Why Eastern and Central Europe Look West

Speaking on C-SPAN on November 26, 1995, former French foreign minister Roland Dumas observed that the erstwhile communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe desire both prosperity (hence their wish to join the European Union [EU) and stability (hence their wish to join NATO). But while the EU’s link to prosperity is self-evident, many Western observers find it less obvious why, after the cold war, stability in the eastern half of Europe is dependent upon a Western military and political alliance.

The answer is the potential threat to the region posed by Russia. Given Russia’s size and proximity, such a threat is inevitable. Unfortunately, identifying the threat of Russian military aggression as a key motive for joining NATO has become taboo, not only in Moscow but in Washington. As a result, Central and Eastern Europeans tend to cite membership in NATO as a way of renewing their historical and cultural ties to Western Europe. Apparently, American policymakers find such considerations sufficiently innocent and Moscow-friendly. If so, that can only be because they do not grasp how people in Central and Eastern Europe employ cultural-civilizational terms.

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