Gorbachev agreed to the stunning concession on the basis of “assurances that NATO would not extend its jurisdiction to the east, `not one inch’ in [Secretary of State] Jim Baker’s exact words.” This reminder by Jack Matlock, the leading Soviet expert of the Foreign Service and US ambassador to Russia in the crucial years 1987 to 1991, is confirmed by Strobe Talbott, the highest official in charge of Eastern Europe in the Clinton administration. On the basis of a full review of the diplomatic record, Talbott reports that “Secretary of State Baker did say to then Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze, in the context of the Soviet Union’s reluctant willingness to let a unified Germany remain part of NATO, that NATO would not move to the east.”
Clinton quickly reneged on that commitment, also dismissing Gorbachev’s effort to end the Cold War with cooperation among partners. NATO also rejected a Russian proposal for a nuclear-weapons-free-zone from the Arctic to the Black Sea, which would have “interfered with plans to extend NATO,” strategic analyst and former NATO planner Michael MccGwire observes.
Rejecting these possibilities, the US took a triumphalist stand that threatened Russian security and also played a major role in driving Russia to severe economic and social collapse, with millions of deaths. The process was sharply escalated by Bush’s further expansion of NATO, dismantling of crucial disarmament agreements, and aggressive militarism. Matlock writes that Russia might have tolerated incorporation of former Russian satellites into NATO if it “had not bombed Serbia and continued expanding. But, in the final analysis, ABM missiles in Poland, and the drive for Georgia and Ukraine in NATO crossed absolute red lines. The insistence on recognizing Kosovo independence was sort of the very last straw. Putin had learned that concessions to the U.S. were not reciprocated, but used to promote U.S. dominance in the world. Once he had the strength to resist, he did so,” in Georgia.
Clinton officials argue that expansion of NATO posed no military threat, and was no more than a benign move to allow former Russian satellites to join the EU (Talbott). That is hardly persuasive. Austria, Sweden and Finland are in the EU but not NATO. If the Warsaw Pact had survived and was incorporating Latin American countries – let alone Canada and Mexico – the US would not easily be persuaded that the Pact is just a Quaker meeting. There should be no need to review the record of US violence to block mostly fanciful ties to Moscow in “our little region over here,” the Western hemisphere, to quote Secretary of War Henry Stimson when he explained that all regional systems must be dismantled after World II, apart from our own, which are to be extended.
To underscore the conclusion, in the midst of the current crisis in the Caucasus, Washington professes concern that Russia might resume military and intelligence cooperation with Cuba at a level not remotely approaching US-Georgia relations, and not a further step towards a significant security threat.
Missile defense too is presented here as benign, though leading US strategic analysts have explained why Russian planners must regard the systems and their chosen location as the basis for a potential threat to the Russian deterrent, hence in effect a first-strike weapon. The Russian invasion of Georgia was used as a pretext to conclude the agreement to place these systems in Poland, thus “bolstering an argument made repeatedly by Moscow and rejected by Washington: that the true target of the system is Russia,” AP commentator Desmond Butler observed.
Matlock is not alone in regarding Kosovo as an important factor. “Recognition of South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence was justified on the principle of a mistreated minority’s right to secession – the principle Bush had established for Kosovo,” the Boston Globe editors comment.
But there are crucial differences. Strobe Talbott recognizes that “there’s a degree of payback for what the U.S. and NATO did in Kosovo nine years ago,” but insists that the “analogy is utterly and profoundly false.” No one is a better position to know why it is profoundly false, and he has lucidly explained the reasons, in his preface to a book on NATO’s bombing of Serbia by his associate John Norris. Talbott writes that those who want to know “how events looked and felt at the time to those of us who were involved” in the war should turn to Norris’s well-informed account. Norris concludes that “it was Yugoslavia’s resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform – not the plight of Kosovar Albanians – that best explains NATO’s war.”