WASHINGTON--NATO crosses the frontier into the territory of the Soviet Union--and no one notices. At its Prague summit, NATO is extending an invitation to seven countries, including three--Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia--that for half a century were part of the Soviet Union. The fact that this has elicited nothing but yawns is a measure not just of how radically the world has changed, but how successful a resolute and, when necessary, unilateralist American foreign policy can be.
Take two dramatic changes in U.S. policy toward Russia. First, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Despite the protests of congressional Democrats, the alarm of ex-Clinton administration officials and dire warnings from the American foreign policy establishment that the ``cornerstone of strategic stability'' was at stake, the Bush administration earlier this year unilaterally abrogated the ABM Treaty. For eight years, the Clinton administration had negotiated ways to keep it alive. Abandoning it, we were told, would terminally alienate the Russians, anger the Europeans and even spark a new arms race.
Utter nonsense. Nothing of the sort happened. Russia's president Putin acquiesced and the Europeans followed suit. The single most anachronistic piece of parchment on the planet--the ABM Treaty prevented us from developing adequate defenses against the coming and inevitable threat of rogue-state missiles tipped with weapons of mass destruction--is now dead. So dead that it is not even an agenda item at the NATO summit.
The other policy (begun during the Clinton administration) was NATO expansion. It was not unilateralist but it was just as bold--and was met with the usual chorus from those who panic at the thought of any deviation from the ossified strategic posture of the Cold War. The New York Times' Tom Friedman warned that Putin could ``very cheaply counter any NATO expansion by ... mov(ing) a few troops to the border.'' For what possible purpose?
He also warned that ``expanding NATO's wall to Russia's border'' would have the effect of ``making cooperation with Moscow impossible.'' In fact, the level of U.S.-Russian cooperation is the highest today since 1945. Putin is not just collaborating in the war on terror, not just allowing a U.S. presence in the ex-Soviet Central Asian states, not just acquiescing to NATO expansion right up to Russia's border and into Soviet space. He is knocking on NATO's door, trying to get in.
Why? Because he has recognized two blindingly obvious changes in the world. First, with the Cold War over, Russia has no intrinsic ideological imperative to engage in strategic competition with the United States. Sept. 11 and the Moscow theater attack dramatized for those still living deep in the past that we share common enemies and common purposes.
Second, NATO as a military alliance is dead. It took ill with the fall of the Berlin Wall and then died in Afghanistan. When the United States destroyed the Taliban using a handful of men and precision guided munitions in a wholly new kind of war, it demonstrated a military capacity so qualitatively superior to that of the allies, that NATO instantly became obsolete.
As Paul Kennedy, the Yale history professor who once was the leading proponent of the theory of American decline, wrote after the Afghan war, ``The larger lesson--and one stupefying to the Russian and Chinese military, worrying to the Indians, and disturbing to proponents of a common European defense policy--is that in military terms there is only one player on the field that counts.'' Afghanistan made clear that NATO has no serious military role to play in any serious conflict.
This is not to denigrate the European past. The West Europeans had a deadly serious role countering the Soviet Union during the Cold War. They put the men on the plains of Central Europe to face down massive Warsaw Pact armies, and did so bravely and steadfastly for 50 years.
Now, however, the Warsaw Pact is gone. With America having developed a unique 21st-century military, NATO is an alliance that, having lost an (evil) empire, is in search of a role.
The Russians understand NATO's new role better than many Americans. NATO has become a political club of like-minded countries. Europe today has two such clubs. The European Union is the local outfit. NATO is the trans-Atlantic one, having now become the premier Euro-American talking and consultation society.
The United States has wisely combined the expansion of NATO with an expansion of Russia's role in NATO. Far from being a threat to Russia, the new NATO is now Russia's entree to the West. Putin has moved no troops to the Lithuanian border.