Some argue that NATO should never have admitted any ex-Warsaw Pact members, and most certainly should not have added former Soviet republics, because geography and history relegated these countries to Russia’s sphere of influence. That argument has the virtue of consistency, but nothing more. In fact, it proves too much. One could as easily argue that Poland is in Germany’s sphere of influence rather than Russia’s. That kind of dispute, in short form, is why Europe saw two world wars in the 20th century. It is precisely to prevent such wars, and thus further effusions of American blood, that we bring otherwise vulnerable countries into NATO, thereby simultaneously protecting U.S. interests and stabilizing Europe.
NATO rightly rejected the untenable view, amounting to appeasement, that Central and Eastern Europe fall naturally and inevitably into Russia’s sphere of influence, and that bringing them into NATO unnecessarily and unfairly provokes Moscow. NATO is and always has been simply a defensive alliance shielding those of like mind and interest. Russia has no claims strong enough or legitimate enough to justify its dominating unwilling neighbors.
The stakes are high for Ukraine and Georgia, but they are equally high for all the other former Soviet republics, which understand that if Russia continues to get its way, they will not be far behind. Further afield, no one is watching more carefully than China. Western failure in Ukraine will be palpable evidence to Beijing that ramping up its near-belligerent territorial claims in the East and South China Seas is likely to be met with little more than rhetorical American opposition. While other Asian countries affected by China’s demands may not fold as easily as Europe, without Washington in the equation, there is little doubt what the end result will be.