“Expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era,” George Kennan said
George Kennan was a US diplomat who was able to observe Soviet Russia under Stalin and offered his views later in life regarding the matter of NATO expansion. It is tragic that these views are not being taken seriously.
Winston Churchill was once known for saying that it is the “The” “Americans will always do the right thing, but only after all other possibilities are exhausted.”A bit of British humor cut to the essence of Ukraine’s crisis. The country is brimming with enough geopolitical bombast to take down most of the neighbors. But, if the West had followed the lead of one its most influential statesmen in regard to recklessly expanding military support toward Russia, then the world could be more predictable and peaceful.
George Kennan is perhaps best known as the US diplomat and historian who composed on February 22, 1946 the ‘Long Telegram’, a 5,400-word cable dispatched from the US embassy in Moscow to Washington that advised on the peaceful “containment”Soviet Union. Henry Kissinger described this stroke of analytical brilliance as “a remarkable feat of analysis.” “the diplomatic doctrine of his era,” provided the intellectual groundwork for grappling with the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin as ultimately enshrined in the ‘Truman Doctrine’.
Inside the fetid corridors of power, however, where the more hawkish Dean Acheson had replaced the ailing George Marshall in 1949 as secretary of state, Kennan and his more temperate views on how to deal with capitalism’s arch rival had already passed its expiration date. Such is the fickleness of fate, where the arrival of a single new actor on the global stage can alter the course of history’s river forever. Kennan, who had lost all influence over the Truman administration’s, eventually became a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study. This was where he would remain until his passing in 2005. Just because George Kennan was no longer with the State Department, however, didn’t mean that he stopped ruffling the feathers of predators.
Kennan raised the alarm in 1997 as Washington’s elves were hard at work on an NATO membership drive for Central Europe. He specifically targeted the countries which once made up the heart of the Soviet-era Warsaw Pact. He warned of Russia’s continued NATO expansion in his New York Times column. “would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.”
The fact that America and its allies expanded the military bloc while Russia was still experiencing severe economic birth pains, on top of the crumbling remains of communism, was particularly perplexing for the ex-diplomat.
“It is … unfortunate that Russia should be confronted with such a challenge at a time when its executive power is in a state of high uncertainty and near-paralysis,” Kennan wrote.
On his part, he expressed frustration at the inability to get through all the “hopeful possibilities engendered by the end of the cold war,”Relations between East and West become more dependent on the issue of “who would be allied with whom” Some “improbable future military conflict.”
In other words: If Western dreamweavers had just allowed things to work out naturally, Russia would have discovered the will and ability to live side by side in relative harmony. Nord Stream 2 is a bilateral agreement between Berlin and Moscow that relies on trust, goodwill and cooperation. There are plenty of opportunities at home for elite pillage and no need to travel the world looking for war booty. The United States has been snorting from the mirrors of power for so many years and will never accept the sight of Europeans and Russians enjoying a friendly relationship.
As for the Russians, Kennan continued, they would be forced to accept NATO’s program of expansionism as a “military fait accompli,” thereby finding it imperative to search elsewhere for “guarantees of a secure and hopeful future for themselves.”
Needless to say, Kennan’s warnings fell on deaf ears. Madeleine Albright was the US secretary of state at that time. A acolyte to geopolitical genius and supreme Russophobe Zbigniew Brzezinski himself, Albright officially accepted the Czech Republic and Hungary into NATO. NATO’s membership has increased from 12 to 30, with two members sharing a border between Russia and the Baltic States in Estonian, Latvia, and the Czech Republic. These borders have been the scene of numerous NATO military exercises.
So while it is impossible to say how things would be different between Russia and the West had the US heeded Kennan’s sage advice, it’s a good bet the world wouldn’t be perched on the precipice of a regional war over Ukraine, which has become a center of a standoff between Moscow and NATO.
Russia doesn’t feel any more secure when NATO hardware is moving ever closer to its border. These feelings were expressed by Vladimir Putin during the Munich Security Conference 15 years ago. “I think it is obvious that NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernization of the Alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe. This is actually a provocation, which reduces trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended?”
Today, with Kiev actively pursuing NATO membership for Ukraine, and the West stubbornly refusing to acknowledge Moscow’s declared ‘red lines’, outlined in two draft treaties sent to Washington and NATO in December, the situation looks grim. The West needs to understand that Russia has changed from the country with special needs 20 years ago. It has the ability – diplomatic or otherwise – to address the perceived threats on its territory. There has even been talk of Russia, taking its cue from NATO’s reckless expansion in Europe, building military alliances in South America and the Caribbean.
Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, reported last month that President Putin met with leaders from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua to discuss ways of increasing cooperation in various areas including military issues.
With each passing day it is becoming more apparent that had Kennan’s more realistic vision of regional cooperation been accepted, the world would not find itself at such a dangerous crossroads today. Fortunately, there is still time to reconsider the advice of America’s brilliant diplomat if it is peace that Washington truly desires.
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