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The Dawn of Peace in Europe by Michael Mandelbaum

The Dawn of Peace in Europe
by Michael Mandelbaum
Twentieth Century Fund. 207 pp. $19.95

This July, President Clinton and fifteen other heads of state will meet in Madrid to offer NATO membership to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. The legislatures of the NATO countries will then be asked to ratify the new treaty. At stake for Americans is a decision that will shape our defense policy in the century to come and affect the lives of millions of people inhabiting a huge geographical tract with a dense network of commercial, political, and cultural ties to the United States.

Although Clinton’s decision to move forward with NATO expansion enjoys a good deal of support both within the Beltway and outside it, a formidable array of foreign-policy experts is organizing to persuade legislators here and abroad to vote “nay.” Michael Mandelbaum, the director of the Project on East-West Relations at the Council on Foreign Relations, is of their number. His The Dawn of Peace in Europe is a brief against NATO expansion, drawn as exhaustively and cogently as such a brief can be drawn.

Mandelbaum, it must be made clear at the outset, is no isolationist. He is committed to the maintenance of European stability and sees NATO in its current form as the best way to go about preserving it. Among other things, he views the alliance as a hedge against a resurgent Russia, and as a means of sparing the Germans from having to fend for themselves, either by going nuclear or by going soft if their neighbor to the East once again makes itself heard. He would undoubtedly agree, as the aphorism of Lord Ismay has it and as most Western diplomats find it impolitic to say, that NATO’s purpose is “to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down.”

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Mandelbaum offers an assortment of arguments against expansion. For one thing, he believes it will inevitably fray the existing alliance. Whereas, during the cold war, the NATO partners were all agreed on the threat from Moscow—and, unofficially, find it worrying still—today they are not likely to agree on much of anything else. The bickering that occurred over intervention in “out-of-area” Bosnia has already revealed the potential for serious fissures within the ranks. Adding more allies, like adding more missions, would ultimately shatter all consensus.

A second worry is that American policy is being driven by political rather than strategic considerations. Here, Mandelbaum accuses President Clinton of having used the prospect of NATO enlargement as a way to appeal to voters with ethnic ties to Eastern Europe, many of whom are clustered in crucial electoral states. How else, he asks, can we explain a policy under which those who most need NATO’s protection from Russia—Ukraine, the Baltic republics, and Belarus—will not get it, while those who are about to be offered protection need it least?

Not only are the administration’s motives crass, Mandelbaum argues, but its objectives are confused. If the aim of NATO enlargement is to support the development of democracy and the free market, then the U.S. has targeted the wrong countries and selected the wrong organization. The European Union (EU), not NATO, is the body that can help the Poles, Czechs, and Hungarians cope with lingering poverty and unemployment. What is more, Russia and Ukraine need far more help crawling out of their economic morass than do their neighbors to the west. Similarly, if the aim of American policy is to deter ethnic conflict, the administration has yet again missed the mark. By Central European standards, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary are more ethnically homogeneous than not, and have been handling their difficulties on their own; the real trouble spots on the map are to their south and east.

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Compelling as he believes these arguments to be, the linchpin of Mandelbaum’s case centers on Moscow’s displeasure with NATO expansion and the possibly grave consequences of that displeasure. When the Soviet Union agreed to the reunification of Germany in 1990, Mandelbaum reminds us, Western foreign ministers pledged not to extend the NATO alliance eastward, and not to admit former Warsaw-pact countries as members. Russians therefore view NATO expansion not only as a threat but as a breach of faith, and if it goes forward they might well express their resentment in various unpleasant ways, perhaps turning permanently against the entire post-cold-war settlement in Europe.

Why run such a risk, asks Mandelbaum, when Europe as a whole, thanks to arms-control agreements ranging from the INF treaty to START II, already enjoys as fine a security blanket as diplomacy can buy? Cumulatively, those pacts provide a “common security order” that leaves the armies of Europe capable of defending their national territories but not of attacking anyone else. This order depends on the continued participation of Russia; if Russia opts out, on account of NATO expansion, all the tremendous gains from the end of the cold war will be lost.

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This is certainly an impressive set of arguments, and in putting them forth Mandelbaum has shown, as in his previous writings on foreign affairs, that he possesses a formidable intellect and is capable of writing pellucid prose. But The Dawn of Peace in Europe would have been even more impressive (if somewhat less persuasive) had Mandelbaum also chosen to present, and refute, the arguments of the opposing side. As it stands, his book often has the feel of a lawyer’s summation, in which his own predilection for maintaining the European status quo is never subjected to critical examination.

Indeed, the case for NATO expansion begins precisely with the observation that the status quo in Europe is not sustainable. Though one would hardly know it from the abstract considerations that fill Mandelbaum’s brief, a great tide of democratic aspiration is now running through Central and Eastern Europe. In the eyes of the people who have lived in the no-man’s-land between Russia and Germany, democracy is the means for regaining admission to the European club from which the Soviet Union banned them for so long. NATO, not the EU, is the symbol of club membership, not merely for reasons of prestige but because it alone can guarantee the sovereign independence these countries have so recently recaptured. They would undoubtedly regard a refusal to admit them as a betrayal of their hopes and even of their just deserts.

Mandelbaum objects that we are offering security to those who need it least, while excluding the most troubled and endangered. This is like contending that our finest universities should admit the most backward students first; it is one of the few arguments in an excellent book that deserve to be labeled unserious. Although Mandelbaum is right to point to the various trouble spots on the East European landscape where urgent help is required, the proper question is, are these spots more likely to spread if NATO turns its back, or to recede? In fact, the prospect of eventual NATO membership might serve as a powerful inducement to these countries to embark upon reform, particularly of their national-security structures. Thus, Slovakia, for example, with its highly undemocratic head of state, is far from ready to be considered a serious candidate for membership. (Even Poland, in my view, should not be admitted until its military agrees to accept civilian control.)

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As for Russia’s allergic reaction to NATO expansion, which constitutes the foundation of Mandelbaum’s case, this of course is hardly to be taken lightly, but there is reason to believe that things are not as dire as he suggests. For one thing, public opinion in Russia is not exactly preoccupied with the NATO question; Russians have many more significant things on their minds these days. A public-opinion survey taken in December shows that to the extent Russians are interested and informed, they are also ambivalent: a third of those queried said that Russia should try to hinder the move; another third said, remarkably, that Russia should either become a member of NATO or in some other way affiliate with the Atlantic Alliance; and a third found the question “difficult to answer.” Elite opinion is fractured too. Alexander Lebed, the nationalist retired general and Yeltsin rival, has scoffed at Kremlin warnings against NATO enlargement as stock propaganda from the Soviet era, and more than a few prominent figures in public life have made similar remarks.

Though Boris Yeltsin, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and other officials continue to issue warnings, they may now be attempting to cut the best possible deal on what they know is inevitable. Under these circumstances, the trick for the United States is to thread the diplomatic needle so that Russia accepts the outcome with minimum disruption and without a compensatory bargain so generous to Moscow as to seem a sellout of the Central Europeans. The outcome of Yeltsin’s recent summit meeting with Clinton in Helsinki shows that NATO expansion, contrary to what Mandelbaum says, is not an obstacle to economic or even strategic cooperation with the Russians.

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Choices in international relations are rarely unaccompanied by risk, and the present moment is no exception. By far the most inviting course for the United States is to continue a policy of encouraging former Communist states in Europe to develop democratic institutions. This is the best means for bringing peace and freedom to a continent that has known a century of barbarous domination and terrifying war. We cannot do this if we remove an essential sine qua non of democracy: namely, security. Nor can we allow Russia, which will inevitably be one of the slowest to settle into a democratic framework, to set the pace.

This is why Mandelbaum’s confidence that the Atlantic Alliance can continue in its present form is misplaced. No action would be more likely to shake Germany, break apart the Alliance, and convince those who look to the West for help that they are not going to receive it than an abandonment of our stated policy on NATO expansion. If we did reverse course, we would almost certainly launch ourselves, sooner rather than later, into the very isolationism that Mandelbaum for the best of reasons wants to avoid.

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