, Volume 91, Number 5

Andrew T. Wolff
Russian President Vladimir Putin claims that his country’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 was partly in response to NATO enlargement. NATO leaders counter that eastern enlargement is not a cause of the Ukraine crisis, and they argue that enlargement does not threaten Russia, but rather it creates stability for all of Europe. This article examines the history of NATO–Russian tensions over enlargement, considers how NATO’s enlargement policy factored into the Ukraine crisis, and reviews options for the future of enlargement. Drawing on diplomatic history and geopolitical theory, the article explains Russia’s persistent hostility towards NATO’s policy of eastward expansion and highlights NATO’s failure to convert Russia to its liberal world-view. The alliance’s norm-driven enlargement policy has hindered the creation of an enduring NATO–Russia cooperative relationship and helped fuel the outbreak of conflict in Georgia and Ukraine. In light of this, NATO should alter its current enlargement policy by infusing it with geopolitical rationales. This means downgrading the transformative and democratization elements of enlargement and, instead, focusing on how candidate countries add to NATO capabilities and impact overall alliance security. A geopolitically-driven enlargement policy would prioritize countries in the Balkan and Scandinavian regions for membership and openly exclude Georgia and Ukraine from membership. Ultimately, this policy would have the effect of strengthening NATO while giving it more flexibility in dealing with Russia.

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