I get many comments from US military who take offense at my views of NATO and its modern-day behavior. I regret that, as my comments are directed against the civilian masters who send out the fighting man to do their bidding. I wouldn’t want a US without a strong military (which is where we are heading under the Democrats), but I don’t want to see our military men and women being used to carry out political decisions that are just plain wrong and dangerous to the longer-term interests of the US.

We are at the fifteenth anniversary of NATO’s war of aggression against Serbia. The bombing went on 24 hours a day for almost three straight months, during which ordinary Serb civilians went into the streets wearing targets on their heads to help NATO do its job. This was NATO’s first foray (outside of the Bosnian conflict) into the “bombing for peace” routine it has come to rely on to prove its continued relevance in an altered world. The war against Serbia was totally unnecessary except in the context of certain NATO countries’ short-term interests – the end to expensive refugee inflows of “ragheads” (as one German official privately called Yugoslavia’s Moslems) and the forced removal of Yugoslavia’s legally-elected head of state, Slobodan Milosevic. From the moment NATO began its war against Serbia, the Alliance was firmly on the road to making “regime change” a centerpiece of its policy. And NATO members were not averse to stirring up trouble in other countries to make NATO intervention (and regime change) possible. We saw this most recently in Kiev.

Before the fall of the Soviet Union, I was an ardent supporter of NATO. Its fifteen members were protecting against a real threat from the Soviet Union, which had an expansionist and aggressive philosophy (Communism) that called for the take-over of the entire globe. It was a valiant and successful effort to make sure that no other country would be able to wage war against the Alliance without paying a deadly price. What made NATO so worthy of support was that its own philosophy and guiding doctrines were purely defensive. NATO explicitly foreswore the first use of force against another country not at war with NATO. It didn’t feel a compelling need to go to bat for countries that were not Alliance members.

Then came 1989 and the uprisings in East Berlin that led Mikhail Gorbachev to agree to the reunification of East and West Germany and to the membership of the united country in NATO.  In order to secure this historic change in Europe, the heads of state of the US, Germany, France, and the UK all gave their solemn word to Gorbachev that NATO would never threaten Russia’s fundamental security by expanding eastward. And Gorbachev fell for it.

Fast forward a couple of years to 1991 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. All of the fifteen republics that constituted the USSR declared their independence and were recognized internationally. However, all the fifteen were patched together with bits of land and ethnic groups that were not historic or natural parts of the countries concerned. The territorial delineation and demographic composition of the various republics had been distorted under Stalin (a Georgian), who planted time bombs in all of the republics. If any republic became troublesome, Moscow could unleash the ethnic minorities against the trouble-makers. Thus the countries that were recognized internationally in 1991 were in fact highly vulnerable to territorial and ethnic claims in the longer term.

Unfortunately, as soon as the unified power of the USSR was a thing of the past, so was NATO’s vow never to expand eastward or threaten Russian security. Almost immediately, NATO began its “Partnership for Peace Program” (PPP) that was ostensibly a good-neighbor gesture but became a training program for new NATO members. The program allowed NATO to develop close relations with former Warsaw Pact (and more gradually former USSR) national military forces, beginning with innocent joint exercises in humanitarian response and ending with an eastwardly expanding NATO.

Despite the broken promises to Russia, NATO continued to function under its original purely defensive doctrine that applied only to attacks on Alliance members — until the wars in the former Yugoslavia. This was the point at which NATO began rewriting its strategic doctrine to transform it from a defensive to an aggressive military organization. NATO in effect wrote a document that gave it undefined and virtually unlimited authority to take unilateral action against countries in an undefined and virtually unlimited geographical range for an extraordinary  range of reasons that might be a real threat, or just one that could somewhere down the line develop into a threat, or maybe not. It was the age of the Sole Superpower, and it had its own military bloc open to everybody but Russia. Each entry into NATO of a former Warsaw Pact country made Germany and France feel safer (buffer zone!) but made Russia feel less so.

NATO justifies its expansionist policy by insisting that the petitioners want to join. But consider this: there are millions of people who want to be part of the US, but the decision to allow them in rests with the US. In the same way, it is the responsibility of the existing Alliance members to decide whether the continued expansion of NATO is in their security interests, or if those incremental increases in “security” for the nations farther west are bought at ever greater risk of a major armed conflict with Russia to the east. And remember this, too: every time NATO moves east, the newest members want to add another country to put between them and Russia. And that gets us directly on Russia’s doorstep, not a good place for NATO to be.

Gorbachev proposed in 1989 the dissolution of the Warsaw Pac and NATO and the creation of a true trans-European security system that included all of Europe (and Russia, too). NATO wasn’t interested. And today we have the result. Russia sees NATO as an enemy bloc trying to surround it and it is taking its own unilateral actions, the same way NATO has done. I know it isn’t going to happen, but it strikes me that there was never a better time to sit down at the negotiating table and figure out with Russia (and China, too) a way to extend security to everybody, rather than engaging in the kind of zero-sum game NATO has played for twenty years.