Nation Contributing Editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fourth year, are at TheNation.com.)
Cohen notes that 20 years ago, in 1997, President Bill Clinton made the decision to expand NATO eastward. That same year, in order to placate post-Soviet Russia, then weak and heralded in Washington as America’s “strategic friend and partner,” the Russian-NATO Founding Act was adopted. It promised that expansion would entail no “permanent stationing of substantial combat forces.” Cohen takes the occasion of this anniversary year to ask whether NATO’s eastward expansion has created more insecurity than provide the security it promised. He divides the question into several subjects, which he and Batchelor discuss.
1. The expansion of the US-led military alliance, which began in Germany with 13 member states and now stretches to Russia’s borders with 29, is the largest and fastest growth of a “sphere of influence” (American) in modern peacetime history. Throughout the process, Russia has been repeatedly denounced for seeking any sphere of security, even on its own borders. NATO expansion included two broken promises to Russia that the Kremlin has never forgotten. In 1990, the Bush administration (and the West Germany government) assured Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that, in return for Russia’s agreeing to a united Germany in NATO, the alliance would “not expand one inch to the east.” (Though denied by a number of participants and commentators, the assurance has been confirmed by other participants as well as by archive researchers.) The other broken promise is unfolding today as NATO builds up permanent land, sea, and air forces near Russian territory, along with missile-defense installations. NATO “enlargement,” as it is sometimes benignly termed by its promoters, continues. Montenegro became a member in 2017 and the “door remains open,” officials say repeatedly, to the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine.
2. NATO is more than the world’s most powerful military alliance. With lavishly funded offices, representatives, think tanks, and other advocates not only in Brussels but in many Western capitals, it is also a powerful political-ideological-lobbying institution—perhaps the world’s most powerful corporation, also taking into account its multitude of bureaucratic employees in Brussels and elsewhere. In the United States alone, scarcely a week passes without media “news” and commentary produced by NATO-affiliated authors or based on NATO sources. (See, among other examples, the Atlantic Council and Newsweek.)