Enlargement to the East – Has NATO Broken Promises?

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Status: 03.12.2021 8:32 a.m.

Russian President Putin is calling for new security guarantees for his country. After all, NATO broke its promise not to expand eastwards. But what is it about this promise?

By Silvia Stöber, tagesschau.de

Russian President Vladimir Putin is demanding legally binding security guarantees from the USA and its allies. They should rule out any further advances by NATO to the east and the stationing of offensive weapons systems in close proximity to the Russian Federation, he told foreign diplomats in Moscow on November 30th. The western partners have disregarded previous verbal promises that NATO would not expand eastwards.

Putin has been claiming this for years. In his speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007, he also spoke of such assurances by the Western partners after the Warsaw Treaty had collapsed. This pact of the Central and Eastern European states, under the control of the Soviet Union, existed from 1955 to 1991. It was the counterpart to NATO.

What was meant was the area of ​​the GDR

Discussions in February 1990 between the then US Secretary of State James Baker and Head of State Mikhail Gorbachev are essential for the assertion of a commitment to the Soviet Union. According to a memorandum, Baker said at the time: The Americans understood that guarantees were important for the Soviet Union and other European countries in the event that the United States would maintain its presence in Germany within the framework of NATO, “the current military sovereignty of NATO is not accepted Inches will extend eastward “. What was meant, however, was the area of ​​the GDR – at that time NATO membership of states of the Warsaw Pact, which still existed in 1990, was out of the question.

In Munich, Putin referred to a statement made by then NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner on May 17, 1990: “The very fact that we are ready not to station NATO forces behind the borders of the Federal Republic of Germany gives the Soviet Union solid security guarantees. ” Here, too, the area of ​​the GDR was meant. This becomes clear from another sentence Wörner said afterwards: “We could imagine a transition period in which a reduced number of Soviet troops would remain stationed in what is now the GDR.” The reunification took place months later, on October 3, 1990. The withdrawal of the western group of the Soviet armed forces from the territory of the former GDR dragged on until 1994.

Eastern Europeans did not yet think about joining NATO

Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s foreign policy advisor at the time, Horst Teltschik, later stated, according to a working paper of the Federal Academy for Security Policy, that negotiations on the transitional status for the GDR and Berlin area were being negotiated as long as Soviet troops were still stationed there. At no time was it about expanding NATO beyond Germany. Teltschik said he was at all of Kohl’s meetings with the heads of state and government at the time, including Gorbachev.

Gorbachev himself repeatedly quoted the words that NATO would not move an inch to the east, including in an interview with “Bild” in 2009. Five years later, however, he said on ZDF that in 1990 it was about GDR territory . A NATO expansion was not discussed at the time: “The Warsaw Pact still existed. The question did not arise at the time.” It is a myth that he was betrayed by the West.

Russia’s accession is being considered

The fact that an expansion of NATO to the east did not necessarily have to be directed against Russia was evident from the fact that in the 1990s Russia’s membership in the Western military alliance was discussed. But the differences between the military remained too great. Instead, the NATO-Russia Act was signed in May 1997, which also established the NATO-Russia Council. This gave Russian diplomats access to NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Only then did the accession talks with the Central European countries begin. NATO assured that no nuclear weapons, no command centers and no troops with a strength of more than 10,000 soldiers per country would be stationed in the acceding countries. Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined in 1999, and in 2004 Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, among others.

Tensions in the new millennium

With the war in Kosovo in 1999 and after Putin’s rise to power, relations deteriorated. At the time, US President George W. Bush contributed to this.

Bush campaigned for the admission of Ukraine and Georgia at the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, but only received a general approval for their accession, without a timetable (Membership Action Plan – MAP) and a time horizon.

No intervention in the war in Georgia

Chancellor Angela Merkel and others spoke out against the accession of the two former Soviet republics in the face of massive criticism from Russia. The relevant question to this day is whether NATO would be able to meet its assistance obligation under Article 5. This affects their military capabilities in view of the highly armed and very mobile Russian armed forces. There is also the question of whether there is enough political will in the NATO countries. Surveys by the US polling institute Pew Research Center have shown for years that popular support in many NATO countries for operations in the Baltic NATO countries is not high.

In the war in Georgia in 2008, which is now being discussed again in view of the tensions surrounding Ukraine, neither NATO nor the USA intervened alone militarily. To this day, the West is pursuing the course towards Georgia and Ukraine to strengthen the self-defense forces of these countries and otherwise to impose economic sanctions on Russia.

Even if Ukraine and Georgia have anchored NATO accession in their constitutions and polls have shown a relatively high level of approval for years, accession in the foreseeable future is unrealistic – even if it does not break any alleged political promises to Russia. However, if NATO, under pressure from Putin, gave a guarantee that the two states would not join, this would violate their foreign policy sovereignty.


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