Increased tensions between NATO and the Russian Federation over former Soviet states in Eastern Europe such as Ukraine is leading to calls for an increased NATO presence on the Russian border, ready to respond to any provocation from Russia. Many pundits and politicians (including Vice President Pence) suggest the United States should “respond with strength” to the Russian threat. They argue a strong defense policy serves the national interest and fosters peace and prosperity worldwide. This is already the status quo, as last week the United States deployed 4000 troops to Poland. Given the uneasy relationship the West currently has with Russia, it is time to consider a non-interventionist, non-military solution to foreign conflicts in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
It should come as no surprise that the realities of foreign conflicts are far more nuanced than a simple “good guys and bad guys” narrative. This does not stop the propagandists who maintain that NATO is a force for good in the world, standing up to aggressive, authoritarian foreign powers like Putin’s Russia. I would not call NATO an “evil empire,” as their Cold War adversary was dubbed; many of its current adversaries are indeed brutish. That said, the expansion of NATO since the end of the Cold War and its military adventurism, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East, has proven both incredibly destructive and characteristic of an empire.
I am not trying to be provocative: without the United States, there is no NATO. If the United States treats borders of foreign nations as their own, requires that member nations adopt certain policies to maintain NATO membership, and uses the territory of NATO members as staging grounds for its own military, it is an empire. If the United States has military bases in over 74 countries and tens of thousands of military personnel deployed abroad, it is an empire. NATO is a peaceful coalition to some, and a growing, existential threat to others.
While many observers accuse the Russian Federation of expansionist, aggressive foreign policy (which is valid, to an extent), NATO’s own expansionary ambitions are often overlooked or justified in the West because they are, of course, the “good guys” defending and spreading democracy. NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War is a powerful example of this, and a provocative and threatening development for the Russians.