Containment Is Alive and Well

Old habits die hard. Recent political developments in Asia and in Europe prove that the Cold War mentality still flourishes, despite the collapse of international communism.First NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) moved to expand eastward. Now the ASEAN (the Association of South-East Asian Nations) is preparing to add three new members. The killing of one indicted war criminal and the capture of another in Bosnia and the stunning military coup in Cambodia -- at almost exactly the time when these steps were taken -- are stern reminders that the road ahead will be not be smooth.Despite the Western powers' professed commitment to active cooperation with Russia and "constructive engagement" with China, the post-World-War-II policy of "containment" remains a popular ploy in today's global political chess game.This is apparent in both NATO's decision to admit Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic and in ASEAN's coming invitation to Burma, Laos and Cambodia to join its alliance.If one adds the less-publicized revitalization of the US-Japan security pact in June, we can see a concerted US effort to surround both the former Cold War enemy and the new Asian threat. Some analysts have even suggested that the collapse of North Korea would put US troops directly on China's eastern border, filling a missing link in the global containment scheme.NATO, not content with its eastward extension, signed a cooperation agreement with the Ukraine and formed a new Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, a forum for the security concerns of non-NATO members, and leaves the door open for other countries who meet alliance requirements -- commitment to democratic principles and improved defense capability. Enlargement, in the words of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, "should not be a once in a lifetime event, like the arrival of the Hale-Bopp comet."Since the word "containment" is banned -- or at least considered impolite -- in the lexicon of post-Cold War international relations, the NATO move has been camouflaged under the lofty names of freedom and democracy. In a speech in Madrid, where leaders of the 15 NATO nations were meeting, President Clinton called an extended NATO a big step toward creating "a Europe that is undivided, democratic and at peace." He went on, "This is a very great day... for the cause of freedom in the aftermath of the Cold War."Proponents of expansion hailed the admission of NATO's new members as insurance against a revitalized imperialistic Russia. These analysts argue that a Russia firmly committed to democracy and the rule of law may one day be invited join the alliance against a possible Asian threat. In such a scenario, it is difficult to see where NATO ends and ASEAN begins.Critics of expansion, on the other hand, argue that adding new members would weaken an already shaky coalition. One analyst went so far as to suggest that an expanded NATO should be directed against Germany -- which has plunged the world into two wars in this century -- by having Polish and French allies surround a reunified Germany.This "double containment" applies more realistically to ASEAN. Cambodia and Laos could be relied upon watch over a reunified Viet Nam, the origin point of two deadly wars.US critics of containment believe the greatest threat to Europe comes not from Russia but from ethnic and religious tensions in southern Europe, and worry that extending NATO southward would inevitably involve the US in a bloody Bosnia-style civil war.ASEAN officials should have had similar concerns when they decided to expand into the unstable and turbulent areas of Burma -- where the military recently rounded up hundreds of supporters of the opposition -- and Cambodia, site of a bloody coup.Some analysts think both NATO and ASEAN officials were aware of the possible pitfalls of expansion but voted in favor, hoping to take advantage of a Russia too weak to object and a China too busy with Hong Kong to react.One other reason for these decisions is that NATO is celebrating its 50th birthday, and ASEAN its 30th. "If you have no criteria for admitting new members," stated one ASEAN official, "you have to fall back on certain events."NATO and ASEAN, however, may have to pay a heavy price for forgetting that bigger is not necessarily better in our complex and changing world.


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