College of Arts and Sciences; Helms School of Government
History; International Relations
NATO, Cold War, Post-Cold War, NATO Expansion, NATO Enlargement, Ukraine Conflict, Ukraine War, Eastern Europe, Russia, Foreign Policy, International Relations
Diplomatic History | European History | International Relations | Peace and Conflict Studies | Political History
McCracken, Matthew, "Bigger is Better? Re-evaluating NATO Enlargement in the Post-Cold War Period" (2023). Senior Honors Theses. 1279.
Since the end of the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance has grown substantially from its pre-1990 boundary between the two Germanys to encompass 15 new members with its border pressing eastward toward the former Soviet states and up to Russia proper. At the same time, East-West relations have sunk from a high point in the 1990s to a new low unseen since the Cold War culminating in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Top-ranking officials on both sides of the Atlantic cautioned successive U.S. administrations against heedlessly seeking to admit new members into NATO for fear that it could, as Russian leaders repeatedly warned it would, create mistrust among Russia and its allies and consign Europe once more to a posture of conflict. NATO’s history with Russia and its predecessor state, the concerns of past officials with alliance enlargement, and the consistent and open suspicion of NATO in Russia serve to illuminate the current conflict in Ukraine and lingering security issues in Europe. Consequently, it calls into question past decisions surrounding NATO, gives weight to the current debate around the Ukraine war, and lends perspective regarding the best framework of European security going forward.