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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For 50 years Republicans have fought against treaties that brought peace

Summary:  To understand the dynamics and stakes of the Iran deal we should look at our past, rather than conservatives’ confident warnings about the future. The peace we’ve enjoyed for decades results in part from 50+ years of arms control treaties — all strenuously fought by the Right. We can learn much from their false predictions, as they’re repeated today about Iran.

Atomic bomb explosion


  1. Unceasing war.
  2. Clinton takes a turn.
  3. Obama negotiates a New START.
  4. Reagan the peacemaker.
  5. Conclusions.
  6. For More Information.

(1)  Unceasing war

The far-right’s grand strategy since WWII has been one of unceasing war and rigid opposition to all arms control treaties (we are always in 1938 Munich; are foes are always NAZI Germany). We see that in their opposition to a deal with Iran (where the likely alternative is war), just as we saw in their support for the continued above ground nuclear testing that was blanketing the world with radioactive fallout. Even after a full-court press by Kennedy, 19 Senators voted in 1963 against the first Nuclear Test Ban Treaty JFK negotiated in 1963. Fortunately saner people prevailed.

To get an idea of the results if the conservatives had won, read the National Institute of Health’s pages about exposure to radioactive Iodine-131 from fallout. These debates would play out repeatedly during the next 6 decades, but not always with a happy ending.

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Did Robert Heinlein in 1961 predict the fall of the Soviet Union? Lessons learned from this.

Summary: Our past can help us to better understand our present. The ills of the present didn’t just appear, and often can be seen more clearly in the past — such as our penchant for believing fables. This post has it all: a great story about Robert Heinlein’s astonishing prescience, the Evil Empire, demographic collapse, gross errors by experts, a spectacular save at the end, and insights to help us tomorrow.  It’s another in a series about experts.

Writing about geopolitics = progress by making mistakes

Ask an expert

I find it difficult to guess about the future (track record here). But it’s often difficult to get the past correctly, which makes it almost impossible to accurately see the present.

For example, in 2009 I wrote about the failings of our experts, especially those at the intel agencies, during the Cold War. I cited science fiction writer Robert Heinlein as an example of a non-credentialed expert who got a big question right while they were wrong. I told a commonplace kind of story one sees these days, about how the official sources are wrong when the outsiders are right.

It’s the story so often told by many groups — the climate scientists are frauds people, the down with the Federal Reserve crowd, the anti-vaxers, and the pollutants are everywhere (soda bottles, cell phone towers) tribe — as well as people with whom I largely agree (e.g., the military reformers, the 4GW community, and the peace and justice movements).

It’s an extension of the “crowdsourcing” concept — the anti-establishment belief that wisdom is found on the fringes, in the hands of outsiders. Since 2009 I have found other examples of this. Under examination most proved to be false.

As part of an article about our new cold war (it’s only a slightly chilled dispute, the past repeating as farce) I intended to again cite this example of Heinlein’s wisdom. But my mistakes of the past 5 years (tracked here) taught me to dig deeper before writing. Doing so disproved my 2009 post, giving in exchange some useful insights.

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Continuity and dysfunctionality in US foreign policy (lessons for our conflict with Iran)

Summary:  Today we gain some insights about ourselves from Cold War uber-hawk Colin Grey.  Nations have different strategic cultures, different styles of foreign policy.  Like those of the US and Iran,  global prosperity in the next decade might depend on how these two cultures interact.  Here we look at internal factors driving US foreign policy.  We can do better.  Chapter 11 in a series; links to other chapters and more information are at the end.

Iran should say "Thank you, boss" when we head-slap them

The photo to right shows American foreign policy put to work in an office setting (on NCIS).


  1. Long-term traits of US foreign policy
  2. Example:  Iraq
  3. Example:  Iran
  4. Other posts in this series
  5. For more information

(1)  Long-term traits of US foreign policy

US foreign policy strategy since WWII has displayed strong continuity, with some success during the Cold War and poor results since then.  In Henry Kissinger’s first major work, Nuclear Weapons & Foreign Policy (1957), he described America’s inability to use “its vast strength to accomplish reasonable policy objectives”. (p.41).  Our wars in Iraq and Af-Pak show this continues down to our time.

Colin S. Grey (Prof Strategic Studies, U Reading; Wikipedia bio) discussed the causes of this dysfunctionality in Nuclear Strategy and the National Style (1986).  He sees several persistent elements to US strategic thinking, among them:

  • Reliance on force (and tactics); disinterest in strategy and ignorance of history
  • Belief that our opponents think like us and share the same values (perhaps out of ignorance that there are other ways)

The applicability of these traits to our emerging conflict with Iran is obvious.  Excerpt:

First, the US is an insular political culture. There is an expectation of safety as the norm … to take expensive and risk actions, we must believe, rightly or wrongly, a foreign threat to be immediate. … The cultural proclivity to assume that peace is normal, when turned around by apparently unambiguous evidence of foreign threat, produces a possibly disproportionate military response.

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How the Soviet Menace was over-hyped, and what we can learn from this

Summary: Histories of the CIA document its poor performance as an intelligence agency (e.g., Tim Weiner’s 2007 book Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA).  While incompetence certainly plays a role in degrading its performance, obedience to its political superiors probably plays a far more informant role.  Such as the relentless hyping of the Soviet Union’s capabilities and hostile intentions during the cold war. This post looks at some new evidence (adding to the overwhelming pile), and provides a contrast — showing how easily the truth could be seen.  If only the CIA had looked.

Ministry of Truth


  1. Soviet records reveal decades of US intel failures.
  2. “Exaggeration Of The Threat: Then & Now”.
  3. Heinlein sees Russia long crash – in 1960.
  4. About the demographic collapse of Russia.
  5. Reforming the US intelligence apparatus.
  6. For More information.


(1)  New study: more evidence about exaggerating the Soviet threat

New Study:  Previously Classified Interviews with Former Soviet Officials Reveal U.S. Strategic Intelligence Failure Over Decades — 1995 Contractor Study Finds that U.S. Analysts Exaggerated Soviet Aggressiveness and Understated Moscow’s Fears of a U.S. First Strike.  Edited by William Burr and Svetlana Savranskaya.  Posted at George Washington University’s National Security Archive, 11 September 2009.  Opening…

“During a 1972 command post exercise, leaders of the Kremlin listened to a briefing on the results of a hypothetical war with the United States. A U.S. attack would kill 80 million Soviet citizens and destroy 85% of the country’s industrial capacity. According to the recollections of a Soviet general who was present, General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev “trembled” when he was asked to push a button, asking Soviet defense minister Grechko “this is definitely an exercise?”

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