By James Emery*
Document Number 119 of the Gorbachev Foundation archives contains a detailed transcript of the discussion between Soviet General Secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev and US Secretary of State James Baker on February 9, 1990. This document shows that James Baker repeatedly assured Gorbachev that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) would not expand.
The accuracy of Document 119 are supported by unclassified and declassified documents in the United States (US), Great Britain, Germany, and France. These records verify that the leaders in these countries assured Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand. Additionally, the records of conversations and correspondence between NATO members further corroborates their emphasis on assuring the Russians that NATO would not expand.
All of these leaders were concerned about assuring Gorbachev that NATO would not exploit the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact as Soviet forces withdrew from Eastern Europe. A few of the leaders suggested that NATO would be reduced, since the Soviet threat and the Cold War had greatly diminished. Reports of these assurances can also be found at NATO archives in Brussels, Belgium.
These records prove that during a two year period, US President George H. W. Bush, US Secretary of State James Baker, US CIA Director Robert Gates, British Prime Ministers Margret Thatcher and John Major, British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, French President Francois Mitterrand, NATO Secretary General Manfred Worner, and others gave assurances to Russia that NATO would not expand into the former Soviet satellites and territories of Central and Eastern Europe.
In a January 31, 1990 speech in Bavaria on German unification, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher stated that NATO should not expand towards the Soviet Union, even suggesting that after unification, the former territory of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), also known as East Germany, not be militarized or occupied by NATO.
Genscher met with James Baker, prior to Baker’s February 9, 1990 meeting with Gorbachev, stressing the importance of assuring Gorbachev that NATO would not exploit events by expanding eastward. Baker embraced this policy, emphatically telling Gorbachev – three times during their meeting – that NATO would not expand eastward. Baker told Gorbachev “Americans understand the importance for the USSR and Europe of guarantees that not an inch of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.”
James Baker told Gorbachev that European countries want the United States to keep its military presence in Europe, but that these troops would return to the US from any country that does not want their presence. Baker continued discussing the future of NATO, again stating that NATO’s military alliance would not expand towards Russia. Gorbachev reaffirmed that an expansion of NATO was not acceptable. Secretary of State, James Baker, representing the US government, responded, “We agree with that.”
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 10, 1990, the day after James Baker’s meeting with Gorbachev. Unclassified documents show that Baker briefed Kohl via written correspondence before the meeting, stressing Gorbachev’s concerns about the eastward expansion of NATO. Kohl obtained Gorbachev’s support for German unification after assuring him that NATO would not expand towards the Soviet Union.
During 1989, East European countries declared their independence, breaking away from the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev courageously and altruistically allowed their defection, in defiance of the Brezhnev Doctrine that had previously used military force to prevent countries from leaving the Soviet Sphere of Influence.
The Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989 and East and West Germany were united on October 3, 1990. This unification still required a formal treaty between the German Democratic Republic (GDR) or East Germany and The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) or West Germany, along with the four occupying powers – United States, Great Britain, France, and Soviet Union – before it became official.
German officials referred to the joining of the GDR and FRG as German “unity” or German “unification,” avoiding the term “reunification.” October 3 became a national holiday known as German Unity Day. Many Germans often referred to this as “the turn” or “the turning point,” symbolizing the dramatic historical shift.
The Soviet Union, United Kingdom, and Western Europe were against German unification. Having fought Germany in two world wars, they did not want to see a united, independent Germany that could build up their military and develop their own nuclear weapons. These fears were diminished by the US assurance that keeping a united Germany in NATO would prevent potential militarism, while ensuring accountability and control.
Mikhail Gorbachev could have vetoed the unification of Germany or used Soviet troops to retain control of Eastern Europe. Instead, Gorbachev and other political and military officials in the Soviet Union facilitated their independence, trusting that US, European, and NATO officials – and their successors – had the integrity to honor and abide by their respective country’s agreements.
The German unification used a Two-Plus-Four process. The German Democratic Republic and The Federal Republic of Germany reached an agreement, followed by the four powers that had occupied Germany after WWII – the United States, Great Britain, France, and Soviet Union. The Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany was signed by all six participants on December 9, 1990 and became effective on March 15, 1991.
The Four-Plus-Two versus Two-Plus-Four structure was hotly debated. The Four-Plus-Two process called for the four occupying powers to reach an agreement first, as to the specifics of the unification, with the two Germany’s working from that template. German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, pushed for the Two-Plus-Four formula in which the two Germanys took the lead in working out the details and charting their own future.
Betrayal and Shame
US and NATO members continued to assure the Soviet Union that it would not expand eastward. In March 1991, British Prime Minister John Major reaffirmed to Soviet officials that there would be no NATO expansion to the east. The United States and other countries continued to make similar assurances, and during a meeting in July 1991, Manfred Worner, the Secretary General of NATO, told Soviet officials that NATO was firmly against any expansion.
Mikhail Gorbachev, trusting the word and integrity of US and European leaders, did not demand that assurances of NATO’s agreement to contain itself be put into writing. Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for his efforts in promoting peace and democracy, while reducing global threats.
In reviewing the transcripts, reports, photographs, and videos of Gorbachev with Reagan, Bush, and Baker, what stands out is Gorbachev’s openness and integrity. His facial expressions and body language reinforce his sincerity, trust, and good will. It is from this psychological and emotional centering that Gorbachev took US, European, and NATO officials at their word. To sully these moments that reflect the end of the Cold War by aggressively expanding NATO to threaten Russia, in part, to generate trillion dollar profits for the US MIC, is deceitful and dishonorable.
Ignoring their promises, NATO doubled in size, adding 14 countries and making overtures to Georgia and Ukraine. Russian protests over NATO’s aggressive eastward expansion were ignored. NATO lost its ethical centering, while dangerously drifting away from the core principles of its initial charter and purpose. While NATO claims to be defensive in nature, unbridled hawks and opportunists – led by the endless war policies of the United States – turned NATO into a belligerent, duplicitous, threatening bully.
In 1999, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined NATO. NATO and US neoconservatives pushed for more members, adding Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Slovenia in 2004. Albania and Croatia joined in 2009, Montenegro in 2017, and North Macedonia in 2020. NATO’s push provided more troops for the ill-advised wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in addition to massive profits for the US MIC.
Russia has repeatedly stated that it was against NATO expansion towards Russian borders. The harsh memories of German invasions during WWI and WWII still linger in Russia. They lost over 35 million people during these two wars, in addition to the devastating destruction of their country.
The aggressive expansion of NATO – combined with overtures to Georgia and Ukraine – reactivated the Cold War, making Europe and the world significantly less safe. It is deviously deceptive, unethical, and shameful for US, NATO, and European representatives to claim there was never any assurances or agreement with Russia, not to expand NATO. These lies are exposed by their own records.
Provoking Russia to Attack Ukraine
NATO’s persistence for the addition of Georgia and Ukraine provoked Russia into limited invasions of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, following US supported coups in these two countries. These limited Russian incursions were strategic. The presence of Russian troops and political divisions in Georgia and Ukraine made them temporarily unqualified to join NATO, based upon the Alliance’s membership guidelines.
The violent Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 followed the US and NATO’s relentless, belligerent and threatening insistence that Ukraine would join the NATO military alliance. Russia has repeatedly insisted that Ukraine and Georgia remain independent, rather than join NATO, which would place US and NATO military bases, troops, missiles, aircraft, and other weapons along the combined 1,970 mile (3,170 km) Ukraine and Georgia land and sea borders with Russia. If NATO takes Ukraine, Moscow is vulnerable, being just 305 miles (490 km) up the M3 highway from the Ukraine border.
This is the equivalent of placing Russian military bases, troops, missiles, aircraft, and other weapons along the entire 1,954 mile (3,145 km) US border with Mexico, from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
US and NATO officials repeatedly denounced Russia’s concerns, stating that each country has the right to make their own alliances and security agreements. In 1962, the US risked nuclear war over Russian troops in Cuba. If Mexico made a security alliance with Russia, US military forces would likely invade Mexico, if a predictable CIA coup attempt failed to overthrow the legitimate government.
Russia’s attack of Ukraine was brutally wrong, but it was deliberately and strategically provoked by the US and NATO, who knowingly sacrificed Ukraine in their pursuit of nefarious military, political, and economic objectives. NATO and the US can feign surprise and outrage over the Russian invasion, but they deviously caused it.
The security, prosperity, and sustainability of Ukraine is best achieved by it remaining neutral and nonaligned, forging economic agreements and trade with Russia, Europe, and others. The US and NATO intentionally undermined this option by repeatedly stating that Ukraine will join the NATO military alliance, escalating hostilities and provoking Putin to attack, as they knew he would. If the US and NATO cared about Ukraine, they could have prevented this invasion by suggesting that Ukraine remain independent, embracing economic – but not military – alliances, at this time.
The Reagan – Gorbachev Miracle and Legacy
During the 1980s, US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev – both mavericks within their respective countries – found common ground to forge friendship and agreements that significantly improved relations between these super powers, reducing nuclear proliferation and the threat of war. Their work – and a contained NATO – made the world safer for everyone, while encouraging significant future cuts to bloated and wasteful military and defense spending.
US Vice President George H.W. Bush continued the Reagan legacy of good relations with Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet Union after becoming President on January 20, 1989. On July 31, 1991, Bush and Gorbachev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START 1), which called for a significant reduction of US and Russian nuclear arsenals. This was a conclusion of nuclear reductions previously proposed by President Ronald Reagan.
The legacy of the Reagan, Gorbachev, and Bush negotiations ignored overly suspicious militarists within their respective governments to forge friendships and agreements – grounded in integrity and trust. These should not be sullied by unsavory opportunists and war-profiteers, who are incapable of grasping the significance and honor that are implicit in giving one’s word to an agreement.
The United States and NATO have embraced unbridled expansion and militarism, strategically and deliberately provoking a war in Ukraine and making the world less safe. Their hostile and duplicitous actions during the last two decades are transparent, sullying their reputation, which will diminish their capacity to solicit vital information, cooperation, and support from people and countries around the world. Trying to force collaboration by threatening and attacking countries, is a bit like telling people, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”
It is from the position of integrity, fair play, tempered strength, and measured response that the United States and NATO will garner international respect, trust, confidence, and cooperation – at individual and state level – that are essential to enhance the safety, security, and sustainability of the organization and its individual members.
Perhaps, NATO should erect statues of congenial moments between President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev to remind them that mutual respect and consideration facilitates peaceful coexistence. Much of this is a predetermined choice regarding the best way to sustain security, either by making friends or creating enemies and endless wars.
President Reagan was fond of telling stories to make a point, so I’ll share one that I learned as a child. The sun and the wind engaged in conversation, while watching a man walk down a road. The wind challenged the sun to a contest to see which of them could force the coat off the man. The wind went first, battering the man with cold, strong winds to blow off his coat, but the man tightened his grip, holding the coat closer to his body. Now it was the sun’s turn. It simply provided warmth that compelled the man to voluntarily remove his coat, while enjoying the pleasant weather. Perhaps, some of our leaders should focus on the wisdom and benefits of getting along with others, instead of escalating hostilities to ensure exorbitant expenditures on weapons and war.
*James Emery is a cultural anthropologist who has dealt with issues and events in the US and overseas for over thirty-five years, from political and economic issues to narcotics trafficking and insurgencies. He conducted extensive interviews and research in the US, Russia, Europe, and other regions, including combat zones and conflict areas. He may be contacted at [email protected]