The policy of détente after the Cuban Missile Crisis
After the Cuban missile crisis, which brought the two world powers, the USA and the Soviet Union, to the brink of another world war, reason intervened in the short term: both sides recognized that the armaments efforts had led to a “balance of terror”. A phase of détente policy occurred, a red telephone between the presidents of both world powers was installed and numerous treaties secured this détente policy at the highest level.
In the Federal Republic of Germany, the new federal government of Brandt-Scheel also launched a new Ostpolitik under the slogan “change through rapprochement”. It was above all the foreign policy adviser Brandt, Egon Bahr, who drew up the corresponding strategy paper and finally implemented it in months of negotiations with Moscow, then with Poland and finally with the GDR. In his closer circle of advisers, he repeatedly repeated his guiding principle: negotiations between states are based on trust. And that means taking into account the interests of the respective partner, their emotional situation – especially their fears – and finally the country’s history in the negotiations. Only on this basis is a viable compromise possible. In short: he who is not capable of this is not capable of peace.
In his negotiations with Moscow, Bahr put this insight into practice. It was clear to him that the circle of Soviet-occupied satellite states not only sprang from imperial power politics, but also has to do with the encirclement fears of the Russians. Hitler and Napoleon are deeply embedded in the collective memory of the Russians. The fact that the Federal Republic of Germany, allied with the United States and protected by it militarily, now recognized the existing borders of Europe for the first time was an important breakthrough for the Soviet government.
The subsequent treaties with the Soviet Union, Poland, the GDR and finally the four – power Agreement on Berlin-were all important milestones on the way to an overall regulated and peaceful coexistence, which finally paved the way for the reunification of Germany.
The collapse of the Soviet Empire. Hopes for a new chapter in the history of Europe
Gorbachev, President of the USSR since 1985 and General Secretary of the CPSU, opened a new chapter in international relations. During this time, the Soviet Union realized that it could no longer keep up economically and thus also in terms of arms policy with the dynamics of the market-radical capitalist states of the West. Glasnost (openness) and perestroika (transformation) should enable a viable socialism through more democracy and a limited “market economy transformation”. All this should also be allowed to other Eastern European countries.
What some perceived as a collapse was a new historical beginning for Gorbachev and for large parts of the world’s population. In the Charter of Paris, which concluded the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe on 21 November 1990, the heads of state and security of the Soviet Union, the United States, Canada and 32 European states declared an end to the division of Europe, committed themselves to democracy as the only legitimate form of government and assured their peoples of the guarantee of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Moreover, a new European security system should replace NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Gorbachev spoke of a common European house in which the Soviet Union was also to be granted housing rights.
In February 1990, the US Secretary of State James Baker, Chancellor Kohl and Foreign Minister Genscher negotiated in Moscow. It was about the Soviet Union’s approval of the reunification of Germany and the extension of NATO to the territory of the former GDR. The renunciation of any further expansion of NATO to the east – however only verbally – had been promised. Since the Warsaw Pact still existed and there was an atmosphere of trust and new beginnings between East and West, this is understandable. But in hindsight this proved to be a serious mistake.
There is hardly any other question that has subsequently strained the relationship between Russia and the West as much as NATO’s eastward expansion.
In July 1991, the Warsaw Pact, the Friendship and Defense Alliance of the Soviet Union, was dissolved. The Soviet Union withdrew its occupation troops everywhere – also from Germany.
There was no longer any talk of a dissolution of NATO and a new, common European security system.
Disappointments and humiliations
While the West triumphed and the USA saw itself as the only remaining world power, the Soviet Union collapsed. On 25 December 1991, President Gorbachev announced his resignation in a short televised address, marking the end of the Soviet Union. The former member states left in series. Five days later, the new president of Russia, Yeltsin, tried to save what could still be saved by establishing a “Commonwealth of Independent States” (CIS).
But that was only the beginning. Russia, as well as much of its former partner states, plunged into a deep economic crisis. The entire social security system collapsed, including pensions. The health and education system was only functional to a limited extent. While poverty rose rapidly, the average life expectancy dropped from 68 to 65 years. Neoliberal US economic advisers, eager to privatize and liberalize markets, as well as the greed of less oligarchs who took over rich mineral resources and large industries, made the situation worse.
The Soviet empire, which was invincible only a few years ago, had become a pile of rubble. More and more people yearned for the old times.
The successes of the Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky in the following elections increased fears of threats to Russia in Poland and other Eastern European states. They pushed for admission to NATO. The Clinton administration felt the pressure - from its Eastern European voters, but also from the US arms industry, which hoped for billions of dollars in deals to equip the armies of future member states.
In short: in 1996 Clinton gave the green light for the eastward expansion of NATO. Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary were admitted in March 1999.
The new president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, tried to counter with a charm offensive. In his speech in the German Bundestag on 25 September 2001, he stressed the historical and cultural similarities between the two countries and referred to the many political and economic opportunities for cooperation – also together in Europe. In the end, the members of the Bundestag rewarded Putin with standing applause. After that, nothing happened.
On the contrary: in March 2004 Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia were admitted to NATO, a further humiliation by the West, whose troops now advanced directly to the Russian border in the Baltic States.
At the 43rd Munich Security Conference in February 2007, Putin denounced exactly this in a sharply worded speech. Once again, he referred to the broken promise of the West to renounce NATO’s eastward expansion. It was almost negligent of the representatives of the West not to have taken the speech seriously.
Above all, the USA and some Eastern European states already had the next step in mind: the admission of Ukraine into NATO. This was made clear by the outgoing President of the USA, George W. Bush, when he officially announced during the NATO conference in Bucharest in 2008: it is in the interest of the USA to include Ukraine in NATO.
While Poland and the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia supported the US, most Western European countries rejected immediate accession. Germany, in particular, with Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Steinmeier, pointed out that around 70 percent of Ukrainians in polls rejected their country’s accession to NATO. One must also consider the encirclement fears of the Russians.
Nevertheless, the US president was able to assert himself in the final communiqué: accession to NATO was decided, it was a matter of time. It should have been clear to the West from that moment that this crossed a red line towards Russia.
Ukraine is closely linked to Russia politically, economically and culturally. In addition, there is a large Russian-speaking minority. Since independence, leases of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and its main base Sevastopol have secured a right to exist on foreign soil. The use of the Sea of Azov and the right of passage on the Kerch Strait are also regulated in a cooperation agreement between the two countries. What will change if Ukraine becomes a member of NATO?
Russia did not want to wait to find out, but created facts – to protect its own geostrategic position. At the beginning of 2014, Russia facilitated the secession of Crimea by referendum and then the entry of the Crimean Republic into the Russian Federation.
The Western world called this an annexation, a violation of international law and the UN Charter. That Putin is enforcing the interests of his country in this way is understandable after everything that has happened before. The US probably would not have reacted differently in such a case. The promise to build a new security architecture for Europe that would have included both Russia and the Eastern European states was not even considered. Instead, NATO was expanded and, contrary to all assurances, systematically pushed to the Russian borders.
Nothing understood, nothing learned
When Putin not only annexed Crimea, but with the civil war in Donbass also ensured that Ukraine could not be admitted to NATO for this reason alone, he had finally become the evil one, the outlaw, the killer. But it is a reaction to the numerous decisions of the West that hurt the interests of Russia and its people. Who suggests, this is a Putin-Versteher. Dumber, one can no longer interpret the immensely successful peace policy of the Brandt Era/Bahr. For them, understanding was the prerequisite for peace. The change of perspective – to put this on the side of the other and to analyse the problem area from there – why has this been lost in today’s generation of politicians? Why are they so forgotten about history? Must one have suffered the experience of war to understand this?