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About the Controversy over the 'NATO Expansion' Point during Reunification Negotiations

Did the United States promise the Soviet Union during the 1990 negotiations on German reunification that NATO would not expand into Eastern Europe?

As J.R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson says in "Deal or No Deal? The End of the Cold War and the U.S. Offer to Limit NATO Expansion"

"Western scholars are similarly divided on the question of what the United States offered the Soviet Union in 1990. Drawing largely upon public statements and memoirs by Western and Soviet leaders, some scholars in the 1990s contended that NATO's eastward expansion violated what Michael MccGwire termed “top-level assurances” against NATO enlargement. More recently, however, access to declassified archival materials has led most scholars to agree with the historian Mary Sarotte, who writes that “contrary to Russian allegations, [Soviet President Mikhail] Gorbachev never got the West to promise that it would freeze NATO's borders.” Still, current studies are divided into two schools of thought over the process and implications of the 1990 reunification negotiations for NATO's future. One school largely agrees with U.S. policymakers that—as Mark Kramer claims—NATO expansion into Eastern Europe “never came up during the negotiations.” As a result, Russian accusations of a broken non-expansion promise are “spurious.” In contrast, a second school contends that a NATO non-expansion offer that may have applied to Eastern Europe was discussed briefly in talks among U.S., West German, and Soviet leaders in February 1990. This non-expansion proposal was quickly withdrawn, but given the February meetings, Russian complaints cannot be entirely dismissed: the United States and the Soviet Union never struck a deal against NATO expansion, yet Soviet leaders may have thought otherwise.(Source: Deal or No Deal? The End of the Cold War and the U.S. Offer to Limit NATO Expansion by J.R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson, International Security, Spring 2016; vol. 40, issue 4, pp.7-44)

Please also refer to Mark Kramer, "The Myth of a No-NATO-Enlargement Pledge to Russia" published in the Washington Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 2 (April 2009), pp. 39-61:

"The purpose here has simply been to determine whether Russian and Western observers and officials are justified in arguing that the U.S. government, and perhaps some of the other NATO governments, made a ‘‘pledge’’ to Gorbachev in 1990 that if the USSR consented to Germany’s full membership in NATO after unification, the alliance would not expand to include any other East European countries. Declassified materials show unmistakably that no such pledge was made. Valid arguments can be made against NATO enlargement, but this particular argument is spurious".

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