By David Batashvili, Research Fellow, Rondeli Foundation
Few days ago, Pat Buchanan published an article arguing that President Trump should block all candidacies for NATO membership. Now obviously all Americans are entitled to their views regarding their country’s foreign policy. It is unfortunate, however, that Mr. Buchanan chose to employ outright untruths, as well as gross misinterpretations of both history and present reality, while making his argument.
The target of those untruths and misinterpretations are we – the neighbors of Russia desperately trying to retain both our liberty and physical safety in the face of the sustained Russian effort to take them away. Our position is difficult enough. Russian activities against our sovereignty continue unabated. Russian propaganda and disinformation campaign is vicious. The West is distracted by other matters and other regions. In short, Mr. Buchanan can rest assured that things in Eastern Europe are complicated and dangerous enough without him repeating and endorsing Moscow’s lies.
Mr. Buchanan claims, regarding the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, that “Georgia ordered its army into South Ossetia” before the Russian invasion started. In his words, “Putin responded” to Georgians. This, however, is not true at all. In fact, directly opposite is the case. There is ample evidence from a variety of different sources that Russian army entered sovereign Georgian territory before, not after, the Georgian military operation. Moreover, it was the Russian military invasion that caused Georgia to respond with an operation of its own in a vain effort to stall the Russian army’s advance into the country.
As it is clear to anyone even remotely familiar with international law, invasion of Georgia by the Russian troops constituted an act of aggression, against which Georgia had every right to defend itself. Mr. Buchanan believes that the Russo-Georgian War was not any business of the United States. But he should make his case without disregarding historical evidence and blaming the victim.
Mr. Buchanan also claims that bringing either Georgia or Ukraine into NATO would mean war with Russia, due to the Russian occupation of the Georgian and Ukrainian territories (of course, Mr. Buchanan avoids using the term “occupation”, since that would somewhat deviate from the spirit of his message). According to him, “the U.S. would immediately be ensnared in a conflict with Russia” if Georgia were to join the Alliance. “No matter how supportive we are of Ukraine, we cannot commit this country to go to war with Russia over its territorial integrity”, he says.
As it happens, Georgian or Ukrainian membership of NATO would not cause an obligation on the part of the NATO allies to take back the occupied territories from the Russian control. Claiming otherwise is another outright untruth. West Germany joined the Alliance in 1955, when the eastern part of the country was under the Communist occupation, without any suggestion that NATO was supposed to take it back. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty envisions alliance obligations only if one of the member nations is attacked. Initiating military conflict is not a NATO obligation, even to take back a member nation’s legitimate territory that is, at the moment, under foreign occupation.
As to misinterpretations, the article contains several. For instance, Mr. Buchanan says in reference to the current events that “no Cold War president from Truman to George H. W. Bush would have dreamed of” going to war over Ukraine’s territorial integrity. While no one suggests that the U.S. should do so today, it is very strange to bring up the Cold War in this manner. Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Yes, clearly the U.S. presidents would not “have dreamed of” invading the territory of the Soviet Union. But unlike the Cold War period, today Ukraine is a sovereign nation, which makes Mr. Buchanan’s reference strikingly irrelevant.
Another irrelevant remark used for advocacy of a modern policy: “Bush I thought Ukraine should remain tied to Russia and the Ukrainian independence movement was born of ‘suicidal nationalism’”. Even if Mr. Buchanan is right that President George H. W. Bush did not wish the full dissolution of the Soviet Union, that empire disintegrated nevertheless, whatever President Bush or anyone else thought on the matter. As to the Ukrainian independence, perhaps its fate was not obvious from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in 1991. In 2019, however, it really is abundantly clear that Ukraine has developed a robust national identity, which it is defending, and will keep defending, in arms.
Consequences of a potential Georgian membership of NATO, according to Mr. Buchanan, call to mind “the 1938 and 1939 clashes over the Sudetenland and Danzig that led straight to World War II”. Sudetenland is a striking example indeed, but not in the manner that is flattering to Mr. Buchanan’s stance. The Western powers refused to stand up to the aggressor in the Sudetenland crisis and abandoned the victim – Czechoslovakia – to its fate. In short, they did precisely what Mr. Buchanan is so staunchly recommending today with regard to Russia’s embattled neighbors. It did not work out very well.
Another reference to the Cold War: “None of the nations admitted to NATO in two decades was ever regarded as worth a war with Russia by any Cold War U.S. president”. This is certainly true, because during the Cold War the nations in question were within either the Soviet Union or its sphere of influence (well, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia were beyond the Soviet sphere despite being ruled by Communist regimes, but that is beside the point). Doing anything about their fate during the Cold War would mean going on the offensive for the U.S. Naturally, that option was not considered worthwhile. Today, however, these nations are sovereign and in control of their own foreign policy. They are not part of Russia or its sphere of influence. In the case of a conflict, it would be Russia that would have to go on the offensive, not the United States. Thus, here again Mr. Buchanan resorts to misinterpreting historical reality in order to bolster his argument.
Finally, Mr. Buchanan saw it fit to conclude his article by calling the nations that are trying to defend their freedom against Moscow’s ambitions “Russia’s front yard”. Mr. Buchanan’s total disregard of our nations’ sovereignty, national identity and will, besides being insulting, is also unrealistic. Nobody is going to submit to Russia without a struggle. Its imperial ambitions simply will not be accomplished here without first overcoming our robust resistance. The national identities and the national will in question do exist and are not going anywhere.
In the context of this confrontation, a hypothetical abandonment of our region by America would not make things better. It would make them much, much worse. Emboldened Russia would then act even more aggressively, resulting in new crises, worse than those of 2008 and 2014. Naturally, Mr. Buchanan can think otherwise. It would be nice of him, however, to make his case without distorting reality or resorting to outright untruths.