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Indefensible

Cold War, Part II?

February 27, 1997

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright met with Russian political leaders in Moscow last week to discuss the imminent expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) into Eastern Europe. Albright tried to assuage Russian fears -- of being treated not as an ally but as a defeated enemy and of losing influence over the Baltic States and the Ukraine -- by offering a unilateral reduction in Western conventional forces in Europe and by proposing a joint Russia-NATO peacekeeping force. Despite these Western concessions, tensions in the Kremlin -- on the rise over this issue for the last couple of years -- were palpable.

NATO expansion into Eastern Europe poses several questions for the West, the most basic being whether fear of Russian aggression is justified. In "A New Iron Curtain" (January, 1996), Anatol Lieven, a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., discusses some of the difficult questions -- and dire potential consequences -- of NATO expansion into Eastern Europe. Lieven prophesies a "potential diplomatic debacle in the making" and illustrates several of the misconceptions that the West, particularly the United States, still has in regard to Russia even after the dissolution of the Cold War.

How did NATO come into being? Why does it persist to this day? Should it persist? Over the years The Atlantic has published a diversity of articles on the world's most powerful -- and sometimes misguided -- military alliance.

"NATO is a subject that drives the dagger of boredom deep, deep into the heart." With this sentence Atlantic senior editor Jack Beatty begins "The Exorbitant Anachronism" (June, 1989), a scathing indictment of NATO's financial superfluity. In addition to highlighting the absurd costliness of NATO -- United States taxpayers pay $150 billion to $170 billion a year to the alliance -- Beatty also argues the absurdity of a lesser-known aspect of NATO: the "flexible response" strategy. Unbeknownst to eighty-one percent of Americans, according to one poll, NATO's main deterrent strategy in Europe "pledges the [U.S.] to use nuclear weapons, if necessary, against a Soviet conventional attack on Germany."

In "Mr. Kennan and Reappraisal in Europe" (April, 1958), Walter Lippman criticized the way NATO had entrenched itself at communist borders in reaction to George Kennan's alert that the USSR was more powerful than previously believed. Lippman argued against NATO's Iron Curtain policy by suggesting that "our primary task should be to work out a policy [with the Soviet Union] which reflects the true condition of the balance of power. It must recognize that we are dealing with an equal power, not an inferior one, and that a settlement must therefore be based on bargaining."

In an unsigned "Washington Column" (August, 1956), the Atlantic editors reported on the "intellectual siege" of foreign diplomats coming to Washington to urge the revamping of NATO policy in order to accommodate changes in Russia and other European countries.

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