Monday, March 20, 2006

Belarus: The Powder Keg

Back to the future. Via abdymok, a 1997 article by Ted Galen Carpenter and Andrew Stone of the Cato Institute about the modalities of NATO enlargement in Eastern Europe - considered by the authors to pose a potentially lethal threat to European and world security. An excerpt from the end of the analysis, which deserves close attention:
Admitting Poland to NATO involves two related dangers. One is that Poland's highly unstable neighbor [Belarus] may suffer the fate of other states with repressive political systems and moribund economies: a violent convulsion. We have witnessed that development in such places as Somalia, Yugoslavia, Liberia, Afghanistan, Georgia, and Zaire. It should be noted that, in every case, the chaos created serious problems for neighboring states. If fighting erupted in Belarus--and the ingredients are all in place for a conflagration--it is highly unlikely that Poland would remain unaffected.

Yet there would be multiple risks to NATO if it took action to stabilize its new member's eastern border. In addition to the prospect of being sucked into a Bosnia-style morass, there would be the danger of a confrontation with Russia. Belarus is a weakened [state], Russia's last strategic ally in Europe. Russian leaders would undoubtedly be alarmed by any NATO military initiatives involving Belarus, whether those actions were for the purpose of containment or the more ambitious objective of nation building.

Moscow's reluctant acquiescence in the first round of NATO enlargement was conditioned on what Russian officials considered solemn promises in the Founding Act. One crucial provision states that NATO "reiterates that in the current and foreseeable security environment, the Alliance will carry out its collective defense and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces." Moscow might well view the deployment of NATO troops in eastern Poland to deal with instability in Belarus as a violation of that pledge. Yet if the alliance failed to act, Poland (and the other new members) would have reason to question the credibility of the security commitments they had been given.

Even the possibility of the United States' becoming entangled in a political and military quagmire on the frontier between Poland and Belarus should be ample reason for the Senate to reject the administration's plan to enlarge NATO. The danger that such a development could result in a confrontation with a nuclear-armed Russia reinforces that point. If expansion is approved, the United States risks being blindsided by a conflict that advocates of NATO enlargement never anticipated and that would have no relevance to the security interests of the American people.
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