Q+A (Part 2) Germany re-unification and limits to NATO expansion

(6) Did the US make verbal promises not to expand NATO around the time of the re-unification of Germany?

Yes, if you listen to Putin, in his February 2007 remarks to the Munich Security Conference:

And we have the right to ask: against whom is this [NATO] expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our Western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? … I would like to quote the speech of NATO General Secretary Mr. Woerner in Brussels on 17 May 1990. He said at the time that: ‘the fact that we are ready not to place a NATO army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee.” Where are these guarantees?

The General Secretary was right at the time. NATO’s final acceptance of other countries to the east of Germany did not begin until 1999. It was the policy of President Clinton in 1996 that the former Soviet republics should be admitted. In 1999, the newly emerged republics, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined NATO. Links are given below.

This was good timing. In May 7, 2000, Vladimir Putin assumed office. He had been the prime minister from 1999 to 2000. The change was to consolidate authority and reverse the direction of both Gorbachev and Yeltsin into a more pluralistic governance.

The Soviet gained legal authority over of East Germany as a result of 1945 accords with the allied powers. As the USSR and our allies became nuclear powers, the situation in Germany only became worse. The period 1989 to 1994 was the great turning point. East Germany was in bad shape in 1989, both in terms of economics and politics. The 1989 election had been “flagrantly rigged” (Wikipedia): “In May 1989, local government elections were held. The public reaction was one of anger, when it was revealed that National Front candidates had won the majority of seats, with ‘only’ 98.5% of the vote. In other words, despite larger-than-ever numbers of voters rejecting the single candidate put forward by the Front (an exercise of defiance that carried great risk—including being sacked from a job or expelled from university), the vote had been flagrantly rigged.”

See Link: Wikipedia: History of East Germany Wikipedia: Enlargement of NATO

Re-unification of Germany is generally considered to have occurred on October 3, 1990, but American and Russian army units were still stationed in Berlin. The so called “2+4 treaty,” signed by the two Germanies, plus USSR, UK, France and the US went into effect on March 15, 1991. By July 1994, all Allied and Soviet ground troops had been withdrawn from Germany as required by the treaty.

Per Wikipedia (enlargement of NATO), “In 1990 the Soviet Union and NATO reached an agreement that a reunified Germany would join NATO under West Germany’s pre-existing membership, although restrictions were agreed to on the deployment of NATO troops on former East German territory. “

Also in the same Wikipedia article: There is no mention of NATO expansion into any other country in the September–October 1990 agreements on German reunification.[16] Whether or not Hans-Dietrich Genscher and James Baker, as representatives from NATO member states, informally committed to not enlarge NATO into other parts of Eastern Europe during these and contemporary negotiations with Soviet counterparts has long been a matter of dispute among historians and international relations scholars.[17][18][19][20][21] Baker delivered to Gorbachev the famous line ‘If we maintain a presence in a Germany that is a part of NATO, there would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east’,[22] which many have interpreted as applying to all of Eastern Europe. However, Gorbachev himself has stated that this only pertained to East Germany and that the resulting agreement was upheld by NATO.[23][24] His main aide in these negotiations, Eduard Shevarnadze, likewise agreed that NATO never made any such commitment regarding other countries in Eastern Europe and that “the question never came up [in the talks on German reunification].”[25][26] That is presumably because all of the countries in question were still in the Warsaw Pact at the time and hosted large Soviet garrisons.[27][28] Nevertheless, both Gorbachev and his successor Yeltsin felt that NATO’s later acceptance of countries such as Poland violated the “spirit” of the earlier agreements.[23][29][30]

So, in 1990, NATO not only had no intentions of expanding into Eastern Europe, it also could not accept a country to join, when there were Soviet ground troops within its country.

Wikipedia: NATO Enlargement

Wikipedia: Germany Reunification

Background – A divided Germany

This answers the question, but raises another one. Why did it take so long? A divided Germany existed from 1945 to 1990. Having two super powers, with large military bases opposite each other, certainly put the perils of World War III far too close.

In 1952, re-unification of East and West Germany was proposed by Stalin under conditions of complete neutral Germany. The West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer rejected this and pursued a policy of re-arming West Germany to defend his country against potential Soviet aggression. If there was any doubt that Adenauer made the right choice, this was clearly erased when the Soviets under Brezhnev and other Warsaw Pact country attacked Czechoslovakia in 1968, removing Dubcek because he dared liberalize the country.

The contrast between East and West Germany continue to grow with a Germany with a repressive and economic stagnant government on the eastern side of Germany and a prosperous Germany on the western side, part of the European Union, NATO and the UN.

Many critical events contributed to re-unification. In East Germany, residents could listen on their radio to the translated speech on the July 12, 1987 by President Ronald Reagan in front of the Brandenburg gates in West Berlin:

“General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate.
Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate!
Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

See links: Wikipedia, German Re-unification Wikipedia, Enlargement of NATO

National archives: “Tear Down this wall – How Top Advisers Opposed Reagan’s Challenge to Gorbachev—But Lost” (A wonderful piece of history, and thank God, Reagan didn’t deliver this line in German)

Approximately 30,000 East Germans fled across the border to Hungary by September 1989. After this border was closed, East Germans fled into Czechoslovakia. By Gorbachev must have noticed. Vaclav Havel was elected president of Czechoslovakia in December 29, 1989 and was democratizing Czechoslovakia. So, November 9, 1989 the wall came down in Berlin and December 29, 1989, Havel was elected, and people were celebrating.

History- Warsaw Pact

The Warsaw Pact was a collective defense treaty signed in May 1955 in Warsaw, Poland, and it was in reaction to the NATO defense alliance. The members were Albania, Bulgaria, Eastern Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Soviet Union. It was meant to counter-balance NATO, but there was never an engagement between the two alliances.

The Soviet Union ordered the Warsaw Pact nations to participate in the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, because their leader, Alexander Dubcek was in the process of liberalizing the country (Prague Spring). He was replaced with a hard line communist by the Soviet Union. Only Poland, Bulgaria and Hungary sent troops. Romania and Albania did not support the invasion. East Germany supplied logistic support. Albania left the Pact in 1968. Romania became more aligned with Communist China during the 1960’s. East Germany left the Pact in 1990 as part of German re-unification.

Per the Wikipedia link:

On 25 February 1991, at a meeting in Hungary, the Pact was declared at an end by the defense and foreign ministers of the six remaining member states. The USSR itself was dissolved in December 1991, although most of the former Soviet republics formed the Collective Security Treaty Organization shortly thereafter. In the following 20 years, the Warsaw Pact countries outside the USSR each joined NATO (East Germany through its reunification with West Germany; and the Czech Republic and Slovakia as separate countries), as did the Baltic states which had been part of the Soviet Union.

Wikipedia: Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia

Wikipedia: Warsaw Pact

So, the Warsaw Pact lost 3 of it’s original members by February 1991. The other member states did not see a danger from NATO. In fact, they saw the benefit of NATO to ensure their independence and movement to more liberal forms of government.


Wow, this was a lot to cover. The next question will be much easier, but still contentious today. Did NATO act too hasty in accepting the newly independent republics? In answering this question, I am reminded of a great quote, “There’s no rewind button on history.” No do-overs.

Stay tuned,

David Lord

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s