Russia’s Monroe Doctrine

April 11, 2014 

WASHINGTON — It’s not surprising that these NATO members are looking for some assurances of the organization’s security guarantees given the fate of some other treaties recently. But the Ukraine events are also leading to some rethinking of NATO’s policy of eastward expansion over the last few decades.

In the National Interest, Georgetown security scholar and CIA veteran Paul Pillar writes:

A significant part of this story is how the West cornered the Russian bear before the bear bit back. More specifically, an important element in that story was the eastward expansion of NATO into what had been the Soviet empire, as well as talk about expanding it even further to embrace Ukraine and Georgia. …

The United States, relatively secure in its North American redoubt, has historically had a hard time appreciating how much other nations see the threatening side of someone else encroaching into their own neighborhood. Even though we have had our own Monroe Doctrine, we tend not to notice equivalent sentiments on the part of others …

None of this excuses Russia’s actions (NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen countered Russia’s recent accusations last week), but it’s certainly worth understanding the degree to which Moscow felt that NATO’s eastward moves were a direct threat, as well as a violation of commitments made by the United States during the breakup of the Soviet Union.

So have we reached the end of NATO expansion? The western Balkans might present a few possible new members. Croatia is already in the alliance, and Montenegro is close. Other countries have some unresolved issues to address. Kosovo and Serbia are still at odds over recognition of Kosovo’s independence. Bosnia has faced recent political instability. Macedonia’s accession is being held back by an ongoing dispute with Greece over the country’s name.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international news, social science and related topics.

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