The decision to expand NATO eastward threatens to create serious frictions with Russia. An especially worrisome flashpoint is the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, which has a border with Poland, one of the countries invited to join NATO. An even more dangerous situation will develop if a subsequent round of NATO expansion brings in the Baltic republics. Kaliningrad would then be separated from the rest of Russia by a belt of NATO countries. That would create a “mirror image” of West Berlin during the Cold War—with the thorny problem of military transit rights and other potential quarrels.
Russian officials are already concerned about secure access to Kaliningrad. That is one reason among many that there is intense Russian opposition to NATO membership for the Baltic republics. The serious possibility of a collision exists, since Clinton administration officials have given strong indications that those countries will be invited to join NATO in the near future. The probable Russian response would be greater reliance on nuclear weapons (including adoption of a first-use policy) and renunciation of the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation. Expansion of the alliance, therefore, risks provoking a new and even more dangerous version of the Cold War.