My understanding is that due to its overall economic conditions today, Russia, a country much weaker than Soviet Union, does not have enough military power to defeat NATO in a hot war without invoking nuclear weapons (e.g., the military budget of Russian is ~$70 billion, compared with ~$700 billion military budget for U.S), although they might have the motivation to start one. See here for NATO's military budget.

I believe there are many ways for NATO to confront Russia. For example, if there are cyber-attacks from Russia, simply fight back with cyber techniques. Sanctions are also good tools to use.

However, the enlargement of NATO in the recent years seemed to raise the risk of hot war with Russia. For example, NATO tried to build missile defense complex in Poland and even trying to include Ukraine, neighbor of Russia into their organization. What is their motivation of doing so?

Why can't NATO simply let the Eastern Europe stay (at least militarily) neutral between NATO and Russia? What is the motivation of their expansion in Eastern Europe, irritating Russian, and at the cost of a potential Russia-Ukraine war which could involve NATO themselves?

  • Duplicate? politics.stackexchange.com/questions/70056/…
    – Allure
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 2:13
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    Vote to close. I don't think this is a valid question here, since it's asking for motivations that none of us are privy to. Not to mention it's an awfully tendentious question... We''ll just get a whole lot opinion and pointless debate. Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 4:24
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    A good question to ask first would be "Why can't Russia simply let the Eastern Europe stay (at least militarily) neutral between NATO and Russia?" They're certainly not willing to, and it is in NATO's best interest to respond to Russia's actions. Also building anything on members' territory is not "enlargement", so the part about missile defense complex seems irrelevant.
    – johnyu
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 10:56
  • Perhaps we should ask "Why can't Eastern Europe decide for itself whether they want to be in NATO or not, without Russian influence or bullying?" Commented Feb 13, 2022 at 2:42

4 Answers 4


However, what NATO was doing in the recent years seemed to raise the risk of hot war with Russia. For example, NATO tried to build missile bases in Eastern Europe and even trying to include Ukraine, neighbor of Russia into their organization. What is their motivation of doing so?

The way that paragraph is phrased makes it seem as if NATO is an entity that does things. NATO expands and NATO increases military activity closer to Russia. That's one way of looking at it.

Another way of looking at it is through the scope of those individual nations which make up NATO. That way, NATO countries don't expand further east, but countries which are further east decide for themselves that they want to be part of NATO. That's actually an important principle: self determination. Non-NATO members Sweden and Finland used this reasoning, according to dw.com:

Recently, the leaders of Sweden and Finland, non-member states aligned with NATO, signaled they see their decision to join NATO as their own right of self-determination in the wake of Russia's troop movements near the Ukraine border.

This isn't new though, from the NATO website:

NATO’s door has been open to new members since it was founded in 1949 – and that has never changed. This “Open Door Policy” is enshrined in Article 10 of NATO’s founding treaty, which says “any other European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic” can apply for membership. Decisions on membership are taken by consensus among all Allies. No treaty signed by the United States, Europe and Russia included provisions on NATO membership.

And more recently NATO's Secretary General said:

On membership and the NATO's open door all Allies are united on the core principle that each and every nation has the right to choose his own path. This is enshrined in a lot of fundamental documents, many different documents, which are the foundation for European security. And, therefore, also Allies totally agree that it is only Ukraine and 30 Allies that can decide when Ukraine is ready to become a NATO member. No one else has anything to say and of course Russia doesn't have a veto on whether Ukraine can become a NATO member. Allies are ready to support Ukraine on this path towards membership, helping to implement reforms, modernise the armed forces to meet NATO standards. And then, at the end of the day, it has to be NATO Allies and Ukraine that decides on membership.

In other words, NATO isn't the entity that decides to expand. A third country requests to join and that decision then needs to be agreed by the existing members.

Once a country is a member of its own will, it coordinates with other NATO allies on how to defend its territory. It's not like NATO forces a country to take certain military activity it does not want.

Why can't NATO simply let the Eastern Europe stay (at least militarily) neutral between NATO and Russia? What is the motivation of their expansion in Eastern Europe, irritating Russian, and at the cost of a potential Russia-Ukraine war which could involve NATO themselves?

Because that goes against the principle of self determination upon which NATO is founded. If countries in Eastern Europe want to join NATO, then why should NATO say no? That is directly contrary to NATO's open door policy.

Continuing your line of thought, one might argue that it is in NATO's interest to leave Eastern European countries out. That way they come across as less threatening to Russia. That goes against another principle upon which NATO countries or the West more broadly is built: the liberal international order. All NATO members and candidate members are sovereign nations. That means these countries can decide for themselves and whether joining NATO upsets some third country (Russia) isn't a factor in the decision.

My understanding is that due to its overall economic conditions today, Russia, a country much weaker than Soviet Union, does not have enough military power to defeat NATO in a hot war without invoking nuclear weapons (e.g., the military budget of Russian is ~$70 billion, compared with ~$700 billion military budget for U.S), although they might have the motivation to start one. See here for NATO's military budget.

Why would Russia have motivation to start a war with NATO? Without using nuclear weapons they would lose and they risk NATO escalating to nuclear weapons. If Russia started a nuclear war against NATO then they guarantee themselves a nuclear response. So in the first case Russia loses, in the second both sides lose by the principle of mutual assured destruction.

As for your comparison of military budget, it's not really a fair comparison. Most countries in the West have paid military membership while Russia relies in large part on conscription. Though the US military is stronger than the Russian military, it's not ten times stronger.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Commented Feb 12, 2022 at 20:14
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    It surprises me that the highest rated answer does not mention the OSCE or any OSCE document. The Russian position and demands are based on OSCE agreements and the principle of indivisible security. I think, this answer shows the problem in this conflict: The West is ignoring the Russian concerns and is only considering what suits them.
    – akuzminykh
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 13:36
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    @akuzminykh I'm not sure what you mean by that. If you think it's important, it might be better to write it up in a new answer. This question is more focused on NATO's perspective, I think. The Russian concerns might be more relevant to a question that asks for Russia's perspective. Maybe this one?
    – JJJ
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 14:32
  • +1 This answer, it seems to me, albeit probably unintentionally, does a great job at showing the kind of hubris that played a part in causing the invitation of Ukraine into NATO. Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 19:48

The question with Ukraine is basically down to Ukraine not trusting Russia one bit and trying to join NATO to get under its protective umbrella.

It's like the little kid at school buddying up to you to help out against the school bully. Sure, it might feel good to be protective and a good guy and all that. But you may also get a bloody nose from fighting the bully and the lil guy won't be a big help in a fight. If only it wasn't your problem...

How did this come to be? Well, partially from Bush in 2008 who thought it would be a good idea to promise accession. Why did they do it? Probably not directly to threaten Russia, but the Bush team was always pretty hubristic in seeing everything the American way.

Diplomats and analysts say that the transatlantic split is such that today's session will produce a formula that effectively replicates the conflicting signals sent in Bucharest. They add that the Bucharest decision was a mistake that contributed to the Caucasus crisis in August.

The issue of Nato membership for the two countries is intimately linked with western policy towards Russia, currently incoherent and contradictory. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France earlier this month backed Russian calls for a major summit next year to try to redefine Europe's "security architecture." An international foreign ministers' meeting in Helsinki later this week could see Germany, France, Russia, and Finland supporting the summit, which is also opposed by the US and Britain.

Plus ca change...

Since then, no one's really had the guts to walk it back - including the US which probably isn't that happy with the Bush promise - and doing so now would look like rewarding Putin for his aggression.

Given all the contortions NATO is going through in its statements about Ukraine:

The bulk of NATO doesn't want Ukraine aboard right now and would be happy to see the whole embarrassment shelved (yes, places like Poland or the Baltics would love to stick it to Russia, but they are smaller members).

Here are some pros and cons of accession now, articulated by some heavy hitters in international relations (not just this week's assigned Ukraine "expert" by papers needing to cover the news). Note from it that, since accession needs unanimity from existing members, Ukraine has effectively no chance under current circumstances.

The lack of enthusiasm of NATO towards Ukraine accession or the, supposed, lack of aggressive intent by NATO does not mean that Russia doesn't have security concerns about NATO's proximity. Look at the US and its serial hissy fits with regards to Cuba or its formulation of the Monroe Doctrine. Russia, like other states, is in its right to be cautious about inimical influences near its borders. Unlike most states, it is extremely capable to push back against real or perceived threats. Expecting it to "put up with it" is wishful thinking.

But if it was an easier neighbor to live with, as Russia, and as its predecessor state, USSR, then neighboring countries would be more willing to stick to neutrality.

Ukraine crisis is not the same thing as the Polish ABM base, which is one domain where Russia has more reasonable reasons for concerns (although it has hard to see what its 10 ABMs would do to deter Russian forces, rather than Iran's).

Russia did this to itself, starting with the 2008 invasion of Georgia and the 2014 annexation of Crimea. That annexation of Crimea? Came months after Ukraine's ousting of their corrupt leader, Yanukovich, a protege of Putin's who went straight to Moscow. Just a coincidence.

Few neighboring countries that are not totalitarian themselves trust Putin's Russia. That's why those countries want to join NATO.

It is telling that amidst this brouhaha Finland, which has decades of careful real neutrality under its belt, is vaguely considering joining NATO. That's just odd. Sweden was mentioned by JJJ, but Finland seems much more fundamentally neutral than them. Again, Finland's hitherto distant collaboration with NATO warmed up after 2014 - see a pattern?

Is it NATO's wider interest to include members that have immediate borders with Russia? No, not really, unless they plan to invade Russia which our electorates would never agree to. By having direct borders with Russia NATO risks border incidents that could easily escalate. It really isn't worth the hassle and the prospective members bring negligible force projection capabilities, outside of their own territory at least.

It would be great to have a neutral Ukraine, with its security guaranteed by NATO and Russia and call it a day.

Why, it could even look like this agreement, which Russia signed in 1994 to get Ukraine's share of Soviet nukes:

  1. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations;

  2. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and thus to secure advantages of any kind;

Now, can Ukraine believe it would solve its problem, this time? This is the problem with breaking agreements, no one believes you later.

For the record, I think it is wrong to accept Ukraine in NATO, now or later. It would be an aggressive move by NATO. However that leaves the question what exactly would provide assurances to Ukraine that they can continue to be an independent state at this point, free of military, economic or political intimidation by either the West or Russia. And free to manage their political and economic alliances as they choose.

  • 1
    @user24711 the exact wording doesn't change my answer all that much. NATO's senior members have limited interest in expansion. Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 23:53
  • 1
    I'm not sure why you set that link under word "easier neighbor". I'm pretty NATO wars list is way longer. Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 21:56
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    Didn't Russia already sign a treaty saying they guaranteed Ukraine's security? The fact that they're very clearly disregarding the prior treaty they signed on the subject raises questions about what the value of a new one would be. Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 21:57
  • 1
    @CharlesDuffy yes, they did. That's the wording I was quoting, from Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances signed in 1994. Which is why the option of a negotiated understanding between Ukraine and Russia is somewhat off the table. All parties can have a general understanding that Russia lays off + gets something in return OR attacks and gets sanctioned. That's a good way to make business together. But Ukraine is unlikely to re-trust them based on a treaty. That ship has sailed. Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 22:27
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    I suggest removing Iran bit in () about Polish ABM base, or briefly explain how would a Polish base actually matters for Iran. Looking at a map (rather, globe) has me completely puzzled as Poland doesn't seem useful against hypothetical Iranian missiles. It isn't in the line for most countries and for those few that is, missiles would be already descending so ABM wouldn't work as well. Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 8:52

For Ukraine specifically:

In 2010, Viktor Yanukovych became president and introduced a law of neutrality, which doesn’t permit Kyiv to seek membership of any military-political alliances.

“There was a hope that non-alignment would serve as “payment” to Russia, it would appease Moscow, and Russia would recognise Ukraine as a state, including its borders and territorial integrity. However, we have seen that that wasn’t the case and naive of Ukraine to believe so,”

Ukrainian public opinion on NATO membership remained low, according to numerous independent polls conducted between 2005 and 2013. Just months before the start of the revolution in Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea just over 50% of Ukrainians were against joining NATO and only 40% supported the idea of Alliance membership.

However, opinion changed once Moscow had taken Crimea and hostilities flared in eastern Ukraine with over 50% of Ukrainians in favour of NATO membership while just 43% said they were against it.

“When Ukraine-Russia relations turned more and more complicated and the people, who thought Russia was a friendly country, with a friendly policy, changed their minds, the situation changed,” explained Valeriy Khmelko, President of Kyiv International Institute of Sociology.

see https://www.euronews.com/2014/12/23/ukraine-s-complicated-path-to-nato-membership

So at least for Ukraine, the motivation to not stay neutral any longer and to join the NATO is the fact that by the annexation of the crimean peninsula Russia made it very clear that it is not accepting the borders and territorial integrity of Ukraine, despite it's law of neutrality.

  • 5
    Not going to protoct Russias actions, but the new government which came to power during the coup, you posibly like to call it revolution, was no more neutral and has made clear, their goal is to join EU and NATO.
    – convert
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 14:55
  • 8
    The revolution happened, because the Ukrainian government at that time suspended preparations for assigning the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… with the EU. So even the "old" government was already in talk with the EU, but chose to stop these talks, an action which wasn't supported by the population. It had nothing to do with the NATO at that time. It was only about a trade agreement. It was also not in violation with the neutrality law of Ukraine. Even neutral Switzerland has trade agreements with EU.
    – asmaier
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 15:32
  • Sorry but it´s a bit problematic when you using the word population, as it was the population of west Ukraine wanting closer inegration into west. Also there was an agreement between Yanukovich and his pro western counterparts about new elections, so the whole population could decide where to go west or east.
    – convert
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 19:30
  • 3
    @asmaier JFYI, "new" government resumed exactly same (correct) rhetoric that the whole deal is clearly unprofitable for Ukraine, so no, I don't see this as valid pretext for revolution. Unless you agree that "new" regime deserves one too. Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 21:59
  • 6
    @OlegV.Volkov I'm not sure what you mean. But the "new" government of Ukraine signed the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… in 2014 after the "revolution".
    – asmaier
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 23:18

Whatever the official rhetoric is that NATO is expanding to east or that the east countries want to join NATO to be safer from Russia strong arm, or that Russia is an aggressor, all this is just plain politics:

  1. NATO, specially USA wants to remove Russia power in the region,a weaker and surrounded Russia is easier to control. Troops and missile bases near the Russia borders is a too good outcome to resist. Anti-missile defenses near the border is really a arms race and that move is a very strong card.
  2. NATO, specially Europe wants those east countries have more western like politics and sooner or later join EU. A united Europe is stronger in the long run. Even if those countries are sometimes hardly western like (see Poland and Hungary right now).
  3. Ukraine want both be western and historically away from Russia, but also the exact opposite. Remember that they have a BIG Russian minority(~17%) that wants to be closer to Russia politics. The further to the west you go, the more NATO and EU friendly they are. The further you go to the east, the more Russia friendly they are. If Russia were to join to the EU, no problem would exist, both sides would be somewhat happy.
  4. Russia do not want a that close NATO country, even worse when historically that country was for a long time under Russia control (even pre-URSS), it shows both a sign of weakness and a threat to their own security and power. So some reaction is expected for the obvious constant expanding USA influence in to Ukraine.

So all sides want something and the local population are for sure the ones that suffer for all this politic game.

Lets present the opposite, if Russia managed to get Cuba and Venezuela (or radical point and maybe closer to Ukraine importance, Mexico!) in to the CSTO (Russian lead, as NATO is USA lead), the USA would not be happy at all, even worse if extra militarily support is expected, like missile platforms (even if anti-missile defense platforms, the same that Russia complains in Europe). we probably would have a new Cuba crisis. Both Cuba and Venezuela [1] want more protection from USA power, USA wants to keep their own power in their backyard and Russia would gain a foothold, close to the USA border This is exactly the same, but with sides exchanged.

So basically, the cold war ended, but Russia is still strong enough and getting stronger again, so the USA wants to get the upper hand and limit Russia possible grow as soon as possible. Also do not forget the "hate" that many Americans (not all) have grown up during the cold war to URSS, communism and Russia. While times have changed, those people (mostly republicans, tea party) still see Russia as a enemy and have a strong influence in USA politics.

[1]: Mexico is not in this situation of course, but imagine that Trump was reelected and tried to abuse Mexico even more, people could turn radical and vote in some political party that was Russia align and follow up this line. Not something impossible to happen.

  • 9
    You make a bald assertion in your first line, and don't follow it up. Russia did in fact invade Ukraine and take Crimea. There's no question they were the aggressor there. As for countries joining NATO, Hungary tried to leave the Warsaw Pact in 1956 and was invaded; Czechoslovakia simply tried to liberalize a little and was invaded in 1968. When the Soviet Union fell, it seems pretty clear they went to NATO for protection; once bitten, twice shy. I understand Estonia's not feeling very comfortable with their Russian neighbor right now.
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 22:15
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    True, Russia invaded and take Crimeia, but in Crimeia ,Russian population is the large part of the population, have a huge and important naval base and was Russia territory offered to Ukraine in URSS times. So this one have other important factors. For the other east countries joining NATO is the same politic game, each side want something (and each one are right in their own reasons)... if, let say, Senegal wanted to join NATO, it would probably not be accepted, political gain there are empty. So there, politics is a huge part of this (ALL!!) problem.
    – higuita
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 22:51
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    Russian population is the large part of the population Having a local minority gives Russia the right to invade? Is that really a good argument to be making? Not worried about people making some unfortunate historical comparisons? The USSR left a sizable Russian diaspora in many places. Can those places be invaded too? Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 0:36
  • 1
    Sure, one can summarize most of international affairs as "politics". But defining "the east countries want to join NATO to be safer from Russia strong arm" as politics doesn't make it any less true.
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 14:35
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    @higuita The USA doesn't want to control Russia in any meaningful way, at least not more than Russia wants to control the US. You're treating Europe's desire to be stable and Ukraine's desire to be an independent country the same as Russia threatening a nearby country to recover its past glory. Ukraine joining NATO of their own free will is voluntary; Russia invading Ukraine is not. It's all politics is a way of hiding key distinctions here.
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 3:09

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