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NATO's Biggest Mistake

The Alliance Drifted From Its Core Mission -- And the World Is Paying the Price

Ukrainian soldiers at a checkpoint near the town of Slaviansk in eastern Ukraine, May 2, 2014. Baz Ratner / Courtesy Reuters

For 20 years, NATO and European security policy have been guided by four flawed strategic assumptions. First, Western leaders assumed that Russia had become a benign power and that inter-state threats to European security were therefore no longer a concern. Second, because NATO’s core mission -- collective defense -- was no longer a compelling reason to keep the alliance together, leaders argued that NATO needed to go “out of area or out of business.” NATO consequently expanded its membership and took on a new array of global missions. Third, Western leaders assumed that NATO expansion would not provoke a reaction from Russia. NATO’s leaders believed their own rhetoric about the benign nature of NATO expansion, and they assumed Moscow would see it this way as well. Fourth, they believed that the alliance would be successful in carrying out military and stabilization missions in far-off places such as Afghanistan, Iraq,

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