Friday, November 4, 2016

Shifrinson, Joshua Ishkowitz. "The 1990 U.S. Pledge to the Soviet Union on NATO Expansion: A Conversation with Joshua Shifrinson" (17 May 2016) Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from

1.       Lynn-Jones: I’m Sean Lynn-Jones, I edit the quarterly journal on International Security which is based here at the Belfer Center at the Harvard Kennedy School. Today I’m Talking to Joshua Itzkowitz Shifrinson who’s an assistant professor in the department of international affairs at the George Bush School at Texas A&M University. Josh is also a fellow at the Dickey Center, Dartmouth College. Josh is the author in an article that appears in the Spring 2016 issue of International Security. It’s called “Deal or No Deal? The End of the Cold War and the US Offer to Limit NATO Expansion.” This article in now available not only in the print edition of the Spring 2016 issue, but it’s also online at the International Security website. Thanks so much for being with us today, Josh, very happy to have you here.
2.       Itz-Ko-Witz: Oh, it’s a Pleasure to be here, Sean, thanks for having me.
3.       Lynn-Jones: Your article looks at some Negociations that occurred back at the End of the Cold War. Can you just refresh our Memories a little bit on what was at stake in those Talks and who was involved?
4.       Itz-Ko-Witz: Sure. The End of the Cold War involved the Negociation on the one hand between the US and the USSR as well as the policymakers leading East and West Germany, Britain, France and other Countries in Europe. It involved the Question of whether Germany which had been divided throughout the Cold War would reunify under Western auspices within NATO or under Soviet auspices within the Warsaw Pact or go neutral entirely. This carried implications for the Future of the two Alliance Systems in Europe at the Time with NATO, which was the US Alliance System and the Warsaw Pact, which was the Soviet Alliance System.
5.       Lynn-Jones: What’s the central Argument that you make in your article? Can you sum it up in a nutshell?
6.       Itz-Ko-Witz: I can sum it up in a nutshell, or at least I’ll certainly try. The central Argument I make is on the one hand these Negociations over the Fate of Germany at the End of the Cold War involve an US offer, an implicit offer, to the Soviet Union that if the Soviet Union allow Germany to reunify within NATO, then after Reunification, NATO would not expand further eastward, that is, further into Eastern Europe and former member to the Warsaw Pact, toward the Soviet Union’s Borders. At the same Time, just as that implicit offer was being made to the Soviet Union, the US, behind the scenes, in its own narrative, had every intention of expanding NATO further eastward or at least creating the Opportunity, so that if it decides to do so in the Future, it could.
7.       Lynn-Jones: You’re basically saying the United States pledged not to expand NATO but maybe the United States wasn’t being entirely sincere?
8.       Itz-Ko-Witz: Correct. It was a wink and a nod.
9.       Lynn-Jones: How does this Argument differ from what other writers have discovered when they’ve looked at this Period?
10.   Itz-Ko-Witz: It’s a great Question. I would say the literature right now, at least the policy making and academic literature right now is divided into two Camps. On the one hand you have People like Mark Kramer, who denied that any non-Expansion offer that had any implications at all for Eastern Europe was ever advanced. On the other hand, you have People like Mary Soratti, there’s a story on Mary Soratti, along with many former policymakers, who offer that maybe there were winks and nods and head bugs towards a non-Expansion pledge, but that that offer was quickly taken off the table by February of 1990 and from then on out the US was very open in telling the Soviet Union that Expansion might be on the table.
11.   Lynn-Jones: When you researched this Question, I assume you had access to some of the documents from the archives, and I wonder if you could tell us about the key Evidence that supports your claim. Clearly other scholars have a different opinion, so why are you Right, why are they Wrong?
12.   Itz-Ko-Witz: Why am I Right and why are they Wrong? It’s the great scholarly Question. I would say three things in responds to this. Number one, I spent approximately three or four months, cumulatively, in the George Bush Library and that was made quite a bit easier because my office is across the street from the George Bush Library. Just combing through National Security Council records and State Department and Defence Department records that are in the archives. Just the quantity involved let me see a fuller picture, in private scholars. That’s number one. Number two. Building on that, I was able to assemble key diplomatic correspondence, key Meetings between then Secretary of State, James Baker, President Bush and other US policymakers with their Soviet counterparts. I was able to see, simultaneously, what was being told to the Soviets to their faces and what the US was telling itself in the backroom. Or at least telling its Allies and itself in the back room. I guess the third point is to say, there are key moments in these Negociations. I mentioned one a second ago, February 1990 and there are few others, where the historical narratives diverge, and looking at these key diplomatic documents, these key Meeting Transcripts, I was able to come down one way or another on the Evidence and weigh into this Debate.
13.   Lynn-Jones: When you look at the documents, and you obviously came to a general conclusion that there had been, at least an informal pledge not to expand NATO. Were there any other surprising Findings that came out? What was the most surprising Finding to you, as a Researcher?
14.   Itz-Ko-Witz: I mentioned a second ago how in public, or at least, vis-à-vis the Soviets, the US would offer one narrative, whereas in private there was an entirely different narrative. I think that was very surprising, because in public, or at least towards the Soviets, what was being portrayed was a very cooperative, integrating, mutually accommodating post-Cold War World. Whereas in private the US did not think this was going to be damaging to the Soviet Union, there was no malice involved, but it was clearly understood that the US was going to be dominant and the big dog on the block and running the show. Whereas in public there’s a very much a Cooperation narrative. In private, it’s much more a story of American power maximisation. I think that was a very striking Finding. It’s not at all what I expected to find.
15.   Lynn-Jones: Well, it certainly will confirm the suspicion of those of us who are cynical about international Politics and Diplomacy.
16.   Itz-Ko-Witz: I think that’s entirely correct, and it’s being traumatising for these young scholars to realise that.
17.   Lynn-Jones: When the various Participants in these Negociations look back now. The Soviet Union is essentially Russia or Russia has inherited the Soviet’s role here. Of course, the United States and European Countries are still involved and interacting. How do they interpret what happened back in 1990 and how do their narratives diverge?
18.   Itz-Ko-Witz: It’s very interesting to look at it. If I say Soviets I mean the Russians, because many of the policymakers have just put on a different hat since that Time Period, but many of the Russians actually claim very openly, Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet President, Boris Yeltsin, Russian President, Vladimir Putin. President, Prime Minister and President of Russia, have repeated claimed that informal non-Expansion pledge was offered by the US in 1990. For the last 25 years, Western policymakers, at least in the US, have roundly said, “No, we didn’t.” Nothing was written down and it wasn’t signed so it doesn’t matter if it did. What I found was that the Russian narrative is basically exactly what happened. In this case, the Russians are telling the broad truth as to what happened in 1990. Europeans, I’ll just note, the Germans especially, who are particularly invested in this are a little more sympathetic to the Russian narrative than the US is. I would say there’s actually a transatlantic divergence on this that in some ways mirrors what one would expect if you are a policymaker of the System’s Hegemony, trying to legitimate or justify or explain away your post-Cold War Dominance.
19.   Lynn-Jones: If the Russians are basically correct, that there was at least an informal promise by the United States not to expand NATO, why weren’t they able to follow up and attempt to at least continue the Negociations in the 1990s after the initial around the Discussions on the German Unification back in 1990?
20.   Itz-Ko-Witz: It is interesting. If you think about the position of Russia in the early 1990s, this is a State that is shattered, it’s politically dis-elude, it’s economically on the ropes, it’s militarily irrelevant. It operates, many ways on the Generosity of the West in many ways at least for the early and mid-1990s. When NATO began to move eastwards, starting in 1993, 1994 and 1995, Boris Yeltsin and former Soviet policymakers are very open in complaining that this violates the NATO Expansion pledge. Yeltsin writes letters, Gorbachev gives Interviews that say the same thing as Yeltsin, this is violating the non-Expansion deal, but at the end of the day the Russians are beholden to the West and they will have many cards to play. Geopolitically, going back to that cynical World view you mentioned a second ago, the Russians have very few cards to play and very stark incentives to at least play along. I’ll just note, that doesn’t mean they gave in or accepted NATO Expansion. It is a statement that they had other issues that needed to be addressed at the moment, that prevented them from pushing that hard.
21.   Lynn-Jones: There’s obviously still some Discussion of this topic going on today, and the Russians and the US Government go back and forth. How has your article been received in this contemporary Debate? What sort of reactions have you had? I also want to point out you published an op-ed, I think in the Los Angeles Times, that drew more attention to these Ideas and probably got some Reactions as well.
22.   Itz-Ko-Witz: I would say that’s a fair Thing to describe. I would say that the Western consensus in Washington has been somewhat opposed to the article that I’m offering. People from the Atlantic Council have written blogpost that critique my piece. Some scholars have come out and say that my Work is shoddy. It’s a fair Argument to be had, although I don’t think my Work is shoddy, I think it just make me a tricky hypothesis. Many People in Russian, many People in Europe have been sympathetic to the Argument and even some academics have come forward to say, “There’s something here because what it suggests and this placing to the ongoing events in Ukraine and Georgia and beyond, maybe the current US and Russia standoff, maybe it’s a spiral in Security, where each side has done things to antagonised the other.” It’s not one sided as People and many policymarkers in the West might prefer to have it.
23.   Lynn-Jones: Of the criticisms and the rebuttals that you’ve heard, of your Work and the challenges to your Argument. Which do you think is the most important, the most significant?
24.   Itz-Ko-Witz: I would say that the most significant, the strongest, is that this was 25 years ago, 30 years ago in some cases, what does it matter. The Russians are using this instrumentally and that what happened in 1990 has no bearing upon Politics in 2016 or beyond. That’s a very fair critique, I think it’s a very fair criticism to level. I will just note, however, that if we’re going to go forward and treat Russia as an antagonist, this is a nuclear-armed State that has recovered from the doldrums of the 1990, Military is important to Europe’s strategic Future. We should be careful before deciding that they’re unalterably liars and cheaters. If there is some Evidence that cuts in the other direction, we should pay attention to that and take it as a signal of some kind rather than outright deception Campaign or effort to divide Western leaks.
25.   Lynn-Jones: You’ve raised a Question of what your findings mean for contemporary US-Russian Relations. I wonder if you think that your findings, that there was some kind of pledge not to expand NATO that United States apparently broke. Does that, somehow excuse Russia’s behavior in, for example, Ukraine, Crimea?
26.   Itz-Ko-Witz: Absolutely not. There is no reason that Russia should be supporting fighters in Ukraine, invading Georgia, all those gesticulating against the Baltic States. What it does do is explain how we got to this situation, highlight pathways forward, or potential options going forward. It doesn’t excuse Russian Behaviour, it just explains it.
27.   Lynn-Jones: You mentioned pathways going forward, and clearly almost as we speak, there have been developments with respect to new NATO military deployments in the Baltic and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, and this topic has been in the news a great deal. Tell me, what do you think of what United States and NATO are doing now vis-a-vis Russia, to respond to a Russian military challenge, and would you do anything differently in light of what you found about what happened back in 1990?
28.   Itz-Ko-Witz: Sure. Let me take those points in order. Current US policy, current NATO policy in Eastern Europe is the worst of all Worlds. It’s Expansionist enough and evolves four Deployments efficient to antagonise Russia to further annoy Russia in the sense of signalling to the West isn’t a reliable negotiating partner, and yet militarily it’s totally insignificant. There is no way that four Battalions are going to defend the Baltic State, for example. It’s the worst of all Worlds, not enough to nail Russia, not enough to deter Russia. On the other hand, what would I do going forward. First of all, I think these Troop Diplomacy that we’re talking about today are terrible Idea, point number one, but that’s short term. I think longer term, we need to credibly commit to forego further NATO Expansion, work to repair Relations with Russia, and that’s a halo statement, I’m going to come back to that and explain that a little bit more in just a second. And then finally accept that the Russian narrative might have some validity to this. Just as a way of signaling that the West understands where Russia is coming from and Values improved Relations with Russia. That would help to improve Relations with Russia, which was my second point, and might build NATO Solidarity as members of NATO buy into this narrative more than the US does.
29.   Lynn-Jones: Turning from the particular Questions of Relations between the United States and Russia, between NATO and Russia today, to the more general Question of what does this mean more broadly. What do you think your finding suggests, for how we understand international Relations, not just the particular bilateral Relationship?
30.   Itz-Ko-Witz: That’s in some ways the heart and soul of the project, because scholars, 25 years ago, spoke of the End of the Cold War as failure of Realism. Dozens of articles were written about this, several edited volumes, and many Theories have come out of the End of the Cold War, US-Soviet Dialogue as showcasing how Great Powers can cooperate with each other. John Ikenbury, Keren Yarhi-Milo, Andrew Kidd, scholars talk about Institution, talk about Trust-building, talk about overcoming Security dilemmas, point to this case as a leading example by which Great Powers can overcome past Tension and move forward in a benign fashion. In fact, the US was publicly cooperating, yet privately sharpening its knife to curve up the Russian Caucus, the Soviet Caucus, then we really need to revisit many of those Theories and at least see if they don’t succeed in this critical case, whether they apply more broadly.
31.   Lynn-Jones: What’s your own agenda for further Research and what do you think others need to Research, both in terms of the overall implications and for further Research on the particular case or US, Russian Relations and the promise to not expand NATO?
32.   Itz-Ko-Witz: I think, first and foremost, scholars need to really re-engage Theories of Cooperation that use the End of the Cold War case in some detail. I think now that we have thousands of high-level documents coming to light, we have interviews of former policymakers out there in the public record. We really need to re-evaluate our Theories, we need to evaluate the outcome of the case and reevaluate the Theories based on the outcome of the case. That’s a bigger IR project, because as I noted, this case is held at as a critical juncture and a critical case for many big Theories of Cooperation of international Politics. That’s number one. Number two, the particulars of the case. We’re getting to the point now where archival Evidence allows us to re-evaluate how we got the post-Cold War World, and this is a World where the US was dominant on several Continents, had extra regional Hegemony. If you want to use a Political Science catch phrase. It had a dominant role overseas and it had oversight of many Countries that could have been potential rivals. Germany, for example, Japan and beyond. I think it’s worthwhile now that we’re getting documents from the Bush, and increasingly Clinton years, that we re-evaluate these specifics of late Cold War and post-Cold War American foreign policy, rather than just relying on memoir and secondary sources.
33.   Lynn-Jones: Do you have the specific Research agenda for looking into this Question?
34.   Itz-Ko-Witz: Well, I’m finishing up a book right now that deals in large part with how the US managed the Decline of the Soviet Union, and I think there will be several spin-off projects that delve into the History of these cases and try to engage some of those IR Theory Debates that I flagged a moment ago. I really hope in doing so, that my Work, at least, engages in a Dialogue with existing Arguments so that we now have more Evidence, rather than just a World War I-World War II-Cold War cases. We actually have new Evidence from the End of the Cold War that allows us to push the balance of International Relations Theory and policy Discourse.
35.   Lynn-Jones: It sounds as though this article will stimulate maybe some others to continue to look into this topic.
36.   Itz-Ko-Witz: I hope so.
37.   Lynn-Jones: Certainly as the basis for your own, continue to research.
38.   Itz-Ko-Witz: I really hope other scholars pick up and go with this. I don’t have the last word here and I don’t want to have the last word here. People think I’m Wrong, I welcome that Debate. I think we should push the Conversation forward. The case, as you mentioned with US, Russia Relation, stays with us today. We need to understand the History of the late-Cold War Period and early post-Cold War Period to understand the World we live in today, because these Debates aren’t going away and especially if we worry about how Power Relations have changed between US and China, how NATO, and how Alliances respond to new Threats, new Security Environments. These are all phenomenon that we have echos of in the late-Cold War Period. We now have new Data, new Evidence that we can use to push some of these Conversations.
39.   Lynn-Jones: Well, I’m sure that these Debates aren’t going to go away but we’re unfortunately just about out of Time for today. I’d like to thank you again Josh, for being with us. It’s been a Pleasure.
40.   Itz-Ko-Witz: It’s my Pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.
41.   Lynn-Jones: Josh Itzkowitz Shifrinson is an assistant professor in the Department of International Affairs at the George Bush School at Texas A&M University, and he’s also currently a fellow at the Dickey Center at Dartmouth. Josh is the author of an article called ‘Deal or No Deal: The End of the Cold War and US offer to limit NATO Expansion.’ It appears in the Spring 2016 issue of International Security, and shorter version was published in the Los Angeles Times as an op-ed, and you can read either online. Thank you again Josh for being with us today.
42.   Itz-Ko-Witz: Thank you, Sean, for having me.

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