Tuesday, May 13, 2014

George Kennan on post-Soviet NATO expansion

A reminder that Tom Friedman once did some decent reporting: Foreign Affairs; Now a Word From X New York Times 05/02/2014.

In those days, he wasn't just talking to tech boosters and taxi drivers in various cities who happened to agree with his favorite slogan of the moment. He did an interview with Soviet expert George Kennan about the NATO expansion then under way. It's a reminder that current issues in Ukraine didn't just fall from the sky in 2014.

"I think it is the beginning of a new cold war," said Mr. Kennan from his Princeton home. "I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs." [my emphasis]
This is a question I have about today's position, also. I haven't updated myself on the positioning of forces in the eastern parts of NATO, though they have been reinforced some as part of the current diplomatic chess match over Ukraine. But there does seem to have been an assumption, especially risky in the case of the former Soviet Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, that we were taking on a military commitment that would never actually have to be taken that seriously.

"What bothers me is how superficial and ill informed the whole Senate debate was," added Mr. Kennan, who was present at the creation of NATO and whose anonymous 1947 article in the journal Foreign Affairs, signed "X," defined America's cold-war containment policy for 40 years. "I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don't people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime. [my emphasis]
This seems to be a chronic problem in US foreign policy: not thinking carefully about the allies we take on in given situations or crises, then dumping them without careful thought about the consequences. And the press doesn't help with its superficial, crisis-of-the-moment, how-will-it-affect-the-electoral-politics-of-the-moment obsessions.

It was important in 1998 and remains important today for the United States to have peaceful relations with Russia and especially to cooperate on further reduction of nuclear arms. That still needs to be the overriding consideration in bilateral relations.

"And Russia's democracy is as far advanced, if not farther, as any of these countries we've just signed up to defend from Russia," said Mr. Kennan, who joined the State Department in 1926 and was U.S. Ambassador to Moscow in 1952. "It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are -- but this is just wrong." [my emphasis]
The "bad reaction from Russia" was perhaps later in coming than Kennan may have expected, perhaps in part because of new chances for Russian cooperation with the West in the Global War on Terror and because of Germany and the EU having pursued closer economic ties with Russia over the years since.

I've written before about how former German Chancellor Schröder (SPD) has financial reason for being friendly to Russia. That means we should keep that in mind, but not that it requires us to disregard what he says about the situation in Ukraine. And that doesn't mean that his SPD critics on that point should necessarily be considered as speaking from pure concern for intellectual integrity. (Daniel Friedrich Sturm, "Gerhard Schröder hat sich kaufen lassen" Die Welt 30.04.14)

Since he is experienced as Chancellor and does have close ties to German and Russian business circles, it's worth paying attention to what he says. In an interview reported in Gerhard Schrcder verteidigt Feier mit Wladimir Putin Die Welt 11.05.2014, Schröder addressed the subject:

Ebenfalls warnte Schröder Deutschland und den Westen in dem Interview davor, in der Ukraine-Krise weitere Sanktionen gegen Russland zu verhängen. "Man sollte jetzt weniger über Sanktionen sprechen, sondern auch über russische Sicherheitsinteressen", sagte Schröder.

Eine Nato-Mitgliedschaft der Ukraine etwa sei "für Russland nicht akzeptabel. Ich höre stattdessen immer nur, der Westen müsste Russland und Putin isolieren", kritisierte der SPD-Politiker.

Ausgangpunkt für die Krise sieht Schröder im Agieren der Europäischen Union. "Der grundlegende Fehler lag in der EU-Assoziierungspolitik", sagte Schröder. "Die EU hat ignoriert, dass die Ukraine ein kulturell tief gespaltenes Land ist."

Schon immer hätten sich die Menschen im Süden und Osten der Ukraine eher nach Russland hin orientiert, und der Westen eher zur EU, sagte Schröder: "Über eine Assoziierung hätte man reden können, aber zeitgleich mit Russland! Das ,Entweder oder' – also entweder Assoziierung mit der EU oder Zollunion mit Russland – war der Anfangsfehler."

[In any case, Schröder warned Germany and the West in the interview against placing further sanctions against Russia in the Ukraine crisis. "One should now speak less about sanctions but rather speak more about Russian security interests," said Schröder.

For instance, NATO membership for Ukraine would be "for Russia unacceptable. I'm always hearing instead, the West must isolate Russia and Putin," criticized the SPD politician.

Schröder sees the beginning of the crisis in actions of the European union. "The basic mistake lay in the EU association policy," said Schröder. "One could have discussed an association, but at the same time with Russia! The 'either-or' - that is, either association with the EU or a tariff union with Russia - was the beginning mistake."]
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