WASHINGTON D.C.: Some time in 1997 the North Atlantic Alliance is expected to offer NATO membership to some or all of the four "Visegrad" countries: Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. This would be a mistake, as I argue in my new book on European security, The Dawn of Peace in Europe.
The stated reason for expanding NATO -- to solidify democracy in the new members -- does not stand up to logical analysis. Democracy is not visibly threatened in Central Europe. To the extent that it may be threatened, the appropriate body for dealing with that threat is the European Union (EU). The EU is better equipped than NATO to help the Visegrad countries achieve prosperity, the best antidote to the poverty, unemployment, and ethnic strife that could subvert democracy in post-Communist Europe. Furthermore, if NATO is a vehicle for reinforcing democracy then membership is being contemplated for the wrong countries. Democracy is shakier, and the stakes for the West higher, in Russia and Ukraine than in Central Europe.
Central Europeans are concerned less about their capacities for democratic government than about Russian power and ambition. But NATO expansion as proposed will not effectively serve an anti-Russian purpose either.
Countries with the greatest cause for concern about Russia -- Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- are not to be offered NATO membership. Moreover, Russia is today far too weak to threaten them, as the Russian army's disastrous misadventure in Chechnya demonstrates. One day Russia will be stronger, and if expanding NATO to Central Europe now would discourage revival of an imperial foreign policy then, this would be a strong argument in favor of doing so.