Cold War Tool in a New Era

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At a recent conference devoted to Andrei Sakharov's legacy as an academician, human rights activist and peacemaker, former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack Matlock said, "Our next president must very early on sit down with President Medvedev -- and there's no reason not to have Prime Minister Putin present -- and really discuss what is getting in the way of doing what both countries most need to do in the interest of all countries. And that is to continue the process started by Reagan and Gorbachev."

The conference was organized by Harvard's Davis Center and the Andrei Sakharov Foundation. Also in attendance were Sakharov's former U.S. and Russian colleagues and younger people who share his values. Matlock, who served as ambassador from 1987 to 1991, was the most popular U.S. ambassador to serve in Moscow in recent memory.

Listening to Matlock, it seemed to me that we have a foot planted in two different eras -- the current period, which nobody likes with its threat of a new Cold War, and the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Sakharov returned to Moscow from exile in the city of Gorky and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan and then George H.W. Bush put an end to the Cold War.

In great detail, Matlock told the story of how then-U.S. Secretary of State James Baker promised that NATO would not expand eastward in return for Gorbachev's support of German reunification. Speaking of that agreement, Matlock said, "Yes, it was not legally binding, although if Gorbachev had requested a written affirmation, he would have received it. But now even the U.S. refuses to acknowledge there was such an assurance."

In retrospect, Gorbachev's behavior might seem criminally negligent, and the U.S. behavior duplicitous. But not so to those who witnessed those times and the unprecedented level of trust that existed between the two countries. It was a time when the Soviet people acknowledged the United States as an arbiter in their domestic affairs, when then-President Bush argued for a renewal of a commonwealth between the Soviet republics and warned of their "suicidal nationalism." Foreign policymakers of the time could not have imagined that NATO, a tool of the Cold War, would one day undergo a rebirth and again prove a source of heightened tensions between Europe and Russia. Unfortunately, the very thing most valued by any two superpowers -- the ability to trust each other's word -- was eventually sacrificed to this holdover from the Cold War.

Of course, it takes two to tango, but I cannot remember a single action taken by Russia that could justify expanding the Western military alliance to its borders. Nor can I understand how it serves the United States' long-term interests. I have been told by analysts and insiders that during the 1992 presidential election campaign, Bill Clinton promised NATO membership to Poland in order to secure the votes of the Polish diaspora in the United States, and that later his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was obsessed with gaining membership for her native Czech Republic. She achieved her goal, overcoming State Department opposition and arguments that the country would direct its historical dislike for the Soviet Union at the new Russia.

On the basis of the foundation laid in the late 1980s and early 1990s -- and in the search for a new use of the now-unnecessary military alliance -- arose an augmented bureaucracy that eventually turned into a tail that wagged the dog of Western interests.

Matlock said: "We have got to recognize that NATO is no longer an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. And the idea that expanding it is making us more powerful -- which is at the root of our problems with Russia -- is simply not true. Nor can the United States in the future spend so much money -- most of which it borrowed recently from other people, including the Russians -- to maintain these structures. The next president, whoever he will be, is going to have to put an end to this expansion."

It has been said that nothing can unite two peoples like a common enemy. President Dmitry Medvedev and the next U.S. president have such an enemy -- bureaucracy, namely the corrupt Russian bureaucracy and the NATO bureaucracy that continues to expand contrary to all common sense. As Matlock suggested, the issue confronting us today is how we can work together to cope with those bureaucracies.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of IFRA-GIPP Magazine for publishing business professionals.