NATO Expansion

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Sweden has formally decided to apply for NATO membership following a similar decision by its Nordic neighbour Finland, ending more than 200 years of military non-alignment in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The prospect of the Nordic countries’ membership has been met with opposition from Turkey, which surprised its NATO allies last week by saying it would not view the applications positively due to their history of hosting members of Kurdish rebel groups. The major reason that Ankara cites; Sweden and Finland harbour people it says are linked to groups it deems “terrorists”, namely the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) armed group and followers of scholar and cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt. In retrospect, Russian President Vladimir Putin claims that his country’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 was partly in response to NATO enlargement. NATO leader’s counter that eastern enlargement is not a cause of the Ukraine crisis, and they argue that enlargement does not threaten Russia, but rather it creates stability for all of Europe. History vindicates that NATO–Russian tensions over enlargement, considers how NATO’s enlargement policy factored into the Ukraine crisis, and reviews options for the future of enlargement. Russia’s persistent assertiveness towards NATO’s policy of eastward expansion and highlights NATO’s failure to convert Russia to its liberal world-view. The alliance’s norm-driven enlargement policy has hindered the creation of an enduring NATO–Russia cooperative relationship and helped fuel the outbreak of conflict in Georgia and Ukraine. In light of this, NATO should alter its current enlargement policy by infusing it with geopolitical rationales. This means downgrading the transformative and democratization elements of enlargement and, instead, focusing on how candidate countries add to NATO capabilities and impact overall alliance security. A geopolitically-driven enlargement policy would prioritize countries in the Balkan and Scandinavian regions for membership and openly exclude Georgia and Ukraine from membership. Ultimately, this policy would have the effect of strengthening NATO while giving it more flexibility in dealing with Russia.

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