Srdja TrifkovicPresident Bush left Monday for a European tour that will include a NATO summit in Rumania. His first stop will be in Ukraine, which the President would like to see included in NATO, along with another former Soviet republic on the Black Sea shore, Georgia. It’s deja-vu all over again: Moscow insists it opposes NATO expansion in its back yard, but Washington nevertheless goes ahead while whispering soothing reassurances to the Russians. We’ve seen it in 1996, when Bill Clinton violated clear commitment against expansion made by his predecessor, and again in 2004. Mr. Bush will try again when he meets President Putin at the Black Sea resort of Sochi later this week. It will not work: Putin knows a Russophobic plot when he sees one, and he will not allow a cordon sanitaire to expand into his southern underbelly.

It is noteworthy that opposition to such plans now comes not only from Moscow but from within the alliance. On this issue the old Franco-German E.U. axis is again in action. French President Sarkozy is known to be lukewarm at best. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is following the policy of Alleingang (a go-it-alone rapprochement) with Moscow, openly opposing Georgian and Ukrainian Membership Action Plans (MAPs) that could lead to full membership after a few years. Blocking those MAPs is now Berlin’s bipartisan policy, a reflection of Germany’s awareness that an energy-dependent Europe cannot afford to be a hostage to the visceral Russophobia of the decision-making establishment in Washington. At a joint briefing following Merkel’s recent visit to Moscow, Putin made clear that he and the chancellor shared a common position on NATO enlargement.

Merkel knows that the latter-day, U.S.-led Drang nach Osten is a poisoned chalice. From a neoconservative point of view, however, there is no better way to ensure U.S. dominance in perpetuity than subverting the Russo-German rapprochement. The neocons hate Russia as such, not her “lack of democracy” or “brutality in Chechnya,” but for reasons ideological and emotional that we have tackled elsewhere. Their obsessions result in policies that resonate with Russia’s former clients and satellites in Tallin or Tbilisi, but that are detrimental to the security of the United States.

Further NATO enlargement means that Russian missiles will remain targeted on American cities. While this may be of no consequence to the denizens of Lvov or Gori, it should focus minds in New York, Seattle, and Omaha. By extending her protectorate deep inside Eastern Europe, America would be diminishing, rather than enhancing, her security. By cementing its cordon sanitaire around Russia, Washington indirectly encourages the belief that the bear is on its last legs, which is certainly no longer the case.

The notion of NATO extension pleases some Eastern Europeans who have their own axes to grind—notably, those in Warsaw—but it can only jeopardize Europe’s chances of long-term peace. The United States should understand why the elites in some former Soviet republics have a vested geopolitical interest, and an even more acute psychological need, to treat Russia as the enemy, but she should never allow herself to be seduced by their obsessions. They all proclaim their devotion to the ideological assumptions of the new NATO, but their real agenda is twofold: to have a Western (read: American) security guarantee against Russia, and to strengthen their own position vis-à-vis those neighbors with whom they have an ongoing or potential dispute. NATO membership may even embolden some to defrost conflicts—notably, in Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia—that would have otherwise remained dormant.

The reason NATO expansion is bad in principle is found in the security guarantee itself. Article V of the NATO Charter clearly states that an attack on one is an attack on all, which translates into an automatic guarantee of aid to an ally in distress. The United States will supposedly provide her protective cover to new clients right in Russia’s geopolitical backyard, in an area whose fortunes are not vital to this country’s interests. Once included, those faraway lands of which we know little will become a permanent fixture of our foreign-policy establishment’s mind-set. The United States will assume the nominal responsibility for open-ended claims by, say, Tbilisi, over a host of disputed frontiers that were drawn arbitrarily by communists and bear little relation to ethnicity or history. At no obvious benefit to the United States, we would be asked to underwrite a post-Soviet outcome that is not inherently stable, just, or “democratic.”

Either the United States is serious that she would risk a thermonuclear war for the sake of, say, Georgia’s rights to Abkhazia (which is insane), or she is not (which makes NATO expansion frivolous and dangerous). This calls to mind previous Western experiments with security guarantees in the region—the carve-up of Czechoslovakia in October 1938, or Poland’s destruction in September 1939. The lesson of Locarno for the Bush administration is clear: Security guarantees that are not based on the provider’s complete resolve to fight a full-blown war to fulfill them are worse than no guarantees at all. They are certain to be challenged in the fulness of time.

And finally, further NATO expansion would cement and perpetuate NATO’s new, U.S.-invented and imposed mission as a self-appointed promoter of democracy, protector of human rights, and guardian against instability outside its original area. It was on those grounds, rather than in response to any supposed threat, that the Clinton administration pushed for the admission of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary in 1996, and President Bush brought in the Baltic republics, Bulgaria, and Rumania in 2004. Bill Clinton’s 1999 air war against the Serbs marked a decisive shift in NATO’s mutation from a defensive alliance into a supranational security force based on the doctrine of “humanitarian intervention.” The trusty keeper of the gate had become a roaming vigilante.

Washington’s urge to challenge and confront Russia—and NATO expansion is an open geopolitical challenge to Moscow, on par with the recognition of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence—is rationally inexplicable. It is reminiscent of an unpleasant and invariably fatal West European malaise that was manifest in the catastrophes of 1812, 1914 and 1941. This madness must be stopped in its current, American-led reincarnation because it is contrary to the interests of the American people and has the potential to destroy the remnant of the common European civilization on both shores of the Atlantic. Such an outcome would be pleasing only to jihadists and “creative destructors” of all color and hue.

Mr. Bush can be forgiven only if he does not know what he is doing.

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