A reader comment on Why didn’t Ukraine become a NATO member back in the 1990s? highlighted this 2018 lecture at Yale by a French-Russian-American guy, 83 years old at the time(!), who was formerly a Soviet spokesman. Starting at about 19:00 he summarizes the various insults that the U.S. and NATO have inflected on the post-Soviet Russians. These include the 1998 expansion of NATO, breaking explicit promises made to the Soviets, recognizing the split off of Kosovo from Serbia, rejecting Putin’s proposals to join NATO and the EU, returning nothing for Putin’s assistance post 9/11.
He highlights Thomas Friedman, not for being smart enough to marry the daughter of a billionaire and fret about global warming from inside an 11,000-square-foot mansion, but for a 1998 article about the NATO expansion:
So when I reached George Kennan by phone to get his reaction to the Senate’s ratification of NATO expansion it was no surprise to find that the man who was the architect of America’s successful containment of the Soviet Union and one of the great American statesmen of the 20th century was ready with an answer.
”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.”
The point about “neither the resources nor the intention” reminds me of a question at a Chinese New Year party in Miami: “Why does Joe Biden want to defend the Ukraine border when he won’t defend our own?”
”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.
If we are unlucky they will say, as Mr. Kennan predicts, that NATO expansion set up a situation in which NATO now has to either expand all the way to Russia’s border, triggering a new cold war, or stop expanding after these three new countries and create a new dividing line through Europe.
Thanks to Western resolve and the courage of Russian democrats, that Soviet Empire collapsed without a shot, spawning a democratic Russia, setting free the former Soviet republics and leading to unprecedented arms control agreements with the U.S.
And what was America’s response? It was to expand the NATO cold-war alliance against Russia and bring it closer to Russia’s borders.
As he said goodbye to me on the phone, Mr. Kennan added just one more thing: ”This has been my life, and it pains me to see it so screwed up in the end.”
Geopolitics is a complex topic so I don’t think Pozner or Kennan has access to the whole truth (but Friedman does! Marry a rich woman and live under Maryland family law so that she can’t get rid of you without ruinous financial consequences). However, the Pozner lecture is a good refresher for Americans who’ve forgotten everything that we’ve done in Europe during the past 30 years.