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Published On: Thu, Dec 14th, 2017

Moscow’s claim about promises not to expand NATO unsubstantiated but revealing

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia – especially in its State-funded media – promotes the idea that the West – in exchange for Moscow’s willingness to accept the reunification of Germany – promised not to expand NATO to former Warsaw Treaty members. Core NATO members, for their part, insist that the issue had been discussed but that no formal guarantees were given. Documents analyzed by George Washington University support western claims. However, the dispute is – first of all – highlighting the fact that so-called superpowers have usurped the right, or the perceived right, to dictate the internal and external policy of their not so powerful neighbors and allies.

Stoi_Halt_Germany_Die Mauer_The WallProminent western statesmen like former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas who participated in negotiations with the Soviet Union up to the so-called reunification of Germany, state that promises were made to Moscow that NATO would not expand the Alliance to include former Warsaw Treaty members such as Poland and the Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, among others.

However, even Dumas who is known for his good relations with Moscow, never went as far as stating that there had been given any binding guarantees. Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, who is critical of NATO’s expansion and NATO’s post-cold-war role as global force, has repeatedly stressed that “promises” were merely oral statements of intent, and that the West has kept all of its binding commitments following the reunification of Germany.

It should be noted that this “reunification” only included the territory of the German Democratic Republic (DDR) and the Federal Republic of Germany (BRD) and not any of the other territories that were taken from Germany after the capitulation of Germany’s armed forces in 1945.

George Washington University has attempted to clarify what exactly was promised and how, collecting a wealth of declassified documents from the time Germany’s so-called reunification was negotiated. The analyzed documents show that top officials from the U.S., Germany and the U.K. all offered assurances to President Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze that NATO would not expand eastwards toward the Russian borders.

The documents reveal that the issue – not to expand NATO eastward to include former Warsaw Pact members, was discussed and expressed as intention. However, the documents do not substantiate Moscow’s allegations about “guarantees”. Neither Russia nor any other country have yet produced documentary evidence for such guarantees in the form of a signed contract or treaty.

Keeping Germany in line

Post-WW II German occupation borders and territories. Areas in beige indicate territories east of the Oder-Neisse line that were attached to Poland and the USSR. The Saar Protectorate, on the lefthand side of the map, is also shown in beige.  Berlin is the multinational area shown within the red Soviet zone. (source: Wikipedia)

Post-WW II German occupation borders and territories. Areas in beige indicate territories east of the Oder-Neisse line that were attached to Poland and the USSR. The Saar Protectorate, on the lefthand side of the map, is also shown in beige. Berlin is the multinational area shown within the red Soviet zone. (source: Wikipedia)

German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher was charged with negotiating with the Soviet Union for Moscow’s consent for the (partial) reunification of Germany. Genscher understood that the possible expansion of NATO to East Germany (GDR) was a sensitive issue and that Moscow would be highly suspicious of any NATO expansion toward the Russian border. British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd agreed with Genscher in that regard and negotiations were conducted on the basis of the assumption that appeasing Moscow with statements of intent was the way to proceed.

The U.S., on the other hand, keen to keep unified Germany in NATO rather than grant it a neutral status, went along with Genscher’s view. On February 9, Secretary of State James Baker told Shevardnadze:

A neutral Germany would undoubtedly acquire its own independent nuclear capability. However, a Germany that is firmly anchored in a changed NATO, by that I mean a NATO that is far less of a military organization, much more of a political one, would have no need for independent capability. There would, of course, have to be ironclad guarantees that NATO’s jurisdiction or forces would not move eastward. And this would have to be done in a manner that would satisfy Germany’s neighbors to the east.

Rarely discussed, this statement substantiates the fact that the United States and the Soviet Union would be able to find a consensus, even on Germany’s NATO membership, provided that Germany would not rise as a militarily dominant and independently-acting central European power.

On the same day Baker reassured Gorbachev “If we maintain a presence in a Germany that is a part of NATO, there would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east.” That, he made clear, was the concession the Western bloc was offering in exchange for keeping Germany in NATO. Gorbachev replied that, in any case, “a broadening of the NATO zone is not acceptable.” “We agree with that,” Baker responded.

It is worth noting that there has never been presented any evidence to suggest that Germany would have counted on building its own nuclear weapons capabilities. There is, however, circumstantial evidence that suggest quite the opposite; That is the fact that Germany, in 2011, decided to decommission all of its nuclear power plants.

Finally, it should also be noted that Germany still has no formal peace treaty with Russia, the USA, France or the UK, that the 2+4 Treaty is no peace treaty, and that permanent UN Security Council members Russia, USA, UK, and France thus far haven’t adhered to the UN General Assembly resolution that calls for a removal of the UN Charter’s so-called enemy state clause that still designates Germany as enemy to the UN. Considering that Germany – de jure – still is at war with Moscow (plus the USA, UK and France), one might also argue that Genscher legally used deceit when he was negotiating with Moscow and who could blame him for that. What Moscow could do would be to blame Genscher for being a German patriot who knew that deceit – or a negotiation strategy that expresses intent without implementing the specifics in the final contract –  is legal in wartime.

In talks held simultaneously to the Baker – Gorbachev – Shevardnadze talks, CIA Director Robert Gates put the same proposal to KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov. As negotiations went on, Moscow pushed for a common security structure in Europe based on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The USA, UK and France agreed. The USA and UK, however, wanted to keep NATO and so did France, even though opposition against NATO in France was about as expressed as in Germany. It should be noted that good and well half of Germans don’t see Germany as permanently anchored in NATO and that polls show that at least 40 percent would rather see Germany leave NATO sooner than later. About half of Germans would like to see Germany being on equal distance and equally good terms with both Washington and Moscow.

In March, 1991, six months after Germany’s “reunification”, British Prime Minister John Major was still assuring Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov, who would soon take part in a conservative coup against Gorbachev that would end up destroying the Soviet Union, that NATO was not going eastward, and that he “did not himself foresee circumstances now or in the future where East European countries would become members of NATO.”

NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner, for his part, assured a Russian delegation, which reported back to President Boris Yeltsin, that 13 out of 16 NATO members were against expansion as well as Woerner himself. However, none of the reassurances ever led to specific and binding agreements.

Should Moscow dictate former Warsaw Pact members security and foreign policy?

Germans are painfully aware of the fact that Washington and to a lesser degree London dictate much of Germany’s defense and foreign policy even though very few Germans have ever studied the 2+4 Treaty and other documents sufficiently to fully understand how and why that is so. German politicians, German media and German schools and institutes of higher learning don’t exactly encourage studies and discussions of the subject.

However, most Germans have an almost instinctive understanding for countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and despite all bad blood that has flown and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Germans even for Poland. It is the understanding that these countries perceive Russia as a potential threat. After all, non of them volunteered to join the Soviet Union. The same can be said for Romania and other former Warsaw Pact members.

Considering that all of these countries are sovereign states and UN members, isn’t it amazing that Moscow, Washington and others discuss whether or not they should be allowed to make sovereign decisions about their defense and foreign policy? The absence of an honest and frank debate about this “hot potato” might ultimately become more destructive than Washington’s and Moscow’s occasional posturing and positioning about NATO’s eastward expansion and non-binding, allegedly broken promises. The very sobering matter of fact is that Moscow did not insist on having points prohibiting NATO’s eastwards expansion included in the documents it signed. Moscow, if you want a Mercedes, don’t sign a contract for a Lada, it’s as simple as that, even though we may want to discuss whether a Moscow drivers license is valid in Germany, Poland, Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania.

CH/L – nsnbc 14.12.2017

Relevant documents at George Washington University available HERE

About the Author

- Dr. Christof Lehmann is the founder and editor of nsnbc. He is a psychologist and former independent political consultant on conflict, conflict resolution and a wide range of other political issues. In March 2013 he established nsnbc as a daily, independent, international on-line newspaper. He can be contacted at nsnbc international at

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  1. Illarion Bykov says:

    So the documents show a promise (or “intention”) was given, and then violated. But the argument is made the promise was not “formal” enough (an attempt to get off on a legal technicality) — so Putin has no right to distrust NATO despite dozens of examples of such NATO unreliability, hypocrisy, and duplicity.

    Then the error/dishonesty is compounded by arguing the issue is small countries’ freedom to an independent foreign policy, when the real issue is NATO duplicity. Putin and Yeltsin did not stop any small countries from joining NATO. Putin is telling the world NATO cannot be trusted. Joining NATO was not the idea of the small nations. On the contrary, it was NATO who proposed, persuaded, and pressured them to join contrary to earlier primises while refusing to allow Russia to join. They insist it is not an “anti-Russia” alliance, contrary to all the facts about NATO behavior. They insist it is a “defensive” alliance, despite the fact NATO’s wars have been 100% offensive, aggressive, and invasive (Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Lybia)

    The point is, NATO cannot be trusted, because all their actions have been dishonest, hypocritical, and aggressive. Joining NATO for eastern European nations will make them less safe, not more safe. They will make themselves prime targets and battlefields in case NATO launches its planned invasion of Russia.

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