By: Chinmaya R. Gharekhan
Through the new Cold War, and in crises like Crimea, developing countries are rediscovering their relevance.
When the Berlin Wall came tumbling down in 1989 and the Soviet Union disintegrated towards the end of 1991, those who rejoiced the most, and for good reason, were the people of East Europe. The rest of the world was broadly divided into two categories. The countries of West Europe and North America regarded these events as the triumph of their free-market ideology and celebrated the “end of history”. They too had good reason to feel vindicated. For the developing and non-aligned world, there were mixed feelings.
The end of the Cold War had to be a good thing and they said so in varying words. At the same time — and this was most evident in the Delegates’ Lounge in the UN building — there was a widespread sentiment that the international community had lost “balance”. It was recognised that the world had entered a period of transition, but no one was clear how long the transition would last, how it would end and what kind of new world order would emerge. Most delegates believed the new order would be unipolar and were apprehensive at the prospect.
One significant event during the two-year period between the collapse of the Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the Two-Plus-Four conference in 1990, which brought about the reunification of the two Germanys and the simultaneous admission of the unified Germany into Nato. The Soviets were most worried about the prospect of a unified Germany as a member of Nato, emerging as a threat to it and its eastern “empire”.
To allay Soviet concerns, some Western statesmen, in particular then German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and his American colleague, then US secretary of state James Baker, sought to reassure the Soviets by promising that Nato would not seek any eastwards expansion, specifically mentioning Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia in this context.
There has been a lot of controversy regarding this “commitment” by the West, with the West disowning any such commitment. In a comprehensive article dated November 26, 2009, the German Der Spiegel concluded: “…there was no doubt that the West did everything it could to give the Soviets the impression that Nato membership was out of the question for countries like Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.” In a telephone conversation with the Soviet foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, on February 10, 1990, Genscher assured the latter: “one thing is certain; Nato will not expand to the east”.
Baker too gave a similar public commitment. One ought to remember that the Soviet Union was still intact at that time and was a superpower; as such its concerns continued…