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That a sovereign decision was taken on NATO membership is not debatable, it is the truth, but not the whole truth.

Parts of the truth are that the expansion also underscored the inter-alliance issues (American role in Europe e.g.), it was also a product of internal American political debates, a product of European inability to create more robust security institutions, a product of bureaucracy perpetuation,  etc.

Another part of the truth is that after '91 there was no communist dictatorship nor SU. So, the logical answer to the question 'why join NATO?' was fear of Russia, whether rational or irrational. Thus the expansion of NATO through East European members got unmistakable anti-Russian flavor.

Since alliances, at the end, do not really exist without answering the 'who is our enemy' question, we arrive at the logical conclusion that NATO's 'expansion' to East was indeed anti-Russian step in its essence. If it had no internal content in that matter shortly after the end of the Cold War, it soon got one, conciously or unconciously.

by Prospero on Fri Mar 6th, 2015 at 03:28:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
True, but surely the fundamental failure relates to the shock doctrine reforms imposed on/advised to Russia that turned it effectively into a semi-failed state.

A better, slower transition out to a post-Soviet economy could have helped create a Russia that actually had real economic interests in becoming "part of Europe."

Whether that would have been enough to stave off malign US thinking is debatable, but at least there might have been a chance to create some kind of actual alignment of interests.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Fri Mar 6th, 2015 at 05:42:55 PM EST
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It was, IMO, in part, the Clinton Administration taking the opportunity to posture as tough on security and standing up for the formerly oppressed to keep them from falling back under foreign (Russian) domination and part of the price for the Wall Street support his administration had received. The first part goes back to the old 'soft on Communism' accusation, 'soft on defense', 'who lost China' BS that has long come from the right. Bush 41, Jim Baker and that administration pretty much kept their promises to Gorbachev. I don't know if Clinton and his top people knew or cared about the possibility of a better world that George Kennan was so passionately trying to defend. It is also part of the problem of relying on key foreign affairs advisers such as Madeline Albright and Zbig who could not help but see the world significantly in the light of the fates of Poland and Czechoslovakia. Then there were the appropriate ethnic minorities involved who needed to be kept in the fold. In the US politics often starts at the border. It is so much easier to scapegoat people who are not constituents.

Ironically, the line the attendees at Clinton's first nomination came away chanting "Without vision the people perish!" and this was a massive failure of vision.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Mar 6th, 2015 at 11:04:15 PM EST
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Exactly.

The issue of Baker's promise (or should I say 'promise') was definitely lost in transition from Bush to Clinton. Washington didn't think much of it anyway, it was more of a tactical step to move forward with the German reunification plan and win Soviet approval. It was Moscow's error not to get that in writing, it would add more credence to their case.

The whole 'what of America in Europe' debate grew rapidly with the Bob Dole's attacks on Clinton regarding Bosnian War sometime during and after 1993, asking for heavy American involvement. Clinton's response, in effect, was to promote NATO as a vehicle for America's involvement and in parallel to that to tap the Eastern European immigrants' votes for '96 election. With passivity of EU on the security matters and the mood in Czech Republic and Poland, it was almost a perfect storm for the NATO to start moving to the East.

by Prospero on Sat Mar 7th, 2015 at 04:25:23 AM EST
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I think this harping about the supposed promise is pretty pointless. Even if there was one, the EU would have expanded to the east anyway and russia would then haven been unhappy about that.

And there surely never was a "no eastern EU enlargement" promise.

by IM on Sat Mar 7th, 2015 at 05:11:12 AM EST
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I tend to agree that the Russian insistence in that issue is not on solid grounds.

From what I've read on the matter (and it's way more that few journo articles) it is hard to say whether the American 'promise' was given for E. Germany or for E. Europe as a whole, and either way it was never put through relevant paperwork and transformed into solid deal. Even if it was blatant lie, which it probably wasn't since Baker at the time had no vision on NATO's expansion, an even if Genscher was more direct on the same matter, Russians came of more as a sore losers than anything else.

In the end one could easily point the finger at Gorbachev and Shevardnadze for not doing their jobs on that matter. Very poor statecraft performance from that lot.

by Prospero on Sat Mar 7th, 2015 at 10:51:22 AM EST
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Can't argue that the Russians has good statecraft there, but, still, it was an opportunity we walked away from. However, that was inevitable once the 'shock doctrine' crew got to work in Russia for Wall Street. But almost all of my current understanding of economics and, especially finance and development, has only come since 2008, so I had few clues as to what was afoot.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Mar 7th, 2015 at 02:50:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Spiegel has a (far as I can tell) good write-up on it. The ending:

NATO's Eastward Expansion: Calming Russian Fears - SPIEGEL ONLINE

In late May 1990, Gorbachev finally agreed to a unified Germany joining NATO. But why didn't Gorbachev and Shevardnadze get the West's commitments in writing at a time when they still held all the cards? "The Warsaw Pact still existed at the beginning of 1990," Gorbachev says today. "Merely the notion that NATO might expand to include the countries in this alliance sounded completely absurd at the time."

Some leading Western politicians were under the impression that the Kremlin leader and his foreign minister were ignoring reality and, as Baker said, were "in denial" about the demise of the Soviet Union as a major power.

On the other hand, the Baltic countries were still part of the Soviet Union, and NATO membership seemed light years away. And in some parts of Eastern Europe, peace-oriented dissidents were now in power, men like then-Czech President Vaclav Havel who, if he had had his way, would not only have dissolved the Warsaw Pact, but NATO along with it.

No Eastern European government was striving to join NATO in that early phase, and the Western alliance had absolutely no interest in taking on new members. It was too expensive, an unnecessary provocation of Moscow and, if worse came to worst, did the Western governments truly expect French, Italian or German soldiers to risk their lives for Poland and Hungary?

Then, in 1991, came the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the war in Bosnia, with its hundred thousand dead, raised fears of a Balkanization of Eastern Europe. And in the United States President Bill Clinton, following his inauguration in 1993, was searching for a new mission for the Western alliance.

Suddenly everyone wanted to join NATO, and soon NATO wanted to accept everyone.

The dispute over history was about to begin.

by fjallstrom on Sat Mar 7th, 2015 at 04:36:33 PM EST
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How quickly we forget the zeitgeist of an earlier era, and thus the conclusions which naturally follow there from. Plus, at that time, much of my knowledge of modern Germany were based on the very first edition of Geoffrey Barraclough's "Orgins of Modern Germany", which really started with a single short summary of the developments prior to the emergence of Prussia and then proceeded to describe the subsequent process of accretion for a brief to the Imperial War College in
Britain during WW II. I had found a copy of this in the Oklahoma State University library, while History was only my second minor subject and was fascinated. (I would very much like to find a copy as it is vastly different from the later editions.) The rest of my then knowledge of German history was from the course work I had in Russian, French and English 'national history course sequences. Add to that the fact that I was working 60+ hours a week and had a pre-school child at home, often missed the evening news on TV and primarily relied on the LA Times, which, at the time, had a fairly good foreign news section. Even so, little of what was in the Spiegel article was covered in any detail, mostly just the fact of the conferences.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Mar 7th, 2015 at 08:02:47 PM EST
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>we arrive at the logical conclusion that NATO's 'expansion' to East was indeed anti-Russian step in its essence.<

and the EU expansion?

by IM on Sat Mar 7th, 2015 at 05:16:42 AM EST
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I'm not sure that Russian elite (its various clans to be exact) has a firm view on relations with the EU and EU's expansion.

As I said, they tend to look for the American involvement in these projects and react to them. More often then not they are clumsy, aggressive and look like that they dislike the whole Western integration project even if they only really hate/fear few of its pieces (said American involvement primarily).

We saw that in summer 2013 when Kremlin mounted an economic pressure on Kiev due to the coming Eastern Partnership/DCFTA deal. They started blocking various Ukrainian export projects and creating media pressure. There was a nice Spiegel article on the prelude of the Maidan and Yanukovich's refusal to sign EaP, where they said that in the private meeting at the one of the Moscow airports Putin laid out the Russian capabilities to economically hurt Ukraine if the treaty with EU was signed. Yanuk came back to Kiev and asked some economic institute to calculate the whole possible damage. He told Stefan Fuhle that the estimate was in the area of 150B$. Fuhle was mad since he thought that Yanukovich is simply lying and is refusing to sign the EaP for selfish political reasons alone.

But in essence, Russian politicians usually say that they do not fear the EU alone, either because they are friendly to it or because they have a disdain for it. Putin said so repeatedly. Ironically, when they were hitting Ukraine over EaP/DCFTA issue they were again acting over fear that it will irreversibly suck Ukraine into American orbit, not just EU.

Russian have a true difficulty of systematically telling apart separate American geopolitical interests from European (either through EU or nationally) interests and from various other promotions of social norms (human rights, democracy, rule of law etc etc).

Sorry for long posts, I just want to be clear. :)  

by Prospero on Sat Mar 7th, 2015 at 10:40:00 AM EST
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Better write diaries than be sorry for long comments...

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Mar 7th, 2015 at 10:53:02 AM EST
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That just proves that the russion babbling about NATO is just a pretext. They don't want any ex-satellites moving out of their orbit in any way.
by IM on Sun Mar 8th, 2015 at 08:51:37 AM EST
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Eh, of course they don't like it. But usually they don't send tanks volunteers spending their holidays in the old brother republics.
by generic on Sun Mar 8th, 2015 at 09:07:51 AM EST
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I don't think it does.

Bitching about the broken promise serves to give a bit of morality and a more legitimate wrapping to the 'NATO is endangering Russia' position in front of the local and global auditorium.

But it is not the cause of that fear, nor its eventual falsehood (if it is the case) in any way makes their fear less real and less truthful when they speak of it.

by Prospero on Sun Mar 8th, 2015 at 04:49:02 PM EST
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