What Caused the Post–Cold War Stalemate over NATO
As the invasion of Ukraine continues to unfold, those seeking to understand how such a tragedy could come to pass would do well to pick up M.E. Sarotte’s new book Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post–Cold War Stalemate. Sarotte, the Kravis Professor of Historical Studies at Johns Hopkins, builds her book on over two decades of research, with over two hundred pages of endnotes detailing declassified notes and internal documents from the pertinent American, German, and Russian participants. Concerned chiefly with the decade 1989–99, Sarotte spends much of her time studiously recreating hundreds of conversations and events that took place between top officials in the US, Moscow, Brussels, Berlin, Warsaw, and elsewhere. This and the rapidly changing cast of characters makes briefly summarizing the book difficult.
However, as the arc of the narrative is concerned with detailing how the potential thaw in relations between Moscow and Washington in the early 1990s quickly froze over, a few general things can be said about the deterioration of the relationship as documented by Sarotte.
First, from the very beginning, the US always rejected on principle any de facto limitation on North American Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion by any external actor (73). Second, Mikhail Gorbachev and then Boris Yeltsin were both, for their own reasons, more amenable to NATO expansion than their security and bureaucratic establishments (i.e., the deep state of which Vladimir Putin was a part). Third, Washington fought the creation of a new and inclusive pan-European security architecture, determined to keep NATO at the center of European security arrangements (209). Fourth, the considerations propelling NATO expansion were multiple: the near-immediate demands of Warsaw and Budapest for membership, domestic political pressure from first-generation Poles and Hungarians to rapidly accede to these requests, the profits to be made by US arms manufacturers in new central and eastern European markets, and a belief that Russia would fail to consolidate as a democracy—which, per the then dominant “democratic peace theory,” should had to be taken as an inherent signal of hostility (199, 284).
That being said, NATO expansion wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Apart from Soviet and then Russian opposition to the project, Sarotte points out that several promi
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