CHUCK SPINNEY: The United States under the first President Bush promised Soviet President Gorbachev that NATO would not expand east, if the USSR acquiesced to the unification of Germany within NATO in October, 1990. The Soviet Union agreed, and in so doing, dissolved the Warsaw Pact. The Soviets withdrew their forces from Eastern Europe (and the USSR collapsed in the process). Many conservative Republicans were unhappy with Gorbachev’s promise and wanted NATO to expand. And American arms makers, faced with the sudden end of the Cold War and the real threat of a peace dividend reducing the Pentagon’s budgets (something was never going to happen for reasons I explained in Defense Power Games (1990) , were drooling at the possibility of expanding the arms market in the name of standardization, began lobbying heavily for the expansion of NATO into the former countries of the Warsaw Pact.
Only four years later, US President Bill Clinton effectively reneged on Bush’s promise. Clinton, for the smarmiest of domestic political reasons, aimed to magnify his sure electoral majority in the 1996 presidential election. Using the cynical principle of “triangulation,” Clinton stole the idea of NATO expansion from his Republican opponent, Senator Bob Dole, in October 1996, less than one month before the day of the vote. Clinton made good on this promise in 1999, when the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary joined NATO. That opened the flood gates. The second President Bush agreed to a further the expansion in 2004 (adding Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Romania) and President Obama agreed to yet another expansion of NATO with the addition of Albania and Croatia in early 1999. Now, as the attached AP report indicates, Mr. Obama is agreeing to yet another NATO expansion with the addition of Montenegro. As this map shows, Bosnia and Macedonia are candidate members another expansion and there is a formal dialogue over the question of Ukraine and Georgia joining. In effect, potentially deadly military forces are now closer to Moscow than they were in 1812 (Napoleon), 1914 (Kaiser Wilhelm), or 1941 (Adolf Hitler).
The systematic expansion of NATO, detailed here, makes a mockery of the US promise to Gorbachev. Bear mind, this was no minor promise: it was made with a clear appreciation of Russia’s historic sense of vulnerability to hostile forces to its west. It was also made in exchange for Gorbachev’s ending of the Cold War without spilling a drop of blood. Readers trying to understand the psychology of Vladimir Putin and the Russian people, who are being blamed in the West for aggressively restarting the Cold War, would do well to remember who broke their word regarding Gorbachev’s vision of a peaceful end to the Cold War on terms that would not sow the seeds of future conflict — i.e., his now forgotten vision of a common European home stretching from the Urals to the Atlantic.