (2000), Russia’s has reached agreements with Belarus to the use of their military infrastructure after Russia lost significant military bases in the Baltic States. The two countries have held training programs together aimed at countering any attacks by NATO on the two states. (Black 2000) outlines that the two countries even have a weapon procurement program underway all aimed at the Belarus-Russia military doctrine. All this cooperation’s are done in secrecy and with little government transparency. Because of the high levels of new security threats, the manipulation of information is in itself a strategy that the two nations have used to their advantage.
Russia’s main objection to the NATO expansion is the disappearance of the defensive wall provided by the USSR following the collapse of the Soviet Union. This led to the exposure of Russia to the western powers which include the U.S. and other strong NATO members from Europe. The NATO expansion led to Russia’s rush to build strong security alliances. That’s where Belarus fitted in because the too needed a close military cooperation to boost their national security. Russia viewed the expanding NATO as infringing on their western security space, an area where they reigned supreme before. Belarus importance to the Russia’s cause is her geopolitical orientation. It plays an important role in the establishment of east-West cooperation. Thus the NATO expansion has turned the nation into an important military and political center (Duignan, 2000).
Russia has also been accused of planning nuclear countermeasures in reaction to countries that intend to join the NATO. They have threatened to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus should any central European state join NATO. Belarusian president in a speech on the eve of victory day in 1996 said that they could not sit back and watch as NATO encroaches upon their boarders. The president further accused NATO o double standards by demonizing the Russia-Belarus cooperation while singing praises at the NATO expansion (Duignan, 2000).
There were also concerns why NATO supported military cooperation with former Warsaw Pact states while the eastern states were against it. In 1997 the leaders of Russia and Belarus issued a statement on their opposition to NATO expansion; which they cited as the key reason why they were pooling resources for military action and also forging links in foreign relations (Bebler, 1999).
Russia further maintained that military structures and cooperation were inevitable due to the planned North East Corps base in Szczecin, a move which was viewed as advancement with weapons to the boarders of Russia. Further in 1998 after the entry of Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary into NATO, the cooperation was strengthened specifically on the fronts of efforts to establish military installations. NATO expansion according to critics failed to convincingly give the reasons why it considered the expansion plans. After the collapse of communism in central and Eastern Europe, NATO had lost a chunk of its collective purpose of defense (Bebler, 1999).
Germany and U.S have stood out as the two countries pushing hardest for the NATO expansion. The motivations of the two counties for the enlargement were different. German’s quest for the admission of Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary in her commitments to further her influence in central Europe. Germany also viewed the expansion as an opportunity to end the long running German-Polish conflicts and also to advance German’s economic interests in Central Europe. The enlargement was also viewed as part of the democratization process of the three countries and to also enhance German’s security in the Central and Eastern Europe (Kaplan, 1999).
The U.S. main objective for the support of NATO expansion was so that the United States could be anchored in Europe by securing the transatlantic dimension. The United States saw the addition of the three members to the NATO fold as an increased market for their weapons trade which had significantly gone down in the periods after the collapse of communism (Bebler, 1999).
The solution to the problem faced by NATO expansion would be to accord respect for Russia’s interests and also the need for collective European security system. An all inclusive policy for security had been attempted before. The policy aimed at economic modernization and integration with Western Europe to contain the problem of insecurity in Russia dominated Western Europe. The new alliance would be striving for defense. The policy of not building new zones of regional stability was reinforced by the existence of armament treaties between the enlarged states. The above approach would lead to the elimination of the fears that Russia have long held about NATO expansion (Kaplan , 1999).
Barany, Z. D. (2003).The future of NATO expansion: four case studies. Cambridge University Press.
Black, L. (2000) Russia Faces NATO Expansion: Bearing Gifts or Bearing Arms? Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers
Bebler, A.A. (1999). The Challenge of NATO Enlargement. Westport, Conn.:Praeger
Duignan, P (2000).NATO; its Past, Present and the Future. Hoover Institution press publication
Kaplan, L.S. (1999). The Long Entanglement: NATO’s First Fifty Years. Westport,
Sundevall, O (2011). Masters thesis: Testing Offensive Realism on NATO expansion in Europe. Uppsala University, spring.
Reynolds D. (1994). The origins of the Cold War in Europe; International perspectives, Yale University Press.