When closely considered, the
proposal to extend NATO eastward is not just dangerous. It also seems something
of a desperate act. It is obviously irrational, for it can become a self-fulfilling
prophecy. It can lead to a second Cold War between the NATO powers and
Russia, and possibly to nuclear war. It must be assumed that no one really
Why, then, would the NATO
countries propose such a course of action? Why would they be unable to
weigh the dangers of their decision objectively?
Part of the answer is that
those who have made this decision have looked at it in very narrow terms,
without seeing the larger context in which NATO expansion would take place.
When one does look at the larger context, the proposal to expand NATO is
Consider the larger context.
NATO proposes to admit certain countries in Central Europe as full members
of the alliance in the near future. Other East European countries are being
considered for later admission. This extension has two possible purposes.
The first is to prevent "the failure of Russian democracy", that
is, to ensure the continuation of the present regime, or something like
it, in Russia. The second is to place NATO in a favorable position if a
war should ever break out between Russia and the West.
In an age of nuclear weapons,
pursuing the second purpose is perhaps even more dangerous than it was
during the years of the Cold War, since there are now several countries
with nuclear weapons which would potentially be ranged against NATO. The
argument that NATO should be expanded eastward in order to ensure the West
an advantage in the event of a nuclear war is not a very convincing one.
And it would certainly not be convincing to Central European countries
if it were openly spoke of. Those would be the countries most likely to
suffer in the first stages of such a war. Their situation would be similar
to that of Germany during the Cold War, as the German anti- war movement
began to understand in the 1980s.
The main purpose of expanding
NATO, as almost everyone has acknowledged, is to make sure that there is
no reversal of the changes which have taken place in Russia during the
last five years. That would end the dream of a three-part Europe united
under the capitalist banner and close a very large new space for the operation
of Western capital. A NATO presence in Central and Eastern Europe is simply
a means of maintaining new pressure on those who would wish to attempt
to change the present situation in Russia.
However, as has been seen,
this also means locking Russia, and other countries of the CIS, into a
state of underdevelopment and continuous economic and social crisis in
which millions of people will suffer terribly, and in which there is no
possibility of society seeking a path of economic and social development
in which human needs determine economic priorities.
What is horribly ironic about
this situation is that the Western countries are offering their model of
economic organization as the solution to Russia's problems. The realist
analysts, of course, know perfectly well that it is no such thing. They
are interested only in extending Western domination further eastward. And
they offer their experience as a model for others only to beguile. But
the idea that "the transition to democracy", as the installation
of market rules is often called, represents progress is important in the
world battle for public opinion. It has helped to justify and sustain the
policies which the West has been pursuing toward the countries of the CIS.
The Western countries themselves,
however, are locked in an intractable economic crisis. Beginning in the
early 1970s, profits fell, production faltered, long-term unemployment
began to rise and standards of living began to fall. There were, of course,
the ups and downs of the business cycle. But what was important was the
trend. The trend of GDP growth in the major Western countries has been
downward since the major recession of 1973-1975. In the United States,
for instance, the rate of growth fell from about 4 per cent per year in
the 1950s and the 1960s, to 2.9 per cent in the 1970s and then to about
2.4 per cent in the 1980s. Current projections for growth are even lower.
The situation was not very
different in other Western countries. Growth was somewhat faster, but unemployment
was significantly higher. The current rates of unemployment in Western
Europe average about 11 per cent, and there is more unemployment hidden
in the statistics as a result of various government pseudo- employment
Both Western Europe and North
America have experienced a prolonged economic stagnation. And capitalist
economies cannot sustain employment and living standards without relatively
rapid growth. In the 25 years after the second world war, most Western
countries experienced rapid growth, on the order of 4 and 5 per cent per
year. It was that growth which made it possible to maintain high levels
of employment, the rise in wages and the advance of living standards. And
there is no doubt that, in the postwar period, the Western countries made
great advances. Large numbers of working class people were able to achieve
decent living standards. The middle and upper classes prospered, indeed,
many of them reached a standard of living which can only be called luxurious.
The postwar honeymoon, however,
is clearly over. The great "capitalist revolution" touted by
the Rockefellers is no more. "Humanized capitalism" is no more.
Declining growth has now returned us to the age of "le capitalisme
sauvage". It has triggered economic and socil crisis in every Western
country. It is undermining the principal achievements of the postwar period.
In Europe, the Welfare state has been under attack for fifteen years by
those who would shift the burden of crisis onto the shoulders of the less
fortunate. In the United States, a relatively meagre "social net"
to protect the poor is now being shredded by the aggressive and ignorant
defenders of corporate interests, who also want to be sure that those who
can least afford it bear the brunt of the system's crisis of stagnation.
The West, then, is itself
locked in crisis. This is not a transient crisis or a "long cycle",
as academic apologists would have it. It is a systemic crisis. The market
system can no longer produce anything like prosperity. The markets which
drove the capitalist economy in the postwar period, automobiles, consumer
durables, construction, etc. are all saturated, as sheafs of government
statistics in every country demonstrate. The system has not found new markets
which could create an equivalent wave of prosperity. Moreover, the acceleration
of technical progress in recent years has begun to eliminate jobs everywhere
at a staggering rate. There is no possible way of compensating for its
effect, for creating new employment in sufficient quantity and at high
Government and industry leaders
in the West are fully aware of the situation in one sense. They know what
the statistics are. They know what the problems are. But they are not able
to see that the source of the problem is the fact that, having achieved
very high levels of production, income and wealth, the present capitalist
system has nowhere to go. Half-way solutions could be found, but Western
leaders are unwilling to make the political concessions which they would
require. In particular, the large concentrations of capital in Western
countries are led by people who are constitutionally incapable of seeing
that something fundamental is wrong. That would require them to agree to
the curtailing of their power.
Therefore, the leaders of
government and industry drive blindly on, not wishing to see, not prepared
to accept policies that might set the present system on a path of transition
to some more rational and more human way of organizing economic life. It
is this blindness, grounded in confusion and fear, which has clouded the
ability of Western leaders to think clearly about the risks of extending
NATO into Eastern Europe. The Western system is experiencing a profound
economic, social and political crisis. And Western leaders apparently see
the exploitation of the East as the only large-scale project available
which might stimulate growth, especially in Western Europe.
They are therefore prepared
to risk a great deal for it. The question is: will the world accept the
risks of East-West conflict and nuclear war in order to lock into one region
economic arrangements which are already collapsing elsewhere?