When Mikhail Gorbachev called an end to the Cold War, President George H. W. Bush agreed that there would be no expansion of NATO. Bush also agreed that, following the reunification of Germany, NATO troops and weapons would not be permitted on former East German soil. This was not only necessary to ensure the security of the Russian Federation. In part, it was to prevent a reunified Germany from ever posing a danger to Russia again. After all, the Soviet Union lost more than 20 million of its citizens during World War II.
The agreement was short-lived.
Almost immediately, NATO expanded into the former East Germany. Then, during the Clinton administration, NATO expanded into the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Then George W. Bush pushed NATO to expand into Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania and Croatia. In addition, Cyprus, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro have considered membership. And, before the end of his second term, Bush made it clear that he wanted Georgia and the Ukraine to join NATO, as well.
This expansion of Russia’s former enemy into nations that were once part of its Warsaw Pact has led Putin and the Russian government to distrust the ultimate goals of NATO, Europe and the US. Add the Bush/Cheney doctrine of pre-emptive war along with Bush’s assertion that the US has the right to use nuclear weapons, and Russians have reason to question our intentions. At the same time, the US has continued to develop and deploy our National Missile Defense (NMD) throughout Europe. Even though it is called a “defense” system, Russians see it differently. They view it as making a first strike survivable.
The NMD is unlikely to be capable of intercepting a massive first strike by Russia. On the other hand, it could more reasonably be seen as capable of intercepting a much smaller retaliatory strike by Russia following a first strike by the US. In other words, it very much upsets the balance of power. Combined with the US thirst for oil which has led us to interfere with governments around the globe, and you can easily see why Putin would be unwilling to see its long-time partner nation, the Ukraine, move away from Russia and join the European Union. Even worse, Russia would lose its naval base at Sebastopol, Crimea, which is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
If you still think this crisis is the result of the Obama administration’s “weak” foreign policy, consider this: What if “independence” groups in Canada or Mexico suddenly took control of the government and formed an alliance with Russia? And what if they signed a treaty of mutual protection? What then? Would you support your neighbors? Or would you demand that the US do something to stop it?
I thought so.