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Cold war is on

A COLD war is on between the West and Russia in right earnest. Its immediate cause is, of course, the Ukraine. But Prof John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, and one of the few dissenters in the US, points out in Foreign Affairs that “the taproot of the trouble is Nato enlargement”.

The West’s backing of the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004 aggravated the situation. “For President Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elec­ted and pro-Russian president — which he rightly labeled a ‘coup’ — was the final straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a Nato naval base.” He began working to destabilise Ukraine until it abandoned its efforts to join the West.

This provoked a slew of unprecedented sanctions on individuals; tensions mounted as charges were traded.

Ukraine is not a Nato member, and is not covered under its umbrella, but it has expressed interest in joining. Three other former Soviet republics have joined the alliance since the end of the Cold War, as well as the former Warsaw Pact states of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.

Jack Matlock, former US ambassador to the then USSR is a scholar, who prizes objectivity over the claims of ‘patriotism’.

He said emphatically that “If there had been no possibility of Ukraine ever becoming part of Nato, and therefore Sevastopol becoming a Nato base, Russia would not have invaded Crimea. It is as simple as that. Why don’t we understand that other countries are sensitive about military bases from potential rivals not only coming up to their borders, but taking land which they have historically considered theirs?”

The US is mistaken if it thinks it can unilaterally shape the world order.

The US has persecuted Cuba for over half a century. Its Monroe Doctrine remains intact; but it has no qualms about poaching in the vicinity of another power’s frontier.

Mikhail Gorbachev risked a lot in his quest for a détente with the US. In his memoirs Gorbachev quoted US secretary of state James Baker as proposing during a meeting in 1990, that a united Germany be allowed to remain in Nato “with the guarantee that Nato jurisdiction or troops would not extend east of the current line”.

Matlock adds that “Gorbachev’s account coincides with my notes of the conversation. … Therefore, both he and the Soviet foreign minister Shevardnadze assumed that they had assurances that Nato would not replace the Warsaw Pact in Eastern Europe. After all, that would have been a direct violation of the understanding at Malta that the United States would not ‘take advantage’ of a Soviet military withdrawal from Eastern Europe”.

Archival evidence dug out recently by Prof Mary Elise Sarotte proves the deception. The then German chancellor Helmut Kohl met Gorbachev in Moscow in February 1990. He had received two conflicting letters before the meeting. President George H.W. Bush suggested that Nato could move eastward. Secretary of State James Baker suggested it would not.

Kohl followed Baker’s line and assured Gorbachev accordingly. His foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher told his Soviet counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze “Nato will not expand itself to the East”.

But this is what Kohl heard from Bush at Camp David that month. “To hell with that. We prevailed, they didn’t. We can’t let the Soviets clutch victory from the jaws of defeat.” This triumphalism reflected an arrogant cynicism and governs Ameri­can policy.

Putin sounded the alarm as far back as in February 2007, when he attacked American’s ‘unipolar’ behaviour at a conference in Munich. The United States had “overstep­ped its national borders in every way”, imposing on other nations its “economic, political, cultural and educational policies”.

He was particularly bitter regarding Nato enlargement. “What happened to the assurances our Western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact?”

He cited not only James Baker’s private words to Gorbachev and Shevardnadze, but a public statement by Manfred Worner when he was Nato secretary-general, who had stated in a speech in Brussels in 1990: “The fact that we are ready not to place a Nato army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee.”

In contrast, in 1990 Gorbachev cooperated with Bush on the Iraq war. So did Putin on Afghanistan and continues still to do so on Syria, Iraq, Iran and the militant group the Islamic State.

The United States is sadly mistaken if it imagines that it can unilaterally shape the world order especially in Asia without the cooperation of Russia, China and the Third World countries.

The problems are too great for any single power to acting alone to resolve them. President Barack Obama has reached out to Iran. He will do well to do the same to the Russian federation.

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

A.G. Noorani, "Cold war is on," Dawn. 2014-12-13.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political history , Soviet union , Islamic state , Terrorist attacks , Terrorism-Pakistan , Security issues , Government-Pakistan , Extremism , Politicians , Politics , Militants , NATO , Democracy , James Baker , Eduard Shevardnadze , Afghanistan , Syria , Iraq