The U.S. Empire has its iron rules, and you cannot expect that it doesn’t use its power to pursue its interests. But the means can vary a lot.
European media are fanning the flame of war in Ukraine, apparently unaware that it would happen in their courtyard. As with the Euro missiles crisis at the end of ’70, Washington is always delighted to sacrifice Europe, playing it against Russia. Informed to dead by too much news, the people are often unable to check the accuracy, especially when blatant propaganda depicts the sources as trustable by default.
Take the American secretary of state Antony Blinken; he recently said about Russia: “One country does not have the right to exert a sphere of influence. That notion should be relegated to the dustbin of history.” Stop the world; I want to get off. Unbelievable, have you ever heard about the Monroe Doctrine, the invasion of Guatemala in 1954, the coups and involvement in Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Grenada, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay. Has the secretary of state ever read Eduardo Galeano’s The Open Veins of Latin America? Chavez uselessly presented the book to Obama in 2009 (a long seller, despite the author half repudiated it late in life, mainly for the style).
Like the other historical empires, the U.S. Empire has its iron rules, and you cannot expect that it doesn’t use its power to pursue its interests. But the means (including its farsighted compromise capacity) can vary a lot, depending on its leader’s level. So, it is no surprise that a great senior American diplomat, like Jack Matlock, sees Ukraine with the Nato’s flag slightly differently from today’s colleagues. U.S. Ambassador in Moscow from 1987 to 1991, the years of Berlin’s Wall fall and the Soviet Union’s twilight, he is a refined intellectual with a deep knowledge of the Russian culture.
In a recent long interview with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, he recalls: “I testified in Congress against NATO expansion, saying that it would be a great mistake and that if it continues, that certainly it would have to stop before it reaches countries like Ukraine and Georgia. That this would be unacceptable to any Russian government”.
In the last two decades, American foreign politics has been marred by a counterproductive Russophobia. “One of the basic problems – notes the ambassador – has been the development over the last 25 years of the feeling that Russia is an adversary or an enemy. There is no reason in the world to create that atmosphere, but step by step, we have created it”.
Interestingly, ambassador Matlock explains that the very turn in NATO attitude was partly caused by “our smaller NATO allies” pressures but mostly by domestic reasons during the Clinton era. Stephen Walt expresses a very similar point of view in a recent Foreign Policy article that slashes the “liberal illusions” of the Clinton administration as the cause of the present Ukrainian crisis.
Matlock remembers: “When I came out of that testimony, a couple of people who were observing said: ‘Jack, why are fighting against this?’ And I said: ‘because I think it’s a bad idea’. They said: ‘look, Clinton wants to get reelected. He needs Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois; they have all a very strong East European…” Many of these had become Reagan Democrats on East-West issues. They are insisting that Ukraine [NATO] expand to include Poland and eventually Ukraine. So Clinton needs those to be reelected”.
Cynically, the Clinton administration was “quite disingenuous”; “Clinton personally told Yeltsin that the Partnership for Peace would be a substitute for NATO expansion. Yeltsin said: that’s great. That’s a brilliant idea”. But the U.S. was playing on two tables: “At the very same time, our ambassador was instructed to tell the Poles: “This is the first step towards NATO membership. So, we were playing, I must say, to my dismay, duplicitous diplomacy at the time”.
In the interview, Matlock speaks very honestly and frankly, but obviously, you cannot expect a mea culpa about American imperialism. Reagan’s man, staunch anti-communist and uncompromising Market believer, he is not precisely a social-democrat pacifist. The ambassador is quite ambiguous about the implicit assurance that the U.S. gave to Russia against a NATO expansion toward the East. He insists that there were no pledges against NATO proselytism in the East inside the treaty that reunited Germany, and that is probably true. But for him, such promises were never on any table at the time. His same narrative seems yet to point at a situation where the guarantees were a predictable part of the context.
He quotes, quite literally, the then German Foreign minister about the need to convince Moscow to let Germany become one. Hans-Dietrich Genscher used to say: “Assuming there is no expansion of NATO jurisdiction to the East, not one inch, wouldn’t it be better?”. U.S. Secretary of State James Baker used almost the exact words in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990: “Not one inch eastward”.
But the assurances, at least verbal, were explicit and not only in the context. A few years ago, newly declassified documents showed security assurances against NATO expansion to Soviet leaders from Baker, Bush, Genscher, Kohl, Gates, Mitterrand, Thatcher, Hurd, Major, and Wörner. “The documents reinforce former CIA Director Robert Gates’s criticism of “pressing ahead with the expansion of NATO eastward [in the 1990s] when Gorbachev and others were led to believe that wouldn’t happen.” The key phrase, buttressed by the documents, is “led to believe.”
On January 31, 1990, at Tutzing, in Bavaria, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher made an important speech. In the summary that the U.S. Embassy in Bonn sent to Washington, he said: “The changes in Eastern Europe and the German unification process must not lead to an ‘impairment of Soviet security interests.’ Therefore, NATO should rule out an ‘expansion of its territory towards the east, i.e. moving it closer to the Soviet borders.’”.
Interestingly, the debate that led to the “duplicitous diplomacy” attributed by Matlock to the Bill Clinton administration already started with the George H. W. Bush government. As of October 25, 1990, the Office of the Secretary of Defence (Dick Cheney) was to leave “the door ajar” for East European membership in NATO”, but the State Department prevailed with its contrariness.). It means that the American turn on the NATO expansion issue at Clinton times didn’t reflect only a domestic interest, but also a tendency already present in the state apparatus.
In The Nuclear Delusion (1982), George Kennan, the American diplomat who first formulated the policy of “containment” and later criticised the U.S. Cold War attitude, depicted the American-Soviet relations in a way that remembers our days. You have to change “Soviet Union” with “Russia”: “I find the view of the Soviet Union that prevails today in large portions of our governmental and journalistic establishments so extreme, so subjective, so far removed from what any sober scrutiny of external reality would reveal, that it is not only ineffective but dangerous as a guide to political action”. The same error, again and again.