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Did NATO betray Russia, breaking the deal to stay out of Eastern Europe?

Summary:  The news that “NATO invites Montenegro to join alliance, defying Russia” has sparked return (again) of stories that the US broke its deal with the Soviet Union to stay out of Eastern Europe. These accusations by Putin and other Russian leaders frame and poison relations with the West. Here are the facts.

Trust broken

Putin’s claims of perfidious behavior by the West show his understanding that the moral high ground is, as so often the case, of value. His most vehement accusations are that the NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe violates agreements made in 1989 and 1990. In his February 2007 speech to the Munich Security Conference he said…

“And we have the right to ask: against whom is this [NATO] expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our Western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? … I would like to quote the speech of NATO General Secretary Mr. Woerner in Brussels on 17 May 1990. He said at the time that: ‘the fact that we are ready not to place a NATO army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee.” Where are these guarantees?”

In his March 2014 speech justifying Russia’s annexation of Crimea (we’re bad, so he’s bad)…

“{Western leaders} have lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, placed before us an accomplished fact. This happened with NATO’s expansion to the east, as well as the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders.”

Many on the US Left take Putin’s claims seriously, an example of the Left’s long affection for tyrants (shared, of course, by the US Right). These claims have have only a weak basis in fact. The last years of the Soviet Union were marked by remarkably hasty and poorly thought-out actions by its leaders. Their reliance on a vague verbal agreement — between Secretary of State James Baker and the USSR’s Foreign Minister, Eduard Shevardnadze — was poor statecraft (but by no means their worst errors).

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