Sunday, 28 September 2014

George Kennan opposed the expansion of NATO in 1998

I am reading about George Kennan, who invented the containment policy that guided U.S. relations with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but who did not think the Cold War was necessary. He is a fascinating man, who lived to a great age.

In his late 90s he opposed the extension of NATO in 1998 saying it the beginning of a new cold war. 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." ... 

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.

I am sure Kennan was right that Communist Russia was not a threat to Western Europe. He backed detente. He also thought Vietnam was not of strategic importance to the USA and opposed the Vietnamese War, though not the Korean war. He was angry with Eisenhower for letting down Britain and France over Suez and he thought mass immigration a great threat to America and Europe. That's a lot of things to have been right about. Whether he was right to oppose NATO expansion in 1998 is harder to say. Would this have kept good relations with Russia? If not it would have made the Baltic States much more vulnerable than they already are to Russian aggression - although it would also have made NATO less exposed. I suspect that Kennan might have argued that they are not of strategic importance to the USA or Western Europe. 


  1. Communist Russia may not have been a direct threat to western Europe, but it was certainly a threat to the peoples of eastern Europe. Therein lies the dispute.

    1. The USSR was a satisfied power. The Cold War kept the peace in Europe.

      Ambrose Evans-Pritchard said on 6 August: 'This is more serious than the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1980. That was a "colonial war". The Soviet Union was a careful, status quo power in its final decades. It held captive nations but did not overrun new borders in Europe. Mr Putin is expansionist, and far less predictable. He is, in any case, captive to the chauvinist fever that he has so successfully stoked.' Putin is in fact reacting to what he considers American aggression but we are in uncharted, dangerous waters.