Kennan Saw In 1998 That NATO Expansion Would Be A Disaster

In addition to Lyndon LaRouche, who offered a perspective for avoiding the world war that we now imminently face, at least one other strategic thinker foresaw that expanding NATO would be a disaster: George Kennan, the architect of 40 years of containment of the Soviet Union. Retired Ambassador Chas Freeman is circulating a May 2, 1998 article by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, in which he asked Kennan his reaction to the then-recent Senate vote on the expansion of NATO to include Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.

Watch Lyndon LaRouche’s Storm Over Asia, Original 1999 Broadcast

Reading it from the perspective of 16 years later, Kennan’s response seems remarkably prescient. “I think it is the beginning of a new Cold War,” the 94-year old Kennan told Friedman. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way.” Kennan added, after discussing how poorly Russian history is understood in the West, that “Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are—but this is just wrong.”

In reflecting on what Kennan had told him, Freidman wrote that whatever else future historians write about the 1990s expansion of NATO, there is one thing they “will surely remark upon, and that is the utter poverty of imagination that characterized U.S. foreign policy in the late 1990s.” They reacted to one of the seminal events of the 20th century—the collapse of the Soviet Empire—by expanding the NATO cold war alliance against Russia and bringing it closer to Russia’s borders. “We are in age of midgets,” Friedman wrote then. Sixteen years later, the minds of the midgets have only grown smaller, and brought us closer to a civilization-ending thermonuclear World War III.

Kennan’s 1998 comments have been echoed today in recent remarks by two former Ambassadors to Russia—American Jack Matlock and Briton Tony Brenton. Matlock gave a lengthy interview to Democracy Now, in which he presented the pattern of American abuses of Russia through NATO expansion, now reaching directly to Russian borders in Ukraine and Georgia. He drew the parallel to how the U.S. “went ballistic” when Russia established a beachhead near U.S. borders in Cuba. Ambassador Brenton made similar comments in an article published Sunday in the Independent, noting that “Our ministers, in particular the Prime Minister, should reciprocate by looking for opportunities to talk to the Russians, rather than, as at present, just shouting at them. We should be paying more attention to Russia’s real fear, which is to see Ukraine swallowed up by the West.”

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