NATO's Final Frontier

Why Russia Should Join the Atlantic Alliance

At NATO's 2010 summit, planned for November, the alliance's members intend to adopt a new "strategic concept" to guide its evolution. NATO's relationship with Russia is at the top of the agenda. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States and its NATO allies have constructed a post-Cold War order that effectively shuts Russia out. Although NATO and the European Union have embraced the countries of central and eastern Europe, they have treated Russia as an outsider, excluding it from the main institutions of the Euro-Atlantic community. Russia's isolation is in part a product of its own making. The country's stalled democratic transition and occasional bouts of foreign policy excess warrant NATO's continued role as a hedge against the reemergence of an expansionist Russia.

Nonetheless, the West is making a historic mistake in treating Russia as a strategic pariah. As made clear by the settlements after the Napoleonic Wars and World War II -- in contrast to the one that followed World War I -- including former adversaries in a postwar order is critical to the consolidation of great-power peace. Anchoring Russia in an enlarged Euro-Atlantic order, therefore, should be an urgent priority for NATO today.

Russia has been disgruntled with the expansion of NATO ever since the alliance began courting new members from the former Soviet bloc in the early 1990s. However, Russia's economic and military decline and the West's primacy encouraged NATO members to discount the potential consequences of Russian discontent. "As American capabilities surged and Russian capabilities waned," the political scientists Daniel Deudney and G. John Ikenberry have observed, "Washington policymakers increasingly acted as though Russia no longer mattered and the United States could do whatever it wanted."

The strategic landscape has since changed dramatically, however, and the costs of excluding Russia from the Euro-Atlantic order have risen substantially. The Kremlin's recentralization of power and Russia's economic rebound thanks to higher energy prices have brought the country back to life. Russia now has the confidence and the capability to push back against NATO -- just as the West urgently needs Moscow's cooperation on a host of issues, including the containment of Iran's nuclear ambitions, arms control and nonproliferation, the stabilization of Afghanistan, counterterrorism, and energy security.

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