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Russia, Georgia and NATO

- August 21, 2008

p. In explaining the roots of Russia’s assault on Georgia, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman yesterday returned to one of his favorite themes from the mid-90s: that the Clinton administration decided to “cram NATO expansion down the Russians’ throats,” thus taking advantage of a weak Russia, and sowing the seeds of the present conflict. And his friend Michael Mandelbaum added that it was clear that NATO expansion was directed against Russia because “the Russians were told they could not join.”

p. Having written a book on NATO enlargement explaining in great detail why both of them were (and still are) wrong, I’m not going to give a long, boring recitation of the facts once again. Clinton didn’t cram anything down the Russians’ throats, and in fact, tried to convince Boris Yeltsin that if Russia developed in a democratic direction, perhaps Russia could one day become a member. (It was a skeptical Yeltsin who once responded to Al Gore, “But Russia is very, very big, and NATO is very, very small.)

p. What we’ve seen in the last week is a NATO that has very little leverage in responding to the Russian military assault against its small neighbor. And that is precisely the point: NATO is not a threat to Russia, as Western officials have been saying for nearly two decades. But as we are now reminded, Russia does remain a threat to its neighbors.