Twenty years after the reunification of East and West Germany, promises about the role of NATO in the former Soviet-controlled territory still create friction in US-Russian relations. Russia still claims that it allowed the reunification on conditions that NATO would not expand into the territory of the GDR.
Letter recently released by key players negotiating the reunification clear up some of the murkiness. James Baker, US Secretary of State at the time, seems to have promised to Mr. Gorbachev that NATO would not expand past its pre-unification borders. But days after Mr. Baker’s meeting, President George H.W. Bush sent a letter, at the insistence of his National Security Counsel, stating that the GDR would be given a special status within NATO, with no promise that the border would not expand. Neither of these two exchanges produced any concrete agreement about the future role of NATO in the region.
Helmut Kohl, chancellor of the FRG at the time, met Mr. Gorbachev a few days after Mr. Baker. Aware of both Mr. Baker’s meeting and the presidential letter to Moscow and informed of the details of both exchanges, Mr. Kohl echoed Mr. Baker’s implicit promise, that “naturally NATO could not expand its territory” into the territory of East Germany. Unlike the US-USSR exchanges, the meeting in Moscow with the German leader ended in a deal, that contained Mr. Kohl’s promise of a limited role for NATO.
However, Mr. Kohl was not speaking for the United State nor for NATO. Nor was the promise about a limited NATO role cemented in writing. Although Germany and the US spoke publicly on a short time after the meetings of the leaders about a “special NATO status” for East Germany, the Soviet Union did not publicly criticize what it saw as a change in plans. Although the release of these new sources after the 20th anniversary of reunification clarify the origins of Russian resentment, they also highlight the mistakes that prevented a clarification of the Soviet position on NATO expansion and the promises Moscow had received in return for allowing reunification.
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