- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2011

Some bad national security ideas refuse to go away. One of the worst of them floating around the last 20 years is the notion that Russia should be offered membership in the NATO alliance. This is an idea whose time will never come.

In some respects, NATO has been an organization in search of an identity since the Berlin Wall came down. NATO originated as a Cold War collective security organization to deter the Soviet Union from making any military moves against the free countries of Western Europe, and if necessary defend them from a Red onslaught. In those days, NATO was a symbol of enduring American military commitment to Europe, an intentional contrast to interwar isolationism that contributed to the outbreak of World War II.

In the immediate post-Cold War period, however, some questioned whether NATO was necessary. The original threat was gone, so why not just have done with it? Cooler heads prevailed, and rather than folding, NATO underwent a dramatic eastward expansion to include former Warsaw Pact countries and - in case of the Baltic states - former Soviet republics. For the Eastern European countries, NATO membership was a guarantee against a resurgent Russia, and their presence in the alliance gave more influence to the United States since they credit America - primarily the Reagan administration - for bringing about their freedom in the first place.

The new NATO has pursued missions out of the area in such places as Afghanistan, and it provides a framework for modernization for its member states. Another benefit is the continued U.S. presence in Europe tends to blunt discussion of a more robust, independent European defense force.

The Obama administration has shown an uncomfortable degree of deference to Russia on most security issues, whether missile defense, nuclear arms or the Iranian nuclear program. Pressing the “reset button” on U.S.-Russian policy is a catchy slogan but has little strategic underpinning. Washington and Moscow have few common interests; holding out hope for NATO membership may wrongly be seen as a means of increasing American leverage.

The November NATO Lisbon Summit Declaration shows that Russia is still a challenge to the organization. NATO called on Russia “to reverse its recognition of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia as independent states” and “to meet its commitments with respect to Georgia” under the 2008 ceasefire agreement and treaty ending the South Ossetia war. NATO pledged, as it has for several years, that, “Georgia will become a member of NATO,” a development Russia has protested vigorously. Bringing Georgia into NATO would affirm the purpose of the alliance by deterring future aggression and promoting stability.

Having Russia as a member state of NATO would eviscerate the organization. Russia could be counted on to be obstructionist where U.S. interests are concerned, as it has been in the United Nations and other multinational organizations. Russia’s main interest in NATO would be to control it, disrupt it and detach the United States from it. The Eastern European member states would view Moscow’s entry as a betrayal. And since cooperation with Russia is possible outside of the NATO framework, such as in maintaining supply lines to International Security Assistance Force troops in Afghanistan, there is zero benefit to having Moscow inside NATO’s tent.

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