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A History of NATO Expansion At The Heart Of Ukraine Crisis

The Tangled Tale Of NATO Expansion At The Heart Of The Ukraine Crisis

Authored by Joe Lauria via Consortium News

The U.S. response to winning the Cold War set the stage for the current crisis with Russia…

The end of the Cold War with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Soviet Union two years later presented the United States with a choice: triumphalism or reconciliation.

There was hope of a “peace dividend” because the fortune spent on armaments for so long could now be spent on domestic needs. The Warsaw Pact dissolved and there was hope that its counterpart, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, would also pass into history.  Rather its expansion has become a flashpoint in the current standoff over Ukraine. 

Read Lavrov: NATO expansion east threatens Russian territory

To assent to the reunification of Germany, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev ultimately agreed to a proposal from then U.S. Secretary of State James Baker that a reunited Germany would be part of NATO but the military alliance would not move “one inch” to the east, that is, absorb any of the former Warsaw Pact nations into NATO. 

On Feb. 9, 1990, Baker said: “We consider that the consultations and discussions in the framework of the 2+4 mechanism should give a guarantee that the reunification of Germany will not lead to the enlargement of NATO’s military organization to the East.” On the next day, then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said: ““We consider that NATO should not enlarge its sphere of activity.”

Gorbachev’s mistake was not to get it in writing as a legally-binding agreement.  For years it was believed there was no written record of the Baker-Gorbachev exchange at all, until the National Security Archive at George Washington University in December 2017 published a series of memos and cables about these assurances against NATO expansion eastward.  The archive reported:

“U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s famous ‘not one inch eastward’ assurance about NATO expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and on into 1991, according to declassified U.S., Soviet, German, British and French documents …

The documents show that multiple national leaders were considering and rejecting Central and Eastern European membership in NATO as of early 1990 and through 1991, that discussions of NATO in the context of German unification negotiations in 1990 were not at all narrowly limited to the status of East German territory, and that subsequent Soviet and Russian complaints about being misled about NATO expansion were founded in written contemporaneous memcons and telcons at the highest levels.  … The documents reinforce former CIA Director Robert Gates’s criticism of ‘pressing ahead with expansion of NATO eastward [in the 1990s], when Gorbachev and others were led to believe that wouldn’t happen.’ …

President George H.W. Bush had assured Gorbachev during the Malta summit in December 1989 that the U.S. would not take advantage (‘I have not jumped up and down on the Berlin Wall”) of the revolutions in Eastern Europe to harm Soviet interests.’”

One Jan. 31, 1990 cable from the U.S. embassy in Bonn informed Washington that German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher’s speech that day made clear “that the changes in Eastern Europe and the German unification process must not lead to an ‘impairment of Soviet security interests.’ Therefore, NATO should rule out an ‘expansion of its territory towards the east, i.e. moving it closer to the Soviet borders.’”  

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