The dangerous NATO expansion
NATO has just announced a plan to send troops to the alliance’s eastern flank, close to the Russian border. The organisation says it is attempting to deter potential Russian aggression. The UK, the US, Canada and Germany will lead four battle groups that will be based in Poland and the Baltic states. Diplomats say the troops will act as a deterrent of Russian aggression by acting as a “tripwire” that would trigger a full response from the alliance if necessary
On Sunday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier condemned Western “sabre rattling and war cries”.
He said: “Anyone who believes the symbolic tank parades on the alliance’s eastern border will increase security is wrong.”
Apart from the appalling fact that the West is contemplating an all-out war against Russia, there is the plain fact that it has expanded NATO in contravention of the solemn understandings given the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War.
The deal was straightforward. The Soviet Union would agree to the reunification of East and West Germany and accept that East Germany becomes part of NATO in return for a non-expansion promise.
It is the breaking of this promise, more than any other one thing, that fuelled the resurgence of hostile Russian opinion against the West and prompted President Vladimir Putin to become increasingly determined to put the West in its place.
Now, with this move, the Russians, understandably, are livid. There are a number of scholars and politicians from that era, including president H.W. Bush’s secretary of state James Baker, who did most of the negotiating at that time with Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, who have since tried to rewrite history and say there were no promises made.
But neither Baker nor scholars can deny — they do not try to — that on February 9, 1990, Baker told Gorbachev in Moscow that “there will be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction or NATO’s forces one inch to the East” if Gorbachev agreed to German reunification.
To reinforce this message, the next day the West German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and foreign minister Hans Deitrich Genscher offered the Soviet leaders similar terms.
Later, Baker confirmed publicly at a State Department press conference that he agreed with Gensher. The US ambassador to Moscow at the time, Jack Matlock, who was in the room with Gorbachev and Baker, confirmed that these words were said by Baker to Gorbachev.
But revisionist scholars have tried to obfuscate this understanding. It has been argued that US leaders saw these terms as being raised “speculatively” as part of an ongoing negotiation and far from a final deal.
Thus, the US was free to revise the offer and Gorbachev was made no final promise.
This is as Machiavellian an interpretation as one could dream up.
Common sense suggests that Gorbachev was not going to radically change 45 years of East German and Soviet history without a very big quid pro quo.
Since no other subject was on the table, it is obvious that there was a quid pro quo and this was it. One scholar, Mary Sarotte, writes that the Soviet leaders failed to obtain “written assurances” against NATO expansion.
That is right. But why should Gorbachev demand them when the Cold War was coming to an end so amicably and the widespread feeling was that there would never be enmity again and the Soviet Union would become close to NATO, and maybe even seek future membership of it?
There is another political “scandal” from that period. Behind Gorbachev’s back, as the US negotiators “were stressing limits on NATO’s future presence in the east, the US was privately planning for an American-dominated post-Cold War system and taking steps to achieve this objective”, according to Joshua Shifrinson, writing in the new issue of Harvard University’s quarterly, International Security.
“In July 1990, Baker stated that a revamped CSCE [Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe] which had Soviet membership would provide a ‘halfway house’ for those countries who want out of the Warsaw Pact but can’t join NATO and the European Union.”
Somewhat paradoxically, Baker did not want to see a CSCE that overshadowed NATO.
By October 1990, detailed discussions about the future expansion of NATO were under way in the State Department, albeit with the belief that this would only happen if the Soviet Union behaved “badly”.
Contradictorily, in an internal study on NATO, the State Department wrote that “we are not in a position to guarantee the future of these Eastern countries and do not wish in any case to organise an anti-Soviet coalition whose frontier is the Soviet border. Such a coalition would be perceived very negatively by the Soviets and could lead to a reversal of current positive trends in Eastern Europe”.
Over the last 20 years, an anti-Soviet/Russian coalition is what evolved and that is why Russia has ended up confronting the West. —Courtesy: TJT