In February, 1990, US Secretary of State James Baker (1989-1992), representing President George HW Bush, traveled to Moscow to meet with Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev regarding the possible reunification of Germany and the removal of 300,000 Soviet troops. There is little serious dispute that as the Berlin Wall teetered, Baker promised Gorbachev “there would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east.” Gorbachev is reported to have taken the US at its word and responded “any extension of the zone of NATO is unacceptable.” “I agree,” replied Baker.”
Unfortunately, Gorbachev never got it in writing and most historians, at the time, agreed that NATO expansion was “ill conceived, ill-timed, and above all ill-suited to the realities of the post-Cold War world.”
President Bush’s National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and Bill Clinton’s Defense Secretary were also in agreement. But by 1994, that verbal contract had not deterred the concerted efforts of a handful of State Department policy professionals to subdue the overwhelming bureaucratic opposition according to James Goldgeier in his classic “Not Whether but When: The US Decision to Enlarge NATO.” By 1997, the Gorbachev-Baker-Bush agreement was a forgotten policy trinket as Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic were accepted into NATO. In 2004, former Soviet satellite countries Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were admitted and in 2009, Croatia and Albania joined NATO.
Currently, the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Azerbaijan are pending membership and all five former Soviet republics in Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan) provide NATO with logistical support for the US war in Afghanistan.
As the US-led NATO alliance tightens its grip on the Caucasus countries, the American public has not been informed about the Ukrainian Parliament’s approval for a series of NATO military exercises that would put US troops on Russia’s border, even though the Ukraine is not yet a member of NATO. Rapid Trident is a 12-nation military ‘interoperability’ exercise led by the US who will commit the majority of participating troops and Sea Breeze is a naval exercise that will take place on the Black Sea adjacent to Russian ports. The NATO buildup includes joint ground operations with Moldova and Romania.
Most recently, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the military alliance has cut Russia off from civilian and military cooperation and that there would be the deployment and reinforcement of military assets including increased air patrols over the Baltic Sea and AWACS surveillance flights over Poland and Romania.
It goes without saying that the NATO build up is in addition to the deployment of US troops and F-16 warplanes to Poland, F-15C warplanes to Lithuania and aircraft carriers to the Black and Mediterranean Seas.
All this raises the question about whether a promise and handshake in the world of international diplomacy is a real commitment and what is a 1991 international promise made by a Republican Administration worth in 1994 to a Democratic Administration? Apparently zilch.
In a 1999 article for the NATO Review “Not When but Who,” Goldgeier shed further light on the early political wrangling as the US became the ‘main driver’ of NATO enlargement beginning with President Bill Clinton’s declaration while attending his first NATO summit in 1994 that “it was no longer a question of whether NATO would enlarge but how and when.” Clinton offered no explanation of why the Baker-Gorbachev agreement was no longer relevant. So much for political handshakes.
As Goldgeier recounts, “the timing was left deliberately vague until after Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s re-election in July 1996.” While Yeltsin bears much of the responsibility for Russia’s predicament today, he was not a tough-minded figure and the remnants of the Soviet Union were confused and disorganized immediately after its 1991 disintegration. Goldgeier reports that “President Yeltsin tried unsuccessfully to get President Clinton to shake hands in Helsinki in March 1997 on a “gentleman’s agreement” that the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania would never become NATO members.” The result being that all three were admitted to NATO in 2004 and Russia was hoodwinked in its effort to limit NATO expansion by a more experienced, better organized State Department.
What all this means is that, behind the diplomatic landscape of verbal jujitsu and summit meetings, there had been a concerted effort at the US State Department with the creation of a NATO Enlargement Office to establish what has become a Russian Wall – an impenetrable US – defined barrier of estrangement along the Russian border meant to cut the country off from land and sea access – as NATO, itching for war, continues to bait Russia with isolation and threats.
The task of member recruitment fell to US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke’s in 1994 with the driving force of NATO enlargement being the introduction of neoliberal economics and prevention of a Russian resurgence. Unbeknownst to the American public, the impetus to expand NATO was not solely on the initiative of the Warsaw Pact countries but facilitated by the US State Department’s NATO Enlargement project.
With the west’s military encroachment and political intimidation of Russia, NATO and the US are currently organizing the most extensive buildup of weapons and combatants in the Caucasus since WWII.
In February, 2010, the Council on Foreign Relations sponsored a discussion on “A Little War that Shook the World” written by Ronald Asmus about the 5-day war in Georgia. While at State, Asmus, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs was responsible for “formulation and implementation of US policy on all European security institutions” which can only mean that he blazed the trail for Victoria Nuland’s recent efforts in Ukraine.
More than just a key participant in the State Department’s NATO Enlargement project (1997-2000), Asmus displayed the typical mindset of a professional foreign policy nerd who sees only one limited vision and that is US supremacy dominating every sphere of the planet. American Exceptionalism reeks as one constant theme throughout the interview and here are just a few choice morsels from that 2010 CFR discussion:
“we need to convince Russia that we are not their biggest problem. We are their potential partner but there has to be certain rules and pre-conditions for this partnership which is why we have to keep doors open even if we have to be tough with them on certain issues in which they have done things that are wrong and which violate the rules.”
“if Ukraine goes European, it will have huge impact on Russia in a positive sense; ultimately pull Russia in the right direction.”
“If you asked me in the 1990s when I was in the State Department in charge of NATO Enlargement and all these other things; had I ever thought about Ukraine and Georgia joining the NATO the honest answer was not really.. it wasn’t on my radar screen. I thought it was a miracle that we got Poland and Baltic States and everyone else.”
“…instead we spent a billion dollars to help Georgia after the war. We’re calling for a modest reinvestment of American political and economic leverage and muscle to stabilize the situation on the ground and help rebuild these countries.”
“We should be investing more, we should be more present and active on the ground in Ukraine in Georgia and all these places – without triggering the Russian hyper-reaction.”
When asked if Russia didn’t have a point that their buy-in was necessary for a safe, secure Europe, Asmus replied:
“I always say the project is not complete, the project that I have spent my life working on is not complete until we have a Russia that is part of the European security system. They all think I’m anti Russian because of everything I’ve done.”
Originally created as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, today’s NATO has become an international entity with a reach far beyond the Atlantic – and this time Russia is the Big Enchilada. As its participation in global bombing campaigns continue to justify its existence, NATO has a vested interest in creating war – just as the ultimate intent of the State Department’s Enlargement project has been war.
Renee Parsons was a staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives and a lobbyist on nuclear energy issues with Friends of the Earth. in 2005, she was elected to the Durango City Council and served as Councilor and Mayor. Currently, she is a member of the Treasure Coast ACLU Board.