The madness of expanding NATO

Writing in 2005 for the venerable journal Security Studies, international relations scholar Rachel Epstein claimed vindication for the pro-expansion forces. Not only had the initial 1999 round of expansion into Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic “precluded the rise of destructive military cultures by insisting on democratic standards,” expansion hadn’t destabilized relations with Russia as critics warned…

Today these hopeful assessments are almost laughable. Under Putin, Russia fell into deep-freeze authoritarianism and became a malign influence on beleaguered democracies not just in Europe but around the world. Multiple arms control agreements are now in tatters (mostly, it must be said, at the behest of Republican U.S. presidents), including the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Worse, Russia has aggressively moved to reclaim territory on its periphery, believing that an unjust settlement was imposed by the U.S. and its allies at Moscow’s moment of maximum weakness immediately after the Cold War.

It’s not just Russia. Clearly, neither NATO nor accession into the European Union has been sufficient to stave off a drift into authoritarianism for countries like Hungary, which has seen an alarming decline in the quality of its democracy over the course of the 21st century. Freedom House, which produces an index of democracy every year in its Freedom in the World report, downgraded Hungary to its “Partly Free” category in 2019. Other early-expansion NATO states like Poland and the Czech Republic, while still considered democracies, have seen their scores decline in recent years as right-wing populism has swept across the continent.