Mar 20, 2010
By Srdja Trifkovic
Ukraine’s decision to pass a law that will prevent the country from joining NATO should be a model for Serbia to follow. The government in Belgrade is still intent on seeking NATO membership, and it is still encouraged to do so by various ill-informed and not necessarily well-meaning Americans, such as Senator George Voinovich. His advice should be rejected: it is contrary to Serbia’s interests, and detrimental to peace and stability in the Balkans.
Bill Clinton’s air war against the Serbs eleven years ago marked a decisive shift in NATO’s mutation from a defensive alliance into a supranational security force based on the doctrine of “humanitarian intervention.” The defensive alliance of 1949 thus had morphed into a blatant aggressor in 1999. The bombing had a profound effect on the Russian perception of NATO. In the eyes of the Russians, it was aimed to prove that NATO is the decisive force in the post-Cold War Europe, and to reassert the leading positionof the United States in that organization. Better than any other post-Soviet event, the Kosovo war exposed the position of Russia in the new world order. Earlier warnings by Moscow’s NATO-skeptics were suddenly validated: the US was attempting to encircle Russia, after all. This conclusion has not changed over the years. The National Security Strategy approved by President Medvedev in May 2008 and reiterated last winter identified NATO as a threat to Russian national security.
The Traps of Membership – If Serbia were to join NATO, it would inevitably face two major challenges: sharp internal divisions that would further undermine the country’s stability, and Russian counter-measures. It is worth pondering what would Serbia do, once in NATO, if the US asked it to play host to elements of an anti-ballistic missile system, like those introduced to Romania? Far from treating Serbia as a friendly nation, Russia would be perfectly within her rights to respond by targeting Serbia with nuclear missiles. Clearly, in that case there would be a threat, but it would be a threat of Washington’s own manufacture. Moscow views plans to deploy an ABM system in Eastern Europe as major threats to Russia’s core security interests: if these plans were to come to pass, Russia’s deterrent capability—the key to its security—would be drastically undermined. European Russia would be surrounded by hostile forces.
NATO and the uses to which Washington puts it constitute a messy tangle of contradictions. Outwardly, it appears to be what it always was: a defensive organization dedicated to collective security. Inwardly it is something else entirely. NATO’s mission was to contain the USSR—universally perceived as a threat—through collective security: an attack against one would be an attack against all. Although NATO had a war fighting doctrine, it sought mainly to deter attack. In this it succeeded splendidly; but with Marxism-Leninism relegated to the ash heap of history, NATO morphed from a defensive alliance to fend off a commonly acknowledged threat into a vehicle for the attainment of the United States’ global ambitions.
By virtue of its location, Russia controls the crossroads of Eurasia and therefore access to its huge natural resource wealth. As Washington craves cheap and easy access to that wealth, Russia is its target – and the U.S. has an ideology to complement its geo-strategic ambitions. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice described it succinctly: in U.S. foreign policy there is no distinction between ideals and self-interest, she asserted, they are one in the same. U.S. foreign policy is its values, and the US will stop at nothing to assure that its values prevail. The world is divided into two camps: one is made up of states that share U.S. values; the other of states such as Russia and China, who are consigned to a lesser status because their relations with the US are “rooted more in common interests than in common values.” Some of Dr. Rice’s statements reflected a mindset reminiscent of the early Bolshevik leaders’ revolutionary dynamism: “It is America’s job to change the world, and in its own image… The old dichotomy between realism and idealism has never really applied to the United States because we do not accept that our national interests and our values are at odds… We prefer preponderances of power that favor our values, over balances of power that do not. We have dealt with the world as it is, but we have never accepted that we are powerless to change to world.”
Whether viewing U.S. foreign policy through the prism of geo-strategy or ideology, Russia remains in NATO’s crosshairs. It has become an important means of changing the world in America’s image. If Serbia were to join, Belgrade would be enlisting in a crusade to encircle Moscow for the benefit of those who bombed Belgrade for 78 days eleven years ago. Such policy would be not only geopolitically self-defeating, but also morally criminal.
At a time of extreme political, economic, military and moral weakness Serbia needs to pursue its key national interest—that of maintaining friendly relations with Russia. This cannot and will not happen if Serbia resorts to provocative acts such as joining a NATO bent on Russia’s encirclement. In defining its security arrangement Belgrade should adopt certain criteria based on the conventional understanding of Serbia’s national interest. They should include:
- Attention to cost. The cost of force modernization required to meet NATO standards would overburden and overwhelm the already weak Serbian economy;
- Refusal to commit Serbian forces and use them as American cannon-fodder in missions (e.g. in Afghanistan) not directly connected to the country’s national interests;
- Resistance to being pulled into geo-strategic alignments that are not in the national interest, that are overwhelmingly rejected by Serbia’s popular opinion, and would only exacerbate regional tensions.
Serbia should seek its place within a European security architecture that embraces (and balances) the diverse security arrangements maintained by European states. They include NATO members, from Portugal to Estonia and Iceland to Greece; West European states that are not in NATO, such as Austria, Finland, Ireland, Sweden, and Switzerland; ex-Communist countries with scant interest in or prospect of joining NATO (Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia); and Russia, which occupies a category of its own.
The reality is even more complex when the European Union is taken into account. Some states belong to both NATO and the EU—France, Germany, Britain, Poland and a host of others; some belong to the EU but not NATO—Austria, Finland, Ireland, Malta, Cyprus and Sweden; some belong to NATO but not the EU—Norway, Turkey, Croatia and Albania. In rejecting NATO and working to establish a new security strategy Serbia would be establishing a security system that addresses not only its own needs, but those of all of Europe. Serbia is ideally placed to overcome the artificial division of Europe into “civilizational blocs” and serve as a bridge between the key parts of pan-Europe. There is more of a future for Serbia in this role than in becoming an apple of discord, an irritant in relations between East and West, and a satellite of a remote, unreliable, and often hostile foreign power.
Tags: Srdja Trifkovic