The Expansion of NATO and the Contraction of Eurasia

Author: Chris Hann
September 26, 2014

Even before this later reading, I don’t think it would ever have occurred to me that Eurasia could mean anything less than a vast entity subsuming both Europe and Asia (and, as I found out, in the most influential accounts North Africa to boot, so it is not strictly a geographically defined entity at all). To imagine Europe and Asia as constituting equivalent “continents” has been widely recognized in the scholarship of recent decades as the ethnocentric cornerstone of a Western Weltanschauung. The amalgam Eurasia corrects this bias by expressing the interconnectedness and basic unity of the entire landmass since the urban revolutions of the Bronze Age (in comparison with the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and Oceania). However, this academic truism is now being overturned by those wedded to the mind-set of the Cold War and the uniqueness of the West. These Westerner pundits favor a shrunken concept of Eurasia, based to a considerable extent on obscure currents in Russian nationalism that they deploy to demonize Russia.2 This impoverished usage has been gaining ground in scientific nomenclature and in the research agendas of the Western academy, where, for many scholars, the primary association of Eurasia is now an ill-defined zone between the Russian and Ukrainian steppe in the west and Mongolia in the east.3

In short, the long-term history of unity modified by civilizational differences across Eurasia is trumped nowadays by a Manichean politics of the short term (the original Manicheans being a fine example of civilizational flows along what has come to be termed the “silk routes”). As a result of their national histories, some of NATO’s newer members are understandably sensitive to discourses about Orthodox Eurasian civilization. They are more vociferously anti-Russian than the older members are. Since their post-communist elites gravitate toward Washington rather than Paris or Berlin, they might be considered a kind of fifth column in Europe, analogous to that diagnosed by Snyder when he views the far-right parties as surrogates for the policies of Putin. A strong antisocialist reflex shapes the socioeconomic policies of these leaders: They instinctively favor the intensification of the market principle wherever possible. These elites are more attracted by the ideals of the Tea Party in the United States than those of the post-1945 settlement in Western Europe, with its undertones of social democracy. They applaud post-Thatcher Britain as the most energetic renegade on the Keynesian principles it had formerly pioneered. In Poland as in Britain, many politicians would allocate the dividends anticipated from a North Atlantic free trade zone to finance increased military spending in defense of this same Atlanticist space, ahead of spending on welfare and social justice.

Historically informed, forward-looking leaders who cared about the maintenance and spread of the post-1945 accomplishments of Western Europe would surely be pursuing very different policies. Why was Poroshenko but not Putin invited to Newport ? I would have welcomed an edict of Newport in the form of a commitment to negotiate with Kiev and Moscow equally and simultaneously. With the integration of the two historic capitals of the east Slavs, the European Union would finally embrace the entire continent. Of course, the unity of Europe would be no more than a first step. We should not forget the constructed character of this imagined continent and place it in world-historical context.That context is Eurasia, not the North Atlantic. Yet this NATO summit did not engage with Eurasia, let alone our moment in world history. It was just one more example of how the elites of Western Eurasia enjoy conniving in parochial, Atlanticist plots with those of Washington.


The general sentiment in the immediate aftermath of the summit was one of relief. The retiring secretary general (not to be confused with a Soviet-style general secretary) was able to secure agreement for the deployment of a new NATO rapid strike force in eastern Europe. Sanctions against Russia remain in place and may yet be stepped up. Commentators generally agreed that without the restraining voice of Angela Merkel, the anti-Russian measures would already have been ratcheted up further. The underlying polarization has not changed at all. As soon as the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine breaks down, the pressure to isolate Russia and its “Eurasian” partners will again become acute. Ukraine will again be put on the agenda for full membership of NATO as well as the EU. Expansion of the West will signal a definitive contraction of Eurasia, as the older scholarly usage comes to be considered obsolete and that of Alexander Dugin becomes the focus of scholarly attention.

Future historians (and even some contemporary observers in other parts of the world) may classify this drawn-out zero-sum game in western Eurasia as a pathetic sideshow, which will do nothing to impede the long-term transfer of power toward Beijing and may well accelerate this shift. Orwellian, anti-Moscow plots concocted by Western elites and justified by dubious intelligence will come to be seen as an irrelevant throwback to a world order that has already been superseded. If EU leaders want to preserve and spread the values of the post-1945 settlement in western Eurasia, they should be courting Ankara (long-time NATO member but not yet considered salonfähig for Europe), Beijing, Cairo, Delhi, Hanoi, Moscow, Teheran and Tokyo—and not feuding with any one of them. Beginning with Mesopotamia, that other zone of unresolved crisis in summer 2014, the civilizations of Eurasia have a long common experience of dealing with social inequalities and taming markets to serve the interests of the human economy. This is what the vast majority of Eurasian citizens today want. For all the differences between them, these countries today can draw on strong traditions of social inclusion, a disposition to support welfare policies that, in principle, might be extended to cover the entirety of the landmass (Hann 2014a). Realization of such a Eurasia would enable the speedy dissolution of NATO and release vast resources to promote human well-being and protect the environment globally. Why are so many European leaders rushing in the opposite direction? The most perverse strand in the current media commentaries is the one that insinuates that bloodshed in Ukraine, however tragic for Ukrainians, is serving the higher goal of unifying Europeans in a common cultural identity.

The issues could hardly be more urgent. Do we want China to continue the efforts it has recently initiated to institute national insurance and pension schemes for the entirety of its vast population, and to respect labor codes and ecological regulations comparable to those in place at the other end of Eurasia? Or do we allow the power of global capital to prevail, such that market logic alone determines all of our futures? If eastern and southern Eurasia are courted not by Brussels but instead, just a few years from now, by a Tea Party president in the White House, the dismantling of the evolved welfare states of western Eurasia will accelerate dramatically.


1. I generalize based on nonsystematic consumption of mostly “quality” newspapers and websites in France, Britain, and Germany in the months preceding the summit. Orwell would have a field day analyzing the language used. New electronic media offer many new possibilities for dissimulation and hypocrisy, but they also open up niches for alternative viewpoints excluded from the mainstream media. For example, shortly before the summit, I was cheered to find a Memorandum for Angela Merkel by a group of retired US intelligence experts who pointed out that, as in the case of Iraq before former President George W. Bush ordered the US invasion, the evidence to support current US charges against Russia is flimsy if not entirely incredible.

See also Karelvan Wolferen’s analysis of the increasing perils of the ideology he terms “Atlanticism.”

None of these authors can be accused of blindness or sycophancy toward the power holder in the Kremlin.

2. Leading the way in the Western media is the coverage of The Economist. See for example the issue of 24 July 2014, in which Putin is accused of “epic deceits.” The issue of 4 September, coinciding with the summit in Wales, carried a feature about Alexander Dugin. Readers were given the frightening information that, for the best-known contemporary exponent of “Orthodox Eurasianism,” even Putin is signally failing to live up to the historic calling of a leader of the Russian people.

3. For example, in 2010 the major Area Studies association for US scholars working in what used to be glossed as Slavic and East European Studies, covering territories corresponding more or less to the former socialist world, was renamed Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies.


Hann, Chris. 2014a. After the euro, the Avra. Soundings 56: 123–136.

Hann, Chris. 2014b. Towards a maximally inclusive concept of Eurasia. Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Working Paper No. 157, Halle/Saale.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1996. The clash of civilizations and the new world order. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Snyder, Timothy. 2014. Putins Projekt. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 13 April. [English trans. Europe and Ukraine: Past and future, Eurozine, 16 April.]

This contribution by Chris Hann was originally posted at the Focaal blog in September 2014:

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