We ended the Cold War by lying to Russia. They remember.

Summary: As our leads start the second Cold War (for their own purposes), let’s remember America’s betrayal at the end of the first Cold War. It soured the peace and prevented any lasting rapprochement between our nations. See the results below this report. Let’s learn from this shameful history. Russia certainly has.

Relive the cold war

NATO Expansion: What Gorbachev Heard

By Svetlana Savranskaya and Tom Blanton.
From the National Security Archive, 12 December 2017. Images added.
These materials are reproduced with the permission of the National Security Archive.

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 posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

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.”[1] The key phrase, buttressed by the documents, is “led to believe.”

Franklin: "tricks and treachery are the practice of fools"

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; but neither Bush nor Gorbachev at that point (or for that matter, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl) expected so soon the collapse of East Germany or the speed of German unification.[2]

The first concrete assurances by Western leaders on NATO began on January 31, 1990, when West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher opened the bidding with a major public speech at Tutzing, in Bavaria, on German unification. The U.S. Embassy in Bonn (see Document 1) informed Washington that Genscher 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.’” The Bonn cable also noted Genscher’s proposal to leave the East German territory out of NATO military structures even in a unified Germany in NATO.[3]

This latter idea of special status for the GDR territory was codified in the final German unification treaty signed on September 12, 1990, by the Two-Plus-Four foreign ministers (see Document 25). The former idea about “closer to the Soviet borders” is written down not in treaties but in multiple memoranda of conversation between the Soviets and the highest-level Western interlocutors (Genscher, Kohl, Baker, Gates, Bush, Mitterrand, Thatcher, Major, Woerner, and others) offering assurances throughout 1990 and into 1991 about protecting Soviet security interests and including the USSR in new European security structures. The two issues were related but not the same. Subsequent analysis sometimes conflated the two and argued that the discussion did not involve all of Europe. The documents published below show clearly that it did.

The “Tutzing formula” immediately became the center of a flurry of important diplomatic discussions over the next 10 days in 1990, leading to the crucial February 10, 1990, meeting in Moscow between Kohl and Gorbachev when the West German leader achieved Soviet assent in principle to German unification in NATO, as long as NATO did not expand to the east. The Soviets would need much more time to work with their domestic opinion (and financial aid from the West Germans) before formally signing the deal in September 1990.

The conversations before Kohl’s assurance involved explicit discussion of NATO expansion, the Central and East European countries, and how to convince the Soviets to accept unification. For example, on February 6, 1990, when Genscher met with British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd, the British record showed Genscher saying, “The Russians must have some assurance that if, for example, the Polish Government left the Warsaw Pact one day, they would not join NATO the next.” (See Document 2)

Having met with Genscher on his way into discussions with the Soviets, Baker repeated exactly the Genscher formulation in his meeting with Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze on February 9, 1990, (see Document 4); and even more importantly, face to face with Gorbachev.

Not once, but three times, Baker tried out the “not one inch eastward” formula with Gorbachev in the February 9, 1990, meeting. He agreed with Gorbachev’s statement in response to the assurances that “NATO expansion is unacceptable.” Baker assured Gorbachev that “neither the President nor I intend to extract any unilateral advantages from the processes that are taking place,” and that the Americans understood that “not only for the Soviet Union but for other European countries as well it is important to have guarantees that if the United States keeps its presence in Germany within the framework of NATO, not an inch of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.” (See Document 6)

Afterwards, Baker wrote to Helmut Kohl who would meet with the Soviet leader on the next day, with much of the very same language. Baker reported: “And then I put the following question to him [Gorbachev]. Would you prefer to see a united Germany outside of NATO, independent and with no U.S. forces or would you prefer a unified Germany to be tied to NATO, with assurances that NATO’s jurisdiction would not shift one inch eastward from its present position? He answered that the Soviet leadership was giving real thought to all such options [….] He then added, ‘Certainly any extension of the zone of NATO would be unacceptable.’” Baker added in parentheses, for Kohl’s benefit, “By implication, NATO in its current zone might be acceptable.” (See Document 8)

Well-briefed by the American secretary of state, the West German chancellor understood a key Soviet bottom line, and assured Gorbachev on February 10, 1990: “We believe that NATO should not expand the sphere of its activity.” (See Document 9) After this meeting, Kohl could hardly contain his excitement at Gorbachev’s agreement in principle for German unification and, as part of the Helsinki formula that states choose their own alliances, so Germany could choose NATO. Kohl described in his memoirs walking all night around Moscow – but still understanding there was a price still to pay.

All the Western foreign ministers were on board with Genscher, Kohl, and Baker. Next came the British foreign minister, Douglas Hurd, on April 11, 1990. At this point, the East Germans had voted overwhelmingly for the deutschmark and for rapid unification, in the March 18 elections in which Kohl had surprised almost all observers with a real victory. Kohl’s analyses (first explained to Bush on December 3, 1989) that the GDR’s collapse would open all possibilities, that he had to run to get to the head of the train, that he needed U.S. backing, that unification could happen faster than anyone thought possible – all turned out to be correct. Monetary union would proceed as early as July and the assurances about security kept coming. Hurd reinforced the Baker-Genscher-Kohl message in his meeting with Gorbachev in Moscow, April 11, 1990, saying that Britain clearly “recognized the importance of doing nothing to prejudice Soviet interests and dignity.” (See Document 15)

The Baker conversation with Shevardnadze on May 4, 1990, as Baker described it in his own report to President Bush, most eloquently described what Western leaders were telling Gorbachev exactly at the moment: “I used your speech and our recognition of the need to adapt NATO, politically and militarily, and to develop CSCE to reassure Shevardnadze that the process would not yield winners and losers. Instead, it would produce a new legitimate European structure – one that would be inclusive, not exclusive.” (See Document 17)

Baker said it again, directly to Gorbachev on May 18, 1990 in Moscow, giving Gorbachev his “nine points,” which included the transformation of NATO, strengthening European structures, keeping Germany non-nuclear, and taking Soviet security interests into account. Baker started off his remarks, “Before saying a few words about the German issue, I wanted to emphasize that our policies are not aimed at separating Eastern Europe from the Soviet Union. We had that policy before. But today we are interested in building a stable Europe, and doing it together with you.” (See Document 18)

The French leader Francois Mitterrand was not in a mind-meld with the Americans, quite the contrary, as evidenced by his telling Gorbachev in Moscow on May 25, 1990, that he was “personally in favor of gradually dismantling the military blocs”; but Mitterrand continued the cascade of assurances by saying the West must “create security conditions for you, as well as European security as a whole.” (See Document 19) Mitterrand immediately wrote Bush in a “cher George” letter about his conversation with the Soviet leader, that “we would certainly not refuse to detail the guarantees that he would have a right to expect for his country’s security.” (See Document 20)

At the Washington summit on May 31, 1990, Bush went out of his way to assure Gorbachev that Germany in NATO would never be directed at the USSR: “Believe me, we are not pushing Germany towards unification, and it is not us who determines the pace of this process. And of course, we have no intention, even in our thoughts, to harm the Soviet Union in any fashion. That is why we are speaking in favor of German unification in NATO without ignoring the wider context of the CSCE, taking the traditional economic ties between the two German states into consideration. Such a model, in our view, corresponds to the Soviet interests as well.” (See Document 21)

The “Iron Lady” also pitched in, after the Washington summit, in her meeting with Gorbachev in London on June 8, 1990. Thatcher anticipated the moves the Americans (with her support) would take in the early July NATO conference to support Gorbachev with descriptions of the transformation of NATO towards a more political, less militarily threatening, alliance. She said to Gorbachev: “We must find ways to give the Soviet Union confidence that its security would be assured…. CSCE could be an umbrella for all this, as well as being the forum which brought the Soviet Union fully into discussion about the future of Europe.” (See Document 22)

The NATO London Declaration on July 5, 1990 had quite a positive effect on deliberations in Moscow, according to most accounts, giving Gorbachev significant ammunition to counter his hardliners at the Party Congress which was taking place at that moment. Some versions of this history assert that an advance copy was provided to Shevardnadze’s aides, while others describe just an alert that allowed those aides to take the wire service copy and produce a Soviet positive assessment before the military or hardliners could call it propaganda.

As Kohl said to Gorbachev in Moscow on July 15, 1990, as they worked out the final deal on German unification: “We know what awaits NATO in the future, and I think you are now in the know as well,” referring to the NATO London Declaration. (See Document 23)

In his phone call to Gorbachev on July 17, Bush meant to reinforce the success of the Kohl-Gorbachev talks and the message of the London Declaration. Bush explained: “So what we tried to do was to take account of your concerns expressed to me and others, and we did it in the following ways: by our joint declaration on non-aggression; in our invitation to you to come to NATO; in our agreement to open NATO to regular diplomatic contact with your government and those of the Eastern European countries; and our offer on assurances on the future size of the armed forces of a united Germany – an issue I know you discussed with Helmut Kohl. We also fundamentally changed our military approach on conventional and nuclear forces. We conveyed the idea of an expanded, stronger CSCE with new institutions in which the USSR can share and be part of the new Europe.” (See Document 24)

Results.

The documents show that Gorbachev agreed to German unification in NATO as the result of this cascade of assurances, and on the basis of his own analysis that the future of the Soviet Union depended on its integration into Europe, for which Germany would be the decisive actor. He and most of his allies believed that some version of the common European home was still possible and would develop alongside the transformation of NATO to lead to a more inclusive and integrated European space, that the post-Cold War settlement would take account of the Soviet security interests. The alliance with Germany would not only overcome the Cold War but also turn on its head the legacy of the Great Patriotic War.

But inside the U.S. government, a different discussion continued, a debate about relations between NATO and Eastern Europe. Opinions differed, but the suggestion from the Defense Department as of October 25, 1990 was to leave “the door ajar” for East European membership in NATO. (See Document 27) The view of the State Department was that NATO expansion was not on the agenda, because it was not in the interest of the U.S. to organize “an anti-Soviet coalition” that extended to the Soviet borders, not least because it might reverse the positive trends in the Soviet Union. (See Document 26) The Bush administration took the latter view. And that’s what the Soviets heard.

As late as March 1991, according to the diary of the British ambassador to Moscow, British Prime Minister John Major personally assured Gorbachev, “We are not talking about the strengthening of NATO.” Subsequently, when Soviet defense minister Marshal Dmitri Yazov asked Major about East European leaders’ interest in NATO membership, the British leader responded, “Nothing of the sort will happen.” (See Document 28)

When Russian Supreme Soviet deputies came to Brussels to see NATO and meet with NATO secretary-general Manfred Woerner in July 1991, Woerner told the Russians that “We should not allow […] the isolation of the USSR from the European community.” According to the Russian memorandum of conversation, “Woerner stressed that the NATO Council and he are against the expansion of NATO (13 of 16 NATO members support this point of view).” (See Document 30)

Thus, Gorbachev went to the end of the Soviet Union assured that the West was not threatening his security and was not expanding NATO. Instead, the dissolution of the USSR was brought about by Russians (Boris Yeltsin and his leading advisory Gennady Burbulis) in concert with the former party bosses of the Soviet republics, especially Ukraine, in December 1991. The Cold War was long over by then. The Americans had tried to keep the Soviet Union together — see the Bush “Chicken Kiev” speech in July 1991 {Wikipedia description, full text}. NATO’s expansion was years in the future, when these disputes would erupt again, and more assurances would come to Russian leader Boris Yeltsin/

————————- End of the article. ————————-

Breaking our promises and enlarging NATO

See the Wikipedia entry on the enlargement of NATO. This GIF tells the tale of the West’s military power creeping toward Russia’s borders. Countries in dark blue are existing Nato members, light blue new Nato members in the year that is shown, and countries in red either the USSR (later Russia), satellite states or members of the Warsaw Pact.

NATO's expansion

The Soviet Union lost roughly 11 million soldiers and 10 – 20 million civilians in WW2. We cannot expect them to like having enemies on their borders. We cannot expect them to trust us after breaking our promises. We cannot expect them not to push back — just as we would.

Conclusions

When we play the victim to big bad Russia, let’s remember that America has done everything we accuse Russia of doing. We have interfered in elections of both allies and foes (e.g., in Italy after WW2). We have overthrown elected governments and installed ruthless dictators too often to count. We have pushed hard. Other nations are pushing back.

For More Information

Of course, our leaders also lie to us. See The Big List of Lies by our Leaders. Post it everywhere to change America.

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Inside Putin’s Russia: Can There Be Reform without Democracy? by Andrew Jack: .

The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen.

Inside Putin's Russia
Available at Amazon.
The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
2016. Available at Amazon.

 

16 thoughts on “We ended the Cold War by lying to Russia. They remember.

  1. The Russian and Chinese also trusted the Allies when Libya’s Qaddafi was overthrown and got a fast one pulled on them. Unfortunately the US has a short term memory and stab their friends in the back for short term gains.
    The Russians are long term players.
    You are so right they will remember.
    The US unfortunately needs enemies, they are an aggressive warmongering nation that are unable to see that they run from one war to the next, stirring up trouble in other peoples back yards, fomenting revolution ( when they don’t work out they then dump the dumb folk that believed their promises) and fixing elections and the wonder why they are hated across the world.

    1. 7zander,

      That’s an important point. Lots of nations learned about the US from our actions in Libya.

    2. North Corea also remembers beeing carpet bombed to the stone age.( US generals admitted it regretting they could not find any more city to destroy !!)

      Now they can sleep well; Bravo !! Well done !!

  2. I wonder if there were any advantages to the newly independent eastern European nations that chose to join NATO, or if they only made that choice to annoy Moscow?

    The US has had 5 presidents over the time period since James Baker sat in the US State Department. Vocal reassurances of a State Secretary are not binding, else all the things that Russia has lied about might still be remembered. (germ warfare is a terrifying example)

    If binding agreements were signed, one might understand this indignation. Russia should clarify the signed international agreements that were violated when these sovereign nations of Eastern Europe chose to join NATO?

    Tit for tat is generally the best policy when dealing with potential cheaters. But tit for tat is tricky, and tits and tats are easily denied or conveniently forgotten.

    1. Alfin,

      “I wonder if there were any advantages to the newly independent eastern European nations that chose to join NATO”

      Big strong advantages. They don’t worry about Germany putting military pressure on them (economic pressure, yes). But they have good reasons to fear Russia.

      “Vocal reassurances of a State Secretary are not binding”

      Yep. Just like Otter’s famous line in Animal House: “You f***ed up, you trusted us!” Russia won’t make that mistake again. After seeing what we did to Libya and Russia, probably no national leaders will trust America for a long time.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTF2j0OWUi8

      “else all the things that Russia has lied about might still be remembered. (germ warfare is a terrifying example)”

      You jest delightfully. I assume you’re kidding, since the US had an active biological warfare program. As those killed when weaponized anthrax (contravening the Convention) from Ft. Detrick were released (imo, probably to help push thru the Patriot Act).

  3. I’m not sure that Russia ever actually trusted us. They made a virtue of necessity, and accepted unenforceable guarantees. I am not certain to what extent they believed the guarantees, but the empire was collapsing all around them, and the guarantees were what they had. Also, I’m far from confident that the Russians wouldn’t have put the countries they vacated back under their control had they the means to do so.

    All of that aside, the real problem with NATO expansion wasn’t Russia’s hurt feelings, it was that the expansion was dumb on its face. We extended security guarantees to countries that had no useful military power and which would be God’s own job to defend if Russia ever made a move on them. If Putin made a move on the Baltics, what, exactly, would we do about it? if the plan is for the cavalry to ride to the rescue, then you have to be able to hold the bad guys off until the cavalry comes charging over the hill. How long can the Baltics hold if Russia attacks. How long would it take us to get an army in there if they did? And its going to have to be our army, because a lot of NATOs best conventional armies from back in the days are basically gone.

    I raised this issue with a hawkish fellow I know back when the Army basically tied down chasing insurgents in Iraq, and his answer was that we still had “The strategic birds”. (And possibly the strategic birdbrains, but that’s another topic.) The prospect of calling on “The Strategic Birds” doesn’t exactly fill me with happy joy. The point is that we expanded our strategic liabilities, gained few no strategic assets, and basically wrote IOUs that I’m not sure we could ever really cover.

    1. The Man,

      “I’m not sure that Russia ever actually trusted us. ”

      That’s not relevant for the present or future. Whether they were testing us — and we failed — or that they had no choice. We have demonstrated (again) that we’re unreliable.

  4. I agree with you that it’s not relevant whether or not they trusted us. Whatever their reasons, they did what they did. I also don’t think it’s especially relevant that whatever trust they placed in us was ill founded. That’s how it is with nation states. Of the Gods we believe, and of men we know, that whatever they have the power to do they will. I’m sure you recognize the quote. I don’t believe in a just world, especially as it applies to relations between sovereign states. What’s relevant to me is that we did a dumb thing that never made much sense on it’s own terms and that may cost us down the road.

    1. The Man,

      “That’s how it is with nation states.”

      Nope, it is not. Many nations have gone to extreme lengths to be knows as good at their word. It’s a powerful advantage in both diplomacy and game theory.

      Oddly, it is often Americans who are unaware of this — yet have the delusion that we’re the angels in the world. It will prove to be an expensive delusion.

  5. Another motivating factor for both Russia and top ranks of NATO (US, DE) are the vaguely post-colonial relationship that the alliances have with the contested states in eastern europe. The analogy is a bit of a stretch but I think it works on an economic level.

    The security regime which one of these states enters influences its government, and this in turn guarantees that the door remains open for commercial interests of the security-regime’s patron. Most obviously, telecom, utility, and banking markets, maybe property ownership. You see this in both post-soviet states and the weaker EU/NATO states.

    If you buy into the theory that commercial interests have primacy over ideas of security strategy, then Russia didn’t make it’s deal with the right people. Or perhaps the Russia of Gorbachev didn’t, and the deals made under Yeltsin concerning economic relationships, which *were* made with the right people, were then not honored under Putin, who changed them to favor a different group of the right people more local to him.

    Nor were the populations of the eastern european countries consulted in the deal between the Gorbachev and Bush I governments. The people of eastern europe generally wanted out of the post-soviet / Russian quasi-colonial sphere, and in to the western european sphere. The economic improvements were real enough – compare to other post-soviet states. But they remain second class citizens, and there’s enough dissatisfaction with that status to feed the current reactionary wave.

    1. Pete,

      “If you buy into the theory that commercial interests have primacy over ideas of security strategy”

      That only applies for nations that feel secure. As Adam Smith said in The Wealth of Nations, “defence, however, is of much more importance than opulence.”

      Note that the rest of his analysis shows that commercial and defense policy should be complementary (i.e., mutually re-enforcing).

  6. Yes, North Korea is responding quite rationally to what happened to Libya after it gave up its WMD programs in exchange for US and EU assurances, even if “Rocket Man” is a bit daft. Meanwhile the US warfare/welfare state which has pursued “security” and opulence funded by loans from our trading partners using the leverage provided by the reserve currency status of the USD will end up with neither at the rate we’re going, while the EU faces its own unraveling as it attempts to cope with the refugee migrations stimulated by the chaos in Libya, sub-Saharan Africa, and the continuing “Peace to end all peaces” in.Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

    The “bright spot” if it is one,is that plausible candidates for picking up the pieces if the USA and EU crack up have problems of their own that could prevent them from taking advantage of the resulting opportunities. “It’s too early to tell”. as Zhou Enlai said to Nixon (perhaps having misunderstood Nixon’s question).
    http://www.historytoday.com/blog/news-blog/dean-nicholas/zhou-enlais-famous-saying-debunked

    1. Desi,

      Sad to say, your analysis of NK seems spot on.

      But I see few signs that the US or EU will “crack up” in any foreseeable time horizon.

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