PRAGUE — Recent statements from some American leaders and North Atlantic Treaty Organization representatives give the impression that not only Islamic and other radicals, but also quite civilized figures, are losing their grasp of reality and have begun acting irrationally. The world is becoming an increasingly difficult place to predict and manage, especially for those who are accustomed to being in charge.

The mistakes of the past decade will exact a very high price. Three countries — Pakistan, India, and North Korea — have been allowed to develop nuclear weapons, proving that there are no remaining political or moral arguments against nuclear proliferation, only airstrikes or bribery.

Instead of a dialogue of civilizations and support for modernist forces in the Middle East, preference has been given to an almost opposite course of action. The invasion of Iraq destroyed a very unpleasant tyranny, but it has inspired a wave of hatred toward the West, even among those who despised former Iraq President Saddam Hussein, and has divided the West against itself.

Indeed, anti-American coalitions have appeared not only in the Middle East but also in Latin America, while some Western politicians have apparently sought to aggravate relationships with Russia and China in order to restore trans-Atlantic solidarity and further weaken Europe. For example, there is talk of installing antimissile defense systems in Poland in proximity to the Russian border, supposedly to prevent terrorist missile strikes, which by definition cannot reach Poland.

There is also talk of NATO accession by Australia, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand. None of these countries needs NATO, but the smell of the Pacific Treaty Organization, the Central Treaty Organization, the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization, and other long forgotten pacts and pseudo pacts is again in the air. Similarly, NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly has announced preparations for NATO accession by such countries as Croatia, Macedonia and even Albania, all of which fall short of the alliance’s traditional membership criteria.

More importantly, the United States and Ukraine are talking seriously about Ukraine’s rapid accession to NATO, by 2008. NATO expansion is sought by those in Ukraine who are not sure of themselves and the viability of the Ukrainian state, are afraid of a competitive Russia, and would like to bind their state, militarily and politically, to the U.S.

But this betrays a lack of understanding of the consequences of Ukraine’s accession to NATO. It is unlikely, for example, that Ukraine could remain without a demarcated border with Russia. However, if a real border is to be created — it currently exists only on paper and provides income for corrupt customs officials — huge problems will arise. Every hill will become strategic, and every gully will become historic. They will be fought for, and bloodshed is not hard to imagine. Millions of families will be divided, and millions of people who work on the other side of the border may lose their jobs.

Do those who support NATO’s expansion to Ukraine understand this? Some may, but it seems that the majority simply do not recall or consider the lessons of recent history.

Of course, Russia is not Serbia. It will survive NATO’s further enlargement, although it will be weakened temporarily and pushed into anti-Western alliances. Many Russian officials will lose patience with Russia’s remaining a status-quo power, and one hopes that they will not seek confrontation.

Immeasurably larger damage will be done to Ukraine: It will lose a vital partner, one that perhaps has not always been ideal, but that nonetheless has never inflicted any damage and has never allied with other countries against it. But the West would also suffer, for a new “instability arch” along the Russian-Ukrainian border would kill the idea of establishing an alliance of the world’s large powers against new threats and revive rivalry between blocs of a different kind. If this happens, everyone will lose — apart from terrorists and radicals of every stripe.

Nobody can afford so seriously dangerous an expansion of NATO into Ukraine. Let us hope, therefore, that reason — and the instinct of self-preservation — will ultimately prevail.

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