Putin’s Bogus Blame-NATO Excuse
Plus, Ukraine’s Unexpected Hero.
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CATHY YOUNG on Putin’s Bogus Blame-NATO Excuse.
Much has been made of the question of whether the West deceived Russia with assurances given to Mikhail Gorbachev—then the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party—that if Germany was reunified and became a NATO country, NATO would not be enlarged further toward Russian borders. Many analysts have argued that the non-enlargement pledge was a myth; among others, this case was forcefully made by Mark Kramer, director of Harvard’s Cold War Studies Project, in a 2009 Wilson Quarterly article. Documents declassified in late 2017 and made public by the National Security Archive suggest that the answer is complicated. Stephen F. Cohen, the late historian who became infamous as a Putin apologist at the time of the Crimea annexation, saw those records as grounds to claim (as the headline put it) that “the U.S. betrayed Russia” with a promise not to enlarge NATO “one inch eastward.” Yet, writing in the American Interest, retired U.S. Foreign Service officer Kirk Bennett pointed out that the promise referred specifically to not moving NATO forces into the former East Germany after reunification and was made solely in that context. As Bennett points out, Gorbachev himself confirmed this in a 2014 interview (though he has also said that he considered eventual NATO enlargement to be a violation of the spirit of the pledge).
The declassified documents show an even more complex picture with regard to the NATO enlargement issue under Boris Yeltsin, essentially confirming the account given by Ira L. Straus, founder and U.S. coordinator of the Committee on Eastern Europe and Russia in NATO, in a 1997 paper and a lengthy 2003 article. Straus stressed that when the admission of former Eastern bloc countries to NATO first came up for serious consideration in 1993, it was with a view to more extensive engagement and partnership with Russia—including possible Russian membership in a revamped NATO at some point in the future.
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Zelensky has inspired the world and led a continent to change its foreign policy. But don’t forget that the GOP enablers who are now wearing Ukrainian flag pins were praising Vladimir Putin just eight days ago. Rachel Vindman joins Charlie Sykes on today’s podcast.
Ukraine Coverage 🇺🇦
TIM MILLER’s Not My Party: Zelensky is Ukraine’s Unexpected Hero.
MICHAEL MAZZA: Taiwan and China Keep Eyes on Ukraine.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal last month before the Ukraine invasion, Oriana Skylar Mastro and Elbridge Colby argued against additional deployments of U.S. forces to Europe to shore up NATO. “Sending more resources to Europe is the definition of getting distracted,” they write. “The U.S. should remain committed to NATO’s defense but husband its critical resources for the primary fight in Asia, and Taiwan in particular.” While some Taiwanese that I spoke to agreed with Mastro and Colby’s contention that Taiwan is more important to American interests than Ukraine, I did not find agreement with the insistence that Ukraine is a distraction. And while there are concerns about resource distribution, it is not at all clear that husbanding resources for Asia will provide the deterrent boost that Mastro and Colby claim.
Rather, Xi Jinping might interpret the husbanding of resources as proof positive that American power is in terminal decline. The effect, one argument goes, may be to further convince Xi Jinping that his assessment of a rising East and declining West is correct. If America the Decadent is unable to exercise global leadership in the way it has since World War II; if it is offloading responsibilities to others; if it must conserve resources for a future fight—well, that is an America that China can defeat in battle, Xi might think, even if the arithmetic says the United States is ready for such a fight. And, of course, who is to say that in the event of a conflict over Taiwan, Washington would not again decide to “husband its critical resources” for a time when national interests, even more narrowly defined, are at stake?
To be sure, the military balance in Asia matters greatly. But it is not all that matters. Adversary perceptions of American national power, national will, and national character all factor into decisions about the use of force. Right now and in the weeks and months to come, my conversations suggest, it is America’s approach to Europe, not Asia, that will primarily shape those perceptions in China.
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