Why expanding NATO would deter Russia, stabilize Europe  
June 25th, 2014
03:15 PM ET

Why expanding NATO would deter Russia, stabilize Europe  

By Tomas Valasek and Damon Wilson, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Tomáš Valášek is the permanent representative of Slovakia to NATO. Damon Wilson is executive vice president at the Atlantic Council and former NATO official. The views expressed are their own.

In the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Europe’s east, NATO has reaffirmed the alliance’s commitment to defend “every inch” of its members’ territory. Right now, it must also make clear that it will respond to any Russian measures to undermine stability in Europe as a whole, especially the security of countries waiting to get into NATO. The cost of not doing so is to invite more Russian aggression.

While NATO membership for Ukraine is not on the table in Brussels or Kiev, Ukraine’s sovereignty may be impacted by what the alliance decides about what to offer Montenegro and Georgia, the two most prepared candidates for membership. NATO foreign ministers have started talks in Brussels on Wednesday that will pave the way for a decision on enlargement at NATO’s September summit in Wales. Unfortunately, some key NATO members are not yet convinced about the benefits of enlargement.

That decision will be based mostly on whether candidates are prepared to meet the responsibilities of membership. But allies also need to consider whether accession of additional countries contributes to NATO’s security. Enlargement is not a favor to aspiring members. Any next round must strengthen the security of the Alliance and the stability of Europe.

Security on the continent has changed dramatically since NATO agreed in 2008 to admit Albania and Croatia, which joined the following year, the last round of enlargement. Russia subsequently used force against Georgia and then Ukraine, changing borders. Well before the annexation of Crimea and destabilization of eastern Ukraine, Putin had come to regard NATO as an adversary. He has also declared Russia’s intention to use force against perceived oppression of Russian speakers, wherever they are.

At a time when NATO is facing a period of tensions and confrontation along its borders, does enlargement help or hurt the Alliance?

In one sense, enlargement just got tougher. An emboldened Russia will resist the expansion of Alliance territory with vigor. The costs to NATO of continuing to grow have risen.

But so have the costs of non-enlargement. Moscow will interpret a decision not to enlarge as evidence that its policy of aggression against neighbors seeking to join the West is working. That sort of encouragement is hardly in NATO’s interest.

Enlargement contributes to security because it leads to more predictable relations with Russia. Membership has a calming effect on Moscow’s ties with nations as NATO entry greatly increases the costs to Moscow of interfering. Imagine if Estonia or Latvia – two neighbors of Russia with large Russian minorities – were not members of NATO. They could be under as much pressure now as Ukraine. But Moscow has reasons to tread carefully because it knows that an intervention in the Baltics would trigger a collective NATO response.

While not Russia’s neighbors, the accession of Balkan candidates to NATO would greatly reduce the risk that they become flashpoints in relations with a revanchist Russia intent on reasserting its role, including in the Balkans. A stabilizing policy is needed for the period of tensions ahead. The time to act is now: before the pro-membership elites and population comes under even more Russian pressure to reconsider.

Montenegro has made the greatest strides in preparing for accession and its leadership has stood up to Russian pressure, demonstrating its willingness to carry the responsibility of membership. Inviting Montenegro to join NATO this fall would provide needed stability in the region, deter Russian mischief-making, and signal that NATO’s door remains open.

Georgia is a special case. It remains committed to its NATO course despite its great vulnerability: in 2008 Russia attacked and occupied part of Georgia in part to keep it from joining NATO.

Allies should not incentivize intimidation by blocking Georgia’s progress out of fear of provoking Putin. Moscow will likely step up efforts to destabilize Georgia even if NATO grants Georgia a membership action plan, a half-way status that would still leave it bearing increased Russian pressure without any NATO security guarantees.

At the NATO summit in Wales, the alliance should put in place measures to strengthen Georgia’s ability to defend itself and deter Russia before it offers membership. These measures should include the presence of NATO, including U.S. forces on Georgia’s territory, and a major new effort to help Georgia modernize its armed forces and implement further democratic reforms. This would ensure stability while paving the path for a viable and credible alliance security commitment to Georgia.

A new NATO arrangement with Georgia along with an offer of membership to Montenegro in September would make a significant contribution to alliance security. They should be part of NATO’s response to a revanchist Russia.​


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Topics: NATO • Russia • Ukraine

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soundoff (63 Responses)
  1. Leekim

    I have a better idea how are we going to punish Obama! Your interview Sunday was terrible. Why don't you ask us up front how WE feel about the NSA . No we do NOT trust Obama or CNN . Also, CNN did a wonderful job at bashing the Olympics. You are so full of propaganda your losing it Zakaria......We really like Putin. He is a man with integrity....Your Obama does not know the meaning of the word.

    June 25, 2014 at 4:07 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      Thank you, Leekim. I totally agree!

      June 25, 2014 at 4:45 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini@

      @ Leekim:
      I strongly and completely disagree with you.

      June 25, 2014 at 9:16 pm |
      • SolBorealis

        There will be war. USA will attack Russia in year or two. NATO's bridgehead is ready. Death to all Russian!!

        June 26, 2014 at 4:01 am |
      • Marine5484

        Come on, SolBorealis. That is one of the stupidest comments I've see. Don't you think that if NATO attacks Russia that Russia won't counterattack? All this trouble is caused by U.S, bullying in the first place! Wise up!

        June 26, 2014 at 8:53 am |
    • Debbie

      I don't know about Mr. Putin's integrity. I'm sure that he has his good qualities, but remember the ring he kept?

      June 25, 2014 at 9:59 pm |
      • banasy©

        Yes. What he cannot obtain by fair measures, he will steal.

        June 27, 2014 at 12:27 pm |
    • antiLiberal

      Thanks, you're absolutely true!

      June 26, 2014 at 7:42 am |
    • banasy©

      No, you really like Putin. What you really hate, and need to seek help for, is you ODS.

      June 27, 2014 at 12:24 pm |
      • banasy©

        *your ODS.

        June 27, 2014 at 12:26 pm |
  2. chri§§y

    Blasphemy the both of you! And dont think youre speaking for all of us!

    June 25, 2014 at 4:57 pm |
  3. Debbie

    I agree with chrissy. Sorry Joey. Leekim, how can somebody with such a gorgeous name be so wrong? Bashing the Olympics?... No such thing happened. Please be honest...
    Where is blue Joey when we need him..

    June 25, 2014 at 5:26 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini@

      Here now, @ Debbie.
      Had to do a little work today.

      June 25, 2014 at 9:19 pm |
      • Debbie

        Hi Joey. A little work is always so nice and productive.
        Hi chrissy and you're right...Leekim does not speak for all of us..

        June 25, 2014 at 9:49 pm |
  4. chri§§y

    Blue Joey is the real one that one here is a troll. And hello @ Debbie.

    June 25, 2014 at 6:34 pm |
  5. peteybee

    Article claims NATO enlargement calms Russia. The author does not explain how he came to this conclusion.

    From the Russian point of view (which is, remember, not the same as the CNN point of view), the crisis was instigated specifically by the violent overthrow of the normally elected Yanukovich government by two non-elected ultra-right wing group, Right Sector and Svoboda. I.e., a forceful push to change Ukraine to the other side. This is not evidence of "calming".

    A huge part of this article's analysis is thus contrary to evidence.

    June 25, 2014 at 6:54 pm |
    • Ben

      Absence or contradiction of evidence will not stop military industrial complex and it's NATO sidekicks insane quest for more power and taxpayers money.

      June 25, 2014 at 10:32 pm |
      • peteybee


        June 25, 2014 at 10:35 pm |
  6. peteybee

    Also, extending NATO membership to every two-bit former soviet republic will increase and increase again the obligation of Western European members to go to war for parties they have little or no kinship with. It is a recipe for a repeat of WWI.

    June 25, 2014 at 6:57 pm |
    • j. von hettlingen

      The best solution to ending all threats and hostilities is to invite Russia to join NATO. There is a common cause: Islamist extremism.

      June 30, 2014 at 10:37 am |
  7. Sword of the Gideon

    1. How does antagonizing Russia will make US/EU safer ?
    2. Do we really expect to scare Russia into giving up protecting its security interests ?
    3. After USSR let Baltic republics and Ukraine go, what gave you an idea that Russia wants them back ?
    4. Do you think that surrounding Russia by heavily armed enemies will not draw a similar response from Russia ? Did someone figure out how to consistently win in Tic-Tac-Toe ?
    5. How would we respond to threats being placed around us ?
    6. Why didn't we try to be partners with Russia when they were begging us ? The world would be safer now.

    June 25, 2014 at 7:36 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini@

      How scared of Russia are you?

      June 25, 2014 at 9:24 pm |
      • Ben

        Power and money hungry MIC boys are so heroic when leading from behind. Draft dodging Cheney is a good example of that.

        June 25, 2014 at 10:36 pm |
  8. Marine5484

    This is about the dumbest post I read! How can expanding such an evil alliance do anyone any good? The dissolution of NATO would be one of the best things to occur in the annals of mankind!

    June 25, 2014 at 7:57 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini@

      Dissolve NATO?

      June 25, 2014 at 9:26 pm |
      • Big Bird

        It is the most sane thing! Washington needs a serious dose of humble pie for all of humanity's sake, average Joe/Jane private citizen Americans included!

        June 26, 2014 at 9:58 pm |
  9. Ferhat Balkan

    It wasn't that long ago (about a year I think) when Robert Kraft (owner of the Patriots) and Putin met and Mr. Kraft's Superbowl ring went missing... You know what else got stolen recently? Crimea. And what do you think will be next?You guessed it: Eastern Ukraine. Apparently, stealing is perfectly OK in Mr. Putin's book. It's all just "Nova Russia" for him.

    June 25, 2014 at 8:49 pm |
  10. Danro

    The author is correct in interpreting Putin's thinking. Enlargement of NATO will be a kick in the mouth for Putin. But is it worth it? What is the benefit of allowing 2 tiny countries to join? At this point NATO enlargement serves only to unite Europe. What should be happening is for Europe to create a joint military so that NATO partnership is between US, Canada and 1 European organization not 20 tiny nations who still distrust each other but are only at peace because of the protection guaranteed by the US. If the goal is European Unity, there are many other ways. If the goal is to challenge Putin, there are also many other ways. Actually, if you want to defeat Putin, we should just let him keep doing what he is doing because he is his own worst enemy.

    June 25, 2014 at 9:13 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini@

      The benefit is a little more NATO.
      More is more.
      Better for us.

      June 25, 2014 at 9:33 pm |
      • Danro

        Right now NATO is doing 2 things. It is providing security to Europe by uniting the various European countries which have long bitter histories and creating a common alliance of like minded nations. If NATO is going to survive I believe the Euopeans must provide the military unity which NATo currently provides. Otherwise we can get stuck in this narrative where NATO is only an anti Russia alliance which it is not. Because for many Eastern European countries joining NATO is the first step to EU membership.

        June 29, 2014 at 9:23 am |
  11. Joey Isotta-Fraschini@

    I doubt that any Russian Czar would have stolen anybody's ring.
    I'd bet good money that President Obama would never swipe a ring.
    There is a word for what Putin lacks, but those who possess it don't say the word, which starts with the letter "c."

    June 25, 2014 at 9:41 pm |
  12. chri§§y

    Dang missed you again @ Debbie. Been on the road most of the day. Drove to NY. Driving back home tomorrow!

    June 25, 2014 at 11:00 pm |
  13. joe

    Georgia member of Nato without Abkhazia and Ossetia, very funny.Tomas Valasek and Damon Wilson both are dreaming, maybe Russian missiles will wake up both of their stupidity.

    June 25, 2014 at 11:16 pm |
  14. chri§§y

    So true @ Ben and now these clowns in Congress that have cost us all so much the past several years are gonna waste more taxpayers money on a lawsuit against Obama for using his executive powers. Boehner hasnt said what act this was...probably not putting boots on the ground! In my day we would call him a dipstick lol.

    June 25, 2014 at 11:47 pm |
  15. WLord

    Incorrect conclusions. It is the NATO expansion to the East is provoking Russia. NATO bases in Poland, the Baltic States, the negotiations with Georgia and Ukraine for membership in NATO is all the aggression of NATO against Russia. And Russia has to respond. Aggression is always leads to the return of aggression, and the goodness this is over.

    June 26, 2014 at 3:07 am |
  16. Siberian

    Want to expand NATO much closer to our borders? No problem, guys but then prepare for worse

    June 26, 2014 at 4:33 am |
  17. Ivan

    Hitler and Napoleon tried to unite Europe and attack Russia. Both tries failed becase of strong resistance and greate distances wich gave Russians time to mobilize and strike back. This time US formed NATO and try to get as close as possible to Russia. After installing anti-missile systems they will try to attack Russian silos and military infrastructure with nukes to weak the response strike and hoping to shot down most missiles. The new blitzgrieg is coming. But be sure that some warheads won't be intercepted. And if command centers will be destroyed the "dead hand" system will automaticaly lunch everything. This western madness with "drang nach osten" has started with looting of Constantinopol and it seems that the end will be in this decade. May be all this post seems too mad. But madness becames real very fast. Some day you could just wake up in the trench near Volgograd and some other guy near you will remember the previous name of that city.

    June 26, 2014 at 4:48 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      Thank you, Ivan. Nothing could be closer to the truth! I'm sick and tired of reading all these ignorant, pro-NATO comments saying how the West needs to "defend" it's "interests" in the East. This shows just how the right-wing news media has brainwashed these people!

      June 26, 2014 at 12:39 pm |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini@

        Naw, Joey Troll, I say just the opposite.
        Go learn to think.

        June 28, 2014 at 12:19 pm |
  18. Giovanni

    NATO is precisely what is done.
    Of course, the question is, where we will deploy its army after the Ukraine – the Baltics, or immediately in Poland will split! )))))))))))))))))) The mind-that is?

    June 26, 2014 at 5:18 am |
  19. logist

    Well, in fact, Georgia did begun the war by killing Russian peacemakers. And it was proved by the EU investigation. And this intentional distortion of the proven fact yet another time highlights that there are tremendous flows of propoganda and there is no such thing as free or unbiased media.

    June 26, 2014 at 6:12 am |
  20. Nsamba Taufeeq

    There can only be peace if either party wins but not both,the US should start effective setup of more millitary bases in europe in the wake of ukrainian chaos,europe cant afford another conflict,the US should also try to ensure that it makes strategic trade deals with europe,promote economic progress and stability in europe because undoubtedly asia is becoming more vigorous and pro china and russia,to prevent a situation like this europe has to rise and be the giants they once were

    June 26, 2014 at 6:55 am |
  21. George patton

    Vladimir Putin is a man of integrity whereas Barack Obama does what the M.I.C. In Washington tells him to do!!!

    June 26, 2014 at 8:56 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini@

      Barack Obama is a great president, and a man of astounding morality and integrity.
      @ George patton, you're not the real @ George Patton, are you.

      June 26, 2014 at 7:24 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      Please George, just ignore my troll above. He's just trying to be funny. Any moron knows better than that.

      June 26, 2014 at 10:00 pm |
  22. The Entire GOP Platform In A Single Paragraph

    The GOP Prayer/Mantra/Solution: Dear God...With your loving kindness, help us to turn all the Old, Sick, Poor, Non-white, Non-christian, Female, and Gay people into slaves. Then, with your guidance and compassion, we will whip them until they are Young, Healthy, Rich, White, Christian, Male, and Straight. Or until they are dead. God...Grant us the knowledge to then turn them into Soylent Green to feed the military during the next "unfunded/off-the-books" war. God...Give us the strength during our speeches to repeatedly yell........TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH!!!..........and........GET RID OF SS AND MEDICARE!!!
    In your name we prey (purposely misspelled, or is it?)........Amen

    June 26, 2014 at 9:25 am |
  23. Victor Weikum

    Don't worry, people of Europe, Russia will protect you from NATO and corrupted politics that drag you into this aggressive allience

    June 26, 2014 at 11:14 am |
  24. Sergio Aguilar

    Russia will attack Finland!!! Inferring that Russia will invade countries West Europe???, is madness and non sense, I have never seen that a single shoot from Russia was made overseas. Russia does not have a single MILITARY base outside Russia, I never see that Russia is demonizing head of states with the purposes to change the regime, and destabilizing countries like the US has been made in 6 countries lately, which becoming a totally mess!!!! American politicians are entering in unstable waters trying to find a reason to have a war with countries with nukes

    June 26, 2014 at 11:53 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      You're totally correct, Sergio. Thank you.

      June 26, 2014 at 12:31 pm |
  25. danR

    CNN's coverage of the Ukrainian issues has become prematurely scanty in the assumption that "it's all over." You can do better than one thin story every few days.

    June 26, 2014 at 11:56 am |
  26. almost die

    Americans are happy when in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, people are dying for the sake of democracy, or the fictional oil and heroin that goes to China and Russia.
    It's time to Ukraine there must control the pipeline. That's only naval base in the Crimea did not return her away together with Crimea

    June 26, 2014 at 12:39 pm |
  27. almost die

    Friends. you bend a small country can not budget bursting into debt climbed as you gathered blame Russia nuclear power. yes, and I think China is not a fool knows that then he will end

    June 26, 2014 at 12:46 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini@

      @ almost die:
      Che lingua parla?

      June 26, 2014 at 1:59 pm |
      • BOB

        non lo so

        June 27, 2014 at 2:24 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      Que disez-vous, almost die? Votre declaration au dessus n'est pas comprensible, meme en anglais. Est-ce vous parlez sur l'Ukraine? En revanche, si vous ecirveriez en francais, peut-etre on vous compredra.

      June 27, 2014 at 8:52 am |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

        Je regrette, almost die. Je voulais ecrire "ecriveriez" au dessus, pas "ecirveriez". J'en suis desole.

        June 27, 2014 at 8:56 am |
      • banasy©

        Bush número 2 a beau coup fair pour nuire a notre pays.

        June 27, 2014 at 12:20 pm |
      • banasy©

        Vous preferez Putin, passer a la Russie. S'il vous plait.

        June 27, 2014 at 12:22 pm |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini@

        @ My Troll,
        Don't try to hijack me in French.
        Are you trying to say something about crayfish, les ecrevisses?

        June 28, 2014 at 12:32 pm |

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