Was NATO Expansion a Response to Russian Aggression?

Was NATO Expansion a Response to Russian Aggression?
Vladimir Putin in 2022. Image from Kremlin.Ru

By Justin Kempf

NATO Expansion was a Response to Russian Aggression

At the end of the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization consisted of 16 member states. Over the past thirty years it has grown to 30. After Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Finland and Sweden applied for membership. Their inclusion will double NATO membership during the Post-Cold War era. Indeed, such a dramatic shift in the balance of power in Europe will inevitably have profound implications. But Putin (along with a few misguided scholars) goes as far as to claim NATO expansion compelled Russia to invade Ukraine last year. From his perspective Russia is the victim, while America is the aggressor.

The most obvious flaw in this argument is it overstates American influence and minimizes Russian accountability. It relieves Russia of any agency over its foreign policy. America decides, while Russia responds. However, international influence is not a one-way street. Russian behavior played an important role in the motivations of new members to join NATO. Countries like Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic did not just fear a long history of Russian aggression. During the nineties they saw Russian aggression in two different wars against Chechnya. They witnessed Russia turn a blind eye to Serbian genocide in the Balkans, because they were fellow Slavic peoples. Moreover, internal politics in Russia signaled even greater nationalistic ambitions on the horizon.

The newest members of the alliance joined because they recognized a need for security guarantees. Many of them saw Russia as an ongoing threat when the United States still saw a partner. Similarly, Ukraine and Georgia have also pursued NATO membership due to Russian belligerence. Russia may blame NATO expansion for the deterioration in East-West relations, but its own actions gave its neighbors a genuine motivation to seek membership in the alliance.

About the Author

Justin Kempf manages this blog and hosts the podcast Democracy Paradox. He lives with his family in Carmel, Indiana.

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