Home Nonmilitary action Understanding NATO enlargement through the realistic principle of “anarchy” – Kashmir Reader

Understanding NATO enlargement through the realistic principle of “anarchy” – Kashmir Reader


The ongoing Russian war against Ukraine was sparked (at least from a Russian perspective) by Ukrainian intentions to join the US-led western military bloc, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO ). As a result, one of the main objectives of the war has been to prevent Ukraine from applying for NATO membership given the threat it poses to Russia due to Ukraine’s geographical contiguity with she. Far from deterring Ukraine from joining the bloc, the Russian invasion prompted hitherto militarily neutral countries on its border – Sweden and Finland – to reverse their decades-old position of neutrality by deciding to join the NATO. What makes NATO membership so attractive to newcomers? It is the search for security in an anarchic structure of the international system.
Overview of NATO expansion
Formed in 1949 with twelve founding nations to counter the expansion of its military rival, the Soviet Union, NATO continued its expansionist course, building its strength to 30 members and still counting. NATO has an “open door” policy for any European country wishing to join the military alliance after meeting certain basic membership requirements such as being a stable democracy, civilian control over the military, ability to pay enough for its own defense and that of the community, and no internal conflict or external territorial conflict. The latest country to join the bloc on March 27, 2020 is the Republic of North Macedonia. Although NATO expansion continued unabated after 1949, the only waves of enlargements that became controversial were those that occurred after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The first wave after the dissolution of the USSR took place in 1999, which brought the former Soviet republics – the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland – into the NATO docket. The second and so far largest wave of expansion swept seven countries – Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia and Lithuania – into NATO’s military ocean. In 2009, Croatia and Albania and in 2017 North Macedonia became members of NATO. In addition, there is a list of candidate countries awaiting the green signal from NATO to join. Denouncing these enlargements to the East, Russian President Putin said at a recent press conference: “You promised us in the 1990s that (NATO) would not move an inch to the East . You shamelessly deceived us”.
Why is NATO constantly expanding?
NATO’s usefulness to its members is twofold – internal and external – in the anarchic nature of the international system. The realistic concept of “anarchy” is the structural condition of international relations where there is no sovereign supranational authority to check the selfish behavior of nations. This essentially leaves nations to self-help in times of crisis. The state of anarchy gives rise to another realistic concept of a “security dilemma” obliging states to assume and prepare for the worst coming from the other state actor in the international system. Preparations for the worst lead to the accumulation of more and more military equipment, which leads to a vicious circle of arms race. To escape anarchy or mitigate its effects, states adopt one of two strategies: “balance of power”, where states form compensatory alliances against the threatening power/alliance to deter it from attacking, for example, the Warsaw Pact against NATO. ; the other is “band-wagoning” referring to a smaller power aligning itself with a stronger power, such as the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States.
On the external level, NATO represents a factor of balance of power for its members in the face of the foreign threat, in particular Russia. NATO describes itself as a defensive military bloc, but defense against whom? It was the USSR before its dissolution in 1991 and now its successor state, Russia. Russia would have liked to see the breakaway states from the USSR as its sphere of influence and, therefore, disliked their decisions to join NATO. However, the opposition was rather moderate due to Russia’s military and economic weakness and also due to its internal division on the issue of NATO’s eastward expansion. Recently Putin echoed the same when he said that in the past we were weak and will not be again, signaling Russia’s intention to prevent further attempts to expand the NATO.
So in the past, at the time of the dissolution of the USSR, while Russia’s response was ambivalent at best, with Putin in power for quite a long time now, Russia’s opposition to NATO enlargement became vocal and aggressive. As Russia intensified its opposition to NATO enlargement, especially in the case of Ukraine with the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the ongoing invasion of the country in February 2022, it rang the bell. alarm among other Russian non-NATO neighbors, in particular Sweden and Finland. about the potential threat to Moscow’s security. To deter any potential security threats, they seek to join the NATO military alliance which provides a security umbrella to its members under Article 5 (Collective Security) of NATO. Thus, NATO expansion avoids the security implications of anarchy for new members. The pernicious implications of the state of structural anarchy have increased substantially for Ukraine, Sweden and Finland to such an extent that, while previous waves of expansion have occurred at the invitation of NATO, the three countries above have asked NATO to admit them.
For member states, NATO acting as a sort of supranational authority helps to mitigate or suppress the self-help behavior among member states that results from the anarchic structure of international relations. Instead, it reduces security competition; it enables security cooperation. Hence, a muted security dilemma. Being part of NATO insulates states both from the offensive actions of other members and, of course, from external attacks. This isolation of internal security threats has stabilized Europe’s regional political order. The importance of NATO-induced stability in Europe must be understood in the context of two world wars when the European powers were at loggerheads, a consequence of the anarchic regional and international system. After the Second World War, the new order that emerged brought in its wake many institutions of a military and non-military nature which largely contributed to solving the problem of anarchy, thus speaking both of the case of neorealism and of liberal institutionalism. .
In summary, one can only agree that NATO has certainly improved the security, stability and prosperity of the region mainly, so to speak, by reducing the “security dilemma” of member countries , which in turn is the result of a strategy tame anarchy. After managing the Valsian structural problem, the path of liberal institutionalism has been cleared, the fruits of which are reaped by the member countries, which acts as a gravitational attraction for other countries to hitch their coach to the engine of the NATO.

The author is a PhD student at Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi. [email protected]