"A Policy Error of Historic Proportions"
1997 letter to President Clinton by US cold warriors who opposed Nato expansion.
By JOHN LEAKE
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This post is the first in a series about the war in Ukraine.
When Dr. McCullough and I started this Substack, we agreed that he would primarily focus on COVID-19 scientific-medical scholarship, and I would investigate how the COVID-19 pandemic response is related to other major public policy issues. Occasionally, some of our readers have exhorted me to “stay in our lane”—that is, to remain focused on matters pertaining to the COVID-19 fiasco.
Because Substack is a free speech platform, and because we welcome critical opinions, I have never felt compelled to respond to these exhortations to “stay in our lane.” To some degree, I consider my critics to have a valid point. As Fitzgerald elegantly put it in The Great Gatsby, “Life is much more successfully looked at from a single window.”
On the other hand, I believe my critics are overlooking a point so obvious that it might as well strike them in the head with a baseball bat—namely, the same corrupt government nincompoops responsible for the COVID-19 fiasco are also responsible for every other catastrophic policy blunder they are currently afflicting on mankind.
For example, let’s take the U.S. government’s catastrophic mismanagement of its relations with Russia for the last thirty years. I have closely observed this disaster in the making since I moved to Vienna, Austria for an academic fellowship in 1996. On the plane to Vienna I read the July 15, 1996 Time Magazine cover story about how secret American advisors helped Boris Yeltsin to win that year’s presidential election.
Even at the time I remember thinking it was a bit presumptuous to think that it was perfectly okay for American agents to meddle in a Russian election, and I wondered how Americans would feel if it were reported that Russian agents had provided clandestine assistance to Bill Clinton in his 1996 presidential campaign against Bob Dole.
I read the Time cover story with keen interest, because for many years I’d been an avid student of 20th century Russian history. Yeltsin’s presidency marked the total triumph of American interests with respect to Russia, which had suffered a decisive loss of the Cold War. As I saw it—living in Austria, whose neutrality the Soviets had recognized and respected since 1955—in 1996 it was up to the Americans to welcome and assist Russia in becoming a partner with the West.
The following year, I read the news of how the Clinton Administration had decided to expand NATO membership to the east, ever closer to Russia’s border, and I wondered about the rationale for doing this. Though I’d never really known what to make of Henry Kissinger, I found his “Balance of Power” thesis compelling.
We humans are constantly making assurances of our good will and altruism, but it’s a rare man or woman indeed who doesn’t press his or her advantage if a disagreement arises. This is why the Soviet Premier Khrushchev refused to tolerate U.S. nuclear missiles in Turkey, and why President Kennedy refused to tolerate Soviet missiles in Cuba.
I therefore believed I understood why 50 major U.S. foreign policy experts—including top cold warriors such as Robert McNamara, Paul Nitze, Richard Pipes, and Stansfield Turner—wrote a letter to President Clinton on June 26, 1997, stating the following:
We, the undersigned, believe that the current U.S.led effort to expand NATO, the focus of the recent Helsinki and Paris Summits, is a policy error of historic proportions. We believe that NATO expansion will decrease allied security and unsettle European stability for the following reasons:
In Russia, NATO expansion, which continues to be opposed across the entire political spectrum, will strengthen the nondemocratic opposition, undercut those who favor reform and cooperation with the West, bring the Russians to question the entire post-Cold War settlement, and galvanize resistance in the Duma to the START II and III treaties; In Europe, NATO expansion will draw a new line of division between the "ins" and the "outs," foster instability, and ultimately diminish the sense of security of those countries which are not included;
In NATO, expansion, which the Alliance has indicated is open-ended, will inevitably degrade NATO's ability to carry out its primary mission and will involve U.S. security guarantees to countries with serious border and national minority problems, and unevenly developed systems of democratic government;
In the U.S., NATO expansion will trigger an extended debate over its indeterminate, but certainly high, cost and will call into question the U.S. commitment to the Alliance, traditionally and rightly regarded as a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy.
Because of these serious objections, and in the absence of any reason for rapid decision, we strongly urge that the NATO expansion process be suspended while alternative actions are pursued. These include:
—opening the economic and political doors of the European Union to Central and Eastern Europe;
—developing an enhanced Partnership for Peace program;
—supporting a cooperative NATO-Russian relationship; and
—continuing the arms reduction and transparency process, particularly with respect to nuclear weapons and materials, the major threat to U.S. security, and with respect to conventional military forces in Europe.
Russia does not now pose a threat to its western neighbors and the nations of Central and Eastern Europe are not in danger. For this reason, and the others cited above, we believe that NATO expansion is neither necessary nor desirable and that this ill-conceived policy can and should be put on hold.