Not one inch eastward

NATO expansion eastward since 1990, “Who promised what to whom on NATO expansion?” according to declassified US, Soviet, German, British and French documents.

History and documents

Did the United States really promise the Soviet Union during the 1990 negotiations on German reunification that NATO would not expand into Eastern Europe? Since the end of the Cold War, an array of Soviet/Russian policymakers have charged that NATO expansion violates a US pledge advanced in 1990 but some Western scholars and political leaders dispute that the United States made any such commitment.

US Secretary of State James Baker’s famous “not one inch eastward” assurance about NATO expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, was part of a series of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials (including Boris Yeltsin) throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and on into 1991.

These documents show that multiple national leaders were considering and rejecting Central and Eastern European membership in NATO as of early 1990 and through 1991. The discussions of NATO in the context of German unification negotiations in 1990 were not at all narrowly limited to the status of East German territory and that subsequent Soviet and Russian complaints about being misled about NATO expansion were founded in written contemporaneous memos and telegrams at the highest levels. 

The documents reinforce former CIA Director Robert Gates’s criticism of “pressing ahead with expansion of NATO eastward in the 1990s, when Gorbachev and others were led to believe that wouldn’t happen.” The key phrase, buttressed by the documents, is “led to believe.”

These documents, by the American National Security Archive at George Washington University, provide evidence supporting the Soviet/Russian position. Although no particular, non-expansion pledge was ever codified, US policymakers presented their Soviet counterparts with implicit and informal assurances in 1990 strongly suggesting that NATO would not expand in post–Cold War Europe if the Soviet Union consented to German reunification.

The whole proof material is massive and fully convincing, here below only a small part of it. Declassified documents show security assurances against NATO expansion to Soviet leaders from James Baker, Georg Bush, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Helmut Kohl, Robert Gates, Francois Mitterrand, Margaret Thatcher, Douglas Hurd, John Major and Manfred Woerner.

The National Security Archive at George Washington University compiled these declassified documents for a panel discussion on November 10, 2017 at the annual conference of the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) in Chicago under the title “Who Promised What to Whom on NATO Expansion?”

The documents also show, however, that the United States used the reunification negotiations to exploit Soviet weaknesses by depicting a mutually acceptable post–Cold War security environment, while actually seeking a system dominated by the United States and opening the door to NATO’s eastward expansion. The results of this analysis carry implications for international relations theory, diplomatic history and current US-Russian relations. 

The process of NATO eastward enlargement since Germany unification up-today and the postures of each great powers in that process, is a fascinating story of the post-Cold War reality. I am going to write and publish that story later in the form of a new article on my website.

Back today

Coming back to present tense situation in and around Ukraine, I would like to quote the recent words of Scott Ritter, a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer and a UN weapons inspector:

“Russia’s plan to invade Ukraine exists only in the US and NATO imagination”

I have nothing to add to his comment.

Some document links:

NATO Expansion: What Gorbachev Heard

Declassified documents show security assurances against NATO expansion to Soviet leaders from Baker, Bush, Genscher, Kohl, Gates, Mitterrand, Thatcher, Hurd, Major, and Woerner

When Washington Assured Russia NATO Would Not Expand

How America’s failure to honor a 1990 commitment led to many of today’s global crises.

By Andrew J. Bacevich • December 20, 2017

Deal or No Deal? The End of the Cold War and the U.S. Offer to Limit NATO Expansion

Joshua R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson  Posted Online May 05, 2016

© 2016 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

International Security Volume 40 | Issue 4 | Spring 2016, p.7-44

NATO’s Eastward Expansion Did the West Break Its Promise to Moscow?

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has accused the West of breaking promises made after the fall of the Iron Curtain, saying that NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe violated commitments made during the negotiations over German reunification. Newly discovered documents from Western archives support the Russian position.

By Uwe Klußmann, Matthias Schepp and Klaus Wiegrefe November 26, 2009 

U.S. Embassy Bonn Confidential Cable to Secretary of State on the speech of the German Foreign Minister: Genscher Outlines His Vision of a New European Architecture.

Mr. Hurd to Sir C. Mallaby (Bonn). Telegraphic N. 85: Secretary of State’s Call on Herr Genscher: German Unification.

Memorandum of Conversation between James Baker and Eduard Shevardnadze in Moscow.

Memorandum of conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and James Baker in Moscow.

Memorandum of conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and Helmut Kohl