As war rages between Georgia and Russia, some NATO advocates argue that peace would reign had the Western alliance offered Georgia a Membership Action Plan last spring. Actually, Georgian and Russian perceptions of potential NATO support for Georgia almost certainly radicalized both sides, making war all but certain. In practice, alliances can be destabilizing as well as stabilizing.
When the cold war ended, many people understandably expected a radical rethinking of America’s global security commitments. Without the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, there seemed little need for NATO, at least an American led and dominated NATO. Without a Soviet Union and Maoist China to back North Korea, there seemed little reason for America’s promise to defend South Korea. With no red navy, from either the USSR or China, circling the Pacific, there seemed little cause for American forces on station to defend Japan.
However, instead of dismantling or even shrinking its cold-war alliance structure, the United States has expanded its defense commitments. Former Warsaw Pact and even Soviet republics have now been inducted into the “North Atlantic” Treaty Organization. The bilateral security guarantees to Japan and the Republic of Korea remain in place. Early in his term President George W. Bush made explicit—until reined in by his aides—America’s promise to defend Taiwan. Iraq has joined Israel as a Middle Eastern country on the Pentagon’s “to defend” list. The number of such nations is more likely to increase than contract under either President John McCain or President Barack Obama.