The abandonment of the Warsaw Pact part 3

The following (as also seen in the previous part) is like a deja vu of what is happening today whereby the hard-line from Putin underscores the fragile prospects for negotiations that Washington hopes will avert the danger of a new Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the tensest point in U.S.-Russia relations since the Cold War ended three decades ago.

Talks begin on Monday in Geneva before moving to Brussels and Vienna, but the state-owned RIA news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying it was entirely possible the diplomacy could end after a single meeting.

The fear of Moskau here is the potential enlargement of NATO. 

This whereby the United States and allies currently are prepared to discuss with Russia in talks about Ukraine the possibility of each side restricting military exercises and missile deployments in the region, a senior U.S. administration official said on Saturday.

It started with President Clinton who valued the concept of NATO enlargement. As he noted to NATO secretary-general Javier Solana in 1996, Partnership for Peace (PfP) “has proven to be a bigger deal than we expected – with more countries and more substantive cooperation. It has grown into something significant in its own right.” 1 

As we have seen here and here it succeeded a little too well. Opponents of PfP within the US administration pushed the president not to stop there. Skilled bureaucratic infighters framed withholding Article 5 as giving Moscow a veto. Instead, they argued for extending that article as soon as possible to deserving new democracies. Here the interaction with Russian choices was critical: Yeltsin’s tragic use of violence against his opponents in Moscow and Chechnya, along with the alarming success of antireform nationalists, bolstered calls for a hedge against the potential renewal of Russian aggression. These calls, along with the relationships that Polish president Lech Wałęsa and Czech president Václav Havel had established with Clinton, increasingly impacted the American president, who also had to keep domestic political pressures in mind. He had narrowly won election in 1992, and if he wanted a second term, he had to pay attention to the success of the pro-expansion Republican Party in the 1994 midterm vote. All of these considerations combined to tip the balance in Clinton’s mind toward Article 5 guarantees for all. He foreclosed his own administration’s option of incremental Partnership and, as 1994 was ending, executed the second ratchet turn. From then on, his administration pursued one-size-fits-all, full-guarantee NATO enlargement. As an unfortunate corollary, Russians concluded that PfP had been a ruse, even though it had not.

Hopes for lasting US-Russian security cooperation did not disappear immediately. Joint efforts on the ground in former Yugoslavia continued. But discord increased, contributing to the clash at Pristina Airport in June 1999 and the confrontation between Clinton and Yeltsin in Istanbul that November. These earlier disagreements between Washington and Moscow created scars, decreased trust, and reduced both sides’ openness to cooperation. The effect was cumulative even before Yeltsin promoted Putin as his successor. The Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, later recalled that sediment of distrust had already accumulated by then. 2

Critics inside and outside the administration advised Clinton that how Washington was expanding NATO was diluting the alliance, humiliating Moscow, and undermining arms control. These critiques did not slow the steady movement of policy toward maximalist positions. 3 The question inside the administration was no longer how to expand NATO but how far – and the answer was “to the Baltics.” Strong hints from Nordic neighbors about the desirability of some kind of modulation could not resist expansion’s momentum. 

Clinton’s decision to have the April 1999 Washington summit welcome Baltic interest in NATO represented the third turn of the ratchet: foreclosing other options, the alliance would reach within what Moscow considered the former Soviet Union itself. The United States could insist, correctly, that it had never recognized the Baltics’ incorporation into the USSR – but that did not change the political import of the decision. Combined with Putin’s installation as acting president in December of that year, this decision meant that the year 1999 closed with the settlement of a post–Cold War order that looked much like its predecessor: distrust between Moscow and Washington over a Europe divided into Article 5 and non – Article 5 portions, now with the dividing line farther East. 

That outcome did not fulfill the hopes of 1989 – meaning, among other things, the belief that the liberal international order had succeeded definitively and that residents of all states between the Atlantic and the Pacific, not just the Western ones, could now cooperate within it. 4 The root cause should be sought more in leaders’ agency than in structural factors. Both American and Russian leaders repeatedly made choices yielding outcomes that not only fell short of those hopes but were explicitly at odds with their stated intentions. Bush talked about a Europe whole, accessible, and at peace; Clinton repeatedly proclaimed his wish to avoid drawing a line. Yet, both in the end, their actions promoted a dividing line across Europe. Gorbachev wanted to save the Soviet Union; Yeltsin wanted to democratize Russia; and both, in different ways, wanted to partner on equal footing with the West. Yet, in the longer term, both failed as well. 

Other Russians similarly saw their initial democratizing intent yield disappointing outcomes. In his memoirs, Andrei Kozyrev, the former Russian foreign minister, wrote that the popular uprising against the August 1991 coup attempt had revealed the “democratic potential” inherent in Russia and “thus established an important historical precedent.” For that reason, the famous triumph over reactionaries “was the highest moral and political point ever reached by the Russian people.” It showed that his people did not want to go back to authoritarianism; they wanted their transformation to succeed and move forward to a better future. Because of such views, after Kozyrev’s ouster in 1996, Talbott eulogized him as a true believer in the potential for that better future. In the American’s words, Kozyrev was “a little bit like Gorbachev: scorned, flawed, a tad pathetic, but in a way heroic, and a long way from having been proved ‘wrong’ in any ultimate sense.” Talbott added that if Russia ultimately succeeded in evolving into a lasting democracy, “Kozyrev will turn out to have been a prophet without honor in his own time and country.” 5

The former Warsaw Pact and Soviet states also experienced odds with initial hopes. Although such conditions repeatedly said they did not want to end up in a gray zone, some did. The peoples of Belarus, Georgia, and Ukraine all struggled to define their relations with Russia and, at times, defend their borders. Former Warsaw Pact states experienced their uncertainties. While they succeeded in joining NATO (and eventually the EU), they found that such memberships did not automatically lock in their democratic transformations – and, like the rest of the continent, they suffered rising tensions with Moscow. 

In the twenty-first century, what increasingly became apparent was that the pressures of simultaneously democratizing and creating a market economy had produced fertile ground for latter-day, Soviet-trained authoritarians such as Putin. Once securely in power, Putin began gradually throttling back the democratic transformation while resuming old habits of competition with the West. American and Russian choices had by then interacted in cumulative ways – worsened by the bad timing of contemporary events – to steer the overall course of US-Russian relations onto a trajectory that fell well short of post–Cold War hopes. 

Turning to the second question: Were there feasible alternatives to the decisions that American and Russian leaders made, in particular alternatives for Washington that might have modulated the process of expansion, aligned better with long-term US interests, and produced enlargement at a lower political cost? To put it more pointedly: Given that Russia, once it recovered from political and economic collapse, would almost certainly remain a significant player because of its size and nuclear arsenal, would it not have been better to anticipate this problem in advance by giving Moscow greater say over, and some secure berth in, a standard security structure? The answer is a qualified yes. 

It is qualified because today’s renewed tensions stem mainly from Russia’s choices. As discussed above, Yeltsin’s decision to use violence in Chechnya in 1994 was tragic, particularly in the wake of extremists’ December 1993 electoral success. The combination of these events alarmed neighbors and diminished prospects for successful Russian transformation away from its undemocratic past. Worse, the conflict in Chechnya, once renewed later in the 1990s, opened up a pathway to popularity for Putin. Given what a damaging mistake Chechnya was, it is impossible to know whether Moscow’s responses to a different form of NATO enlargement would have been any less self-harming. And last but most definitely not least, Central and Eastern European democracies had both a moral and a sovereign right to make the choices they deemed best for their security. They believed that meant joining NATO as full members as soon as possible. 

Yet it remains reasonable to speculate that, in the longer term, prioritizing a post–Cold War security order that included Russia could have decreased tensions between the world’s two nuclear superpowers – thereby reducing tensions for all of Europe – and kept both sides closer to the goal of banishing conflict between them. For a while, such an order existed, thanks to PfP. The Partnership simultaneously offered Russia an acceptable berth – Yeltsin called the idea “brilliant” – while maintaining the possibility of new allies joining NATO. Put differently, PfP enabled Washington to avoid choosing too soon between Russia, Central and Eastern Europe, and post-Soviet republics such as the Baltics and Ukraine. Even if Russia had returned to personal rule and a threatening stance in the twenty-first century nonetheless, PfP could have kept Western options open by allowing movement toward full NATO expansion in response to those renewed threats. Lastly, though the Partnership was vastly less appealing to Central and Eastern Europeans than NATO membership, they understood that its inclusivity provided options for post-Soviet states that alliance expansion did not. PfP had the great advantage of reflecting Winston Churchill’s advice: “In victory: magnanimity.” 6 

The success of Churchill and other strategists after World War II in banishing conflict between former enemies had rested on that principle – helped by the need to make common cause against a new enemy. The post-1945 world would have looked very different if the United States had left the Europeans to fend for themselves. If the 1990s had seen something equivalent to the diplomacy displayed in the aftermath of World War II, it could have created a different future. NATO could have wrapped itself around that diplomacy by implementing a measured expansion, prioritizing nuclear disarmament, and working with Russia. As Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Moscow, has rightly written, “Russia was not destined to return to a confrontational relationship with the United States or the West.” What happened did not have to happen. 7

Among many other consequences, such a wraparound framework would have created opportunities for Americans, Europeans, and Russians to cooperate with China. Instead of rebooting Cold War-style confrontation, such a framework could have enabled widespread coordination in the face of challenges from the People’s Republic. Clinton had already sensed the need to refocus US defense strategy on Asia, as he confided to senators during the SNOG session of June 1997. He thought, wrongly, that aggressive NATO expansion would free up US military resources in Europe for such a pivot in the longer term. 

More public candor at the time from knowledgeable insiders about the options being foreclosed might have helped. Even as strong a supporter of NATO as then-senator Joseph Biden sensed that he lacked answers to critical questions: Enlargement, yes, but at what cost to relations with former Soviet republics and nuclear disarmament? Biden asked an expert witness – former US ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack Matlock – questions to this effect at a Senate hearing on NATO expansion on October 30, 1997. Matlock responded that, despite the passing of the Cold War, “the most serious potential security threat to the American people” remained “weapons of mass destruction from Russian arsenals.” Biden replied, “I agree with that concern.” NATO expansion, as proposed in 1997, Matlock continued, would not help to contain that threat and could even “undermine the effort.” In reply, Biden concluded that “continuing the Partnership for Peace, which turned out to be much more robust and much more successful than I think anyone thought it would be at the outset, may arguably have been a better way to go.” 8 

The Partnership might also have helped its most significant critics, the Central and Eastern European countries, toward more permanent democratization. Social science researchers later established that it was not NATO membership that prompted these countries to complete civil and military reforms; it was the process of trying to join. 9 Congressional investigators and others warned that countries entered NATO before establishing solid democratic institutions. If the Partnership had survived as implemented initially, potential allies would – admittedly through clenched teeth – have had to earn alliance status over a more extended period, presumably making them more resistant to subsequent attacks on democracy. 

And if NATO was too quick to expand, the EU was too slow. Alliance enlargement enabled the EU to postpone its expansion and urge new democracies to look to NATO instead. This postponement meant that European leaders were punching below their weight in the East’s critical early days of democratization. The EU also ruled out Russian membership privately and prioritized enlargement to Austria, Finland, and Sweden. In the decade after the remarkable events of 1989, only those three states – and no former Soviet Bloc ones – joined the union. 10 

But even without PfP, the Clinton administration still had other alternatives. The last Democratic president before Clinton, Jimmy Carter, wisely said on September 4, 1978, as he headed for the Camp David summit that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize: “compromises will be mandatory. Without them, no progress can be expected. Flexibility will be the essence of our hopes.” 11 Even if Clinton had switched to full-guarantee NATO expansion when he did, there were still at least five ways that Washington could have tried to maintain better relations with Russia. 

First, Russia’s claim that it had permitted German unification in exchange for a guarantee against NATO expansion could have been discussed soberly, not dismissed out of hand. German diplomats tried to point out that while Moscow’s claim was wrong in substance, it had psychological weight. A more respectful rhetorical handling of this issue in the mid-1990s could have yielded benefits at little cost for a country that cares significantly about addressing it. 12 A second concession – changing the alliance’s name, as Moscow requested, leaving all other aspects intact – could also have yielded benefits at a limited cost. The Atlantic Alliance had long since moved past the Atlantic seaboard, defining the entire Mediterranean as a branch of that ocean to justify projecting naval power as far east as possible – and even gaining an ally on the Black Sea in Turkey. 13 

Third, after new allies joined in March 1999, the alliance could have paused instead of immediately commencing talks with nine countries while engaged in a controversial armed conflict in Kosovo. That conflict acquired a significant legacy, thanks to the furor caused in Moscow by its combination with the 1999 start of what would eventually become the “big bang” expansion round of 2004. A pause between rounds would have made would-be members nervous, but Washington had managed other states’ nerves before and could have done so again. 

Fourth, and more speculatively, the concerns voiced by Finnish and Swedish politicians could have received a wider airing. Earlier discussions about a Nordic security association, now to include the Baltic states, could have resumed; or there could have been bilateral treaties with the Baltics. 14 NATO became directly responsible for the area without creating strategic depth in the region. Even in 2016, after more than a decade of NATO membership, simulated war games conducted by the RAND think tank showed that Russian forces could take Baltic capitals in just hours. There were other ways of fighting back against Moscow in such a scenario. As another analyst put it, NATO’s “objective should be shrouding a high-end Baltic fight in incalculable risk for Russia,” mainly by “maintaining uncertainty and strategic flexibility with air and naval assets.” But the RAND report’s summary was stark: an attack on the Baltics would leave NATO with “a limited number of options, all bad.” 15 

Finally, NATO’s long-standing practice of permitting different practical aspects of membership under a broader Article 5 umbrella – such as the Danish/ Norwegian, French, Spanish, and eastern German variants – could have served as precedents for adding new allies less confrontationally. Through some of these varying deals, the alliance had already begun to live with restrictions on deployments of troops and nuclear weapons. While these were not ideal from Washington’s point of view, it had accepted them and could have done so again. For example, central and Eastern European countries could have been treated like Scandinavian ones. After the Soviet collapse, they all shared a common trait: residency in a neighborhood near, but not controlled by, Russia. 

Instead of these feasible alternatives, by 1999, the Clinton administration had secured an open road for extending the alliance eastward. To do so, it had emulated the solution arrived at by Bush and Kohl: buying Moscow out. After Clinton and his advisors left office, they could only watch in alarm as Bush’s son, George W. Bush, took the keys to the NATO car and gunned it down that open road. Among other stops, the younger Bush attended the alliance’s summits in 2006 in Latvia, the first such event on former Soviet territory, and in 2008 in Bucharest, where he pushed hard to include Georgia and Ukraine. 16 For Putin, that Bucharest summit – coming on top of Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq and his 2007 decision to erect ballistic missile defenses (in the form of ten ground-based interceptors in Poland and a radar facility in the Czech Republic), all around the time of “color revolutions” in post-Soviet states – proved to be the breaking point. 17 

Since the alliance frowns on allies joining NATO to pursue preexisting military disputes, Putin decided to escalate just such preexisting conflicts with Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 in a violent fashion. 18 The hope that such armed conflicts were gone for good had characterized much of the post–Cold War era. 19 Moscow’s action signaled that the period was over. Putin also expanded Russia’s conventional military budget, developed new missile defense and space capabilities, and modernized Russia’s nuclear arsenal. 20 In response, the alliance’s leaders suspended not only the NATO-Russia Council but “all practical cooperation between NATO and Russia.” 21 Contrasting today’s situation with other feasible outcomes to the process of reshaping order after the Cold War helps us to understand just how far short of better alternatives the current situation falls. As Russia expert Stephen Sestanovich presciently wrote in a 1993 op-ed in the New York Times, while real doubts could be raised about “all the many” alternatives being proposed for cooperation with Russia, “these doubts are nothing compared with the frustration and powerlessness we will feel once Russian democracy fails.” 22 

What was the cost of expansion as it occurred, and how did it help to shape the era between the Cold War and COVID? Put differently, it was George Kennan, right? In hindsight, was expansion a bad idea? 

Any severe response to the last question demands another: Bad for whom? The Central and Eastern European countries that pushed hard to join had a right to choose their alliances and were rightly thrilled when they succeeded in joining NATO as full members, protected by Article 5 from the start. But Ukraine was left in the lurch, as were some other post-Soviet republics. And the overriding challenge in post–Cold War Europe was to integrate Russia. Balancing all of these pressures was a daunting task for Washington, which is why it should have tried to avoid calling the question too soon.

And was NATO expansion for the United States? To answer, we must weigh the costs and benefits for America. Both Bush and Clinton knew the cost-benefit calculus. It led the former to pause after adding eastern Germany, once he realized the Soviet Union was collapsing, and the latter, at first, to take a partnership approach to expansion in the hope of maintaining the post–Cold War spirit of cooperation with Moscow. As Clinton consistently emphasized, the crucial issue was not whether to take on new allies “but when and how.” 23 He saw the benefits of enlargement, but like Bush, he worried about the effect on Moscow and pursued a valid compromise.

But the temptation to keep going, without adequately considering the consequences, ultimately proved irresistible. Partisans of unlimited expansion astutely realized they could drop “and how” from the president’s words to create a powerful slogan: the question about NATO enlargement is “not whether but when.” Yet what worked in rhetoric did not work in reality. It is impossible to separate whether enlargement was a good idea from how it happened. Because of the costs, how Washington ultimately implemented expansion advanced American interests less in the long term than it might have done. 

Another way to measure whether enlargement was a good idea is to examine its costs for other countries. Since NATO enlarged, Russia has not invaded any of the new post–Cold War allies. While correlation is not causation, it is hard to imagine that NATO membership was irrelevant to that outcome. But while allies have escaped large-scale physical attacks, they have suffered cyber infiltration and other forms of aggression from Moscow. In meaningful but hard-to-measure ways, Russia undermined European post–Cold War stability. It used a variety of means to promote the erosion of democratic practices and norms in Central and Eastern Europe. Alliance membership has not prevented such backsliding. 24 The Hungarian activist who shot to prominence with his speech in 1989, Viktor Orbán, for example, has undone much of his country’s democratization despite being in NATO, turning his country into the first EU member-state classified as a non-democratic autocracy. Poland and other states have similarly hollowed out many of their relatively new democratic laws and norms. 25

Moreover, NATO has given the Article 5 guarantee to places at risk of invoking it. American tanks have reappeared in Europe in response, increasing the sense of confrontation. A cynical view would be that after its essential function was questioned by the end of the Cold War, NATO expanded itself into necessity again. A more nuanced view is that the alliance did not have to enlarge and did not have to grow inside the former Soviet Union. But if it wanted to do so, it should have paid more attention to Moscow thought. As the historian Odd Arne Westad wrote in 2017, it is “clear that the West should have dealt with post– Cold War Russia better than it did,” not least because “Russia would under all circumstances remain a crucial state in any international system because of its sheer size.” Or, as Yeltsin put it to Talbott in 1996, “Russia will rise again.” 26

The costs for today have been high. In 2016, Putin marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Soviet Union’s collapse by conducting cyberattacks on US elections in support of presidential candidate Donald Trump, who saw little value in the Atlantic Alliance. Russian operatives in the Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, stole documents from the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Hillary Clinton campaign and ensured their widespread distribution through Wikileaks and fictitious online identities. 27 Once Trump won, NATO, and thereby all of the European security, remained centered on Washington as the ultimate Article 5 guarantor became problematic in unexpected ways. Claiming that the burden of NATO was not worth its cost, Trump raised the notion of US withdrawal. He brought back an anachronistic view of American security: the United States should roll up the drawbridge and erect as many walls as possible. Among the many problems with Trump’s threat were the consequences for Europe. The way the alliance has expanded, creating no significant auxiliary military entities or regional associations, means European security remains centered on Washington. US withdrawal would create a massive security vacuum in Europe. 28 

Plus, how can understanding these events guide efforts to create a better future? The answer rests in three principles, the first being the need to make a virtue of necessity. The confrontation between the West and Russia is the order of the day. While that statement must inspire sorrow – reviving aspects of the Cold War is no cause for celebration – the necessity of dealing with renewed competition from Moscow provides a unifying mission that can help bridge fractures within the United States. During the divisive Trump era, Democrats and Republicans agreed on little, but at least some segment of the Republican Party was never comfortable with Trump’s embrace of Putin. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, otherwise strongly supportive of Trump, bristled at being called “Moscow Mitch” for failing to challenge the president’s treatment of Russia. A shared sense of mission in Moscow offers a path for rare domestic consensus that leads back to NATO. 

As an expression of deep American engagement in Europe, the Atlantic Alliance remains the best institution to take on this mission. 29 The guardrails in relations between the United States and Russia have largely disappeared, not least because the younger Bush, Trump, and Putin shredded nearly all remaining Cold War arms control accords. If NATO were to disappear as well, the consequences would be devastating. 30 Since the cost incurred by the manner of alliance expansion cannot be recovered; the best course is to make the best of the status quo. Given the risks posed by Russia and today’s intense strains on the transatlantic relationship, it does not make sense to add to them by trying to undo the past. When a house is burning, it is inadvisable to start a home renovation – no matter how badly it was needed before the fire started. The focus needs to be on putting out the fire and keeping the structure stable. 31

The second guiding principle is that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Washington should address Russian challenges by aggressively and unashamedly prioritizing transatlantic cooperation. The story presented here has illuminated the missed opportunities for collaboration with Russia after the Cold War. Washington should try to make sure it avoids another loss, namely that of the transatlantic cooperation achieved only at great effort after World War II – particularly with France and Germany as the critical centers of power in Europe. If Madeleine Albright once branded America the indispensable nation, France and Germany are its crucial partners, even more so in the wake of Brexit. Common sense dictates that in any conflict, conceptual or physical, a wise combatant should never fight without reason, for long, or alone. If Washington faces new competition with Moscow, it should seek renewed and reinforced transatlantic cooperation. During the Cold War, the shared need to deal with a significant challenge concentrated minds and overcame differences. Ideally, the same dynamic will apply again and yield benefits for dealing with China.

Another issue requiring transatlantic focus is Ukraine. The large country at the gates of Europe is crucial to European stability, and the consequences of the lost opportunity to provide it with a berth in the 1990s linger. While simply pushing for its belated membership in NATO would only worsen current tensions, the West cannot ignore it either. Its conflict with Russia will not disappear, but Western efforts should focus on creating political rather than violent means of addressing the discord in the interest of moving from an immediate conflict to a longer-term negotiated settlement of differences. Such an approach could also apply to relations between the West and Russia. A question asked by the historian, Adam Tooze about China, pertains here: “how rapidly can we move to détente, meaning long-term co-existence with a regime radically different from our own”? 32 Fortunately, the West has historical experience with reaching détente. 33

That leads to the third guiding principle: understanding history can help us, if not to predict, then certainly prepare for the future. At a time of political turmoil, the onset of a pandemic in 2020 may have felt unprecedented, but of course, it was not. The line of precursors reaches back to the ancient world, and there is insight on how to deal with such challenges in both historical and literary sources. In Oedipus Rex, Sophocles has Queen Jocasta speak the following words in a time of plague and strife: a sensible man should judge the new times by the past. Of course, the play’s tragedy was that the queen was more right than she knew. As her own and Oedipus’s fates revealed – they had married without knowing they were mother and long-lost son, or that he had unwittingly murdered his father – ignorance of previous events and the significance of one’s actions can have terrible consequences. 

Knowledge of the past, by contrast, is profoundly empowering. Two modern-era leaders who understood that truth were French president François Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl’s German counterpart. In 1995, German foreign office staffers published a map of Europe showing the institutional affiliations of all European and post-Soviet states as of the previous year. Shows, there was no pronounced political dividing line down the middle. Nearly every country had a berth between the overlapping areas of various international organizations. Places as distant as Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, for example, became partners to NATO without requiring full membership – and with unexpected benefits. To facilitate exercises after that, they joined the Partnership; the US Congress appropriated funds to upgrade their airfields so that NATO planes could use them. American aircraft later employed those upgraded airstrips to deploy special forces after the 9/ 11 attacks on the United States, showing the unexpected military and political benefits of inclusive Partnership. 34 The German Foreign Office’s map from 1995 was a snapshot of how far the post–Cold War cooperative spirit had spread across a continent that had endured decades of hot and cold wars. 35 As he was dying of cancer that same year, the seventy-nine-year-old Mitterrand reflected, in one of his last conversations with Kohl, on the great peace and success of their shared continent. Fifty years after the savage war that had divided their countries, France and Germany had found a lasting way to banish conflict between former enemies and become partners. Mitterrand saw one overriding lesson in those decades: “If we cannot comprehend” that there is “no other way” forward except cooperation, then Europeans were unworthy “of the grace and gift of these past fifty years.” 36 

The fall of the Berlin Wall heralded new times of grace and gift – at long last, for more than Western Europe. Democracies and freedoms proliferated. But as the Belarusian writer and Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich remarked, we missed our chance in the 1990s to be fully worthy of that gift. 37 She lamented how the world was, after a period of optimism, instead of reduced to waiting for the new times all over again.

1. Nicola Labanca, Oltremare: Storia dell’espansione coloniale italiana (Bologna, 2002), 428–33; Saul Kelly, Cold War in the Desert: Britain, the United States and the Italian Colonies, 1945–52 (New York, 2000), 164–7.

2. Antonio Morone, L’ultima colonia: Come l’Italia è tornata in Africa 1950–1960 (Rome, 2011), 131–3, 176–7, 383; Kelly, Cold War in the Desert, 169–71.

3. Ian Connor, Refugees and Expellees in Post-War Germany (Manchester, 2007), 8–10 on early German settlements.

4. Labanca, Oltremare, 438–9; Gerard Cohen, In War’s Wake: Europe’s Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order (New York, 2012), 6.

5. Lori Watt, When Empire Comes Home: Repatriation and Reintegration in Postwar Japan (Cambridge, Mass., 2009), 1–3, 43–4.

6. Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism (Berkeley, Calif., 1998), 410–11.

7. Watt, When Empire Comes Home, 43–7, 97.

8. Ibid., 47–50.

9. Haruko Cook and Theodore Cook (eds.), Japan at War: An Oral History (New York, 1992), 413–15, testimony of Iitoyo Shōgo, official in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

10. Connor, Refugees and Expellees, 13.

11. Raymond Douglas, Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War (New Haven, Conn., 2012), 1–2, 93–6.

12. Ibid., 96.

13. Ibid., 126, 149.

14. Ibid., 124–5, 160–11, 309; Ruth Wittlinger, ‘Taboo or tradition? The “Germans-as-victims” theme in the Federal Republic until the mid-1990s’, in Bill Niven (ed.), Germans as Victims (Basingstoke, 2006), 70–73.

15. Diana Lary, The Chinese People at War: Human Suffering and Social Transformation, 1937–1945 (Cambridge, 2010), 170.

16. G. Daniel Cohen, ‘Between relief and politics: refugee humanitarianism in occupied Germany’, Journal of Contemporary History, 43 (2008), 438.

17. Jessica Reinisch, ‘“We shall build anew a powerful nation”: UNRRA, internationalism, and national reconstruction in Poland’, Journal of Contemporary History, 43 (2008), 453–4.

18. Mark Wyman, DPs: Europe’s Displaced Persons, 1945–1951 (Ithaca, NY, 1998), 39, 46–7.

19. Ibid., 17–19, 37, 52. There were 844,144 DPs dependent on UNRRA in March 1946, 562,841 in August 1948.

20. Cohen, ‘Between relief and politics’, 445, 448–9.

21. R. Rummell, Lethal Politics: Soviet Genocide and Mass Murder since 1917 (London, 1996), 194–5; Mark Edele, Stalin’s Defectors: How Red Army Soldiers became Hitler’s Collaborators, 1941–1945 (Oxford, 2017), 139–42.

22. Nicolas Bethell, The Last Secret: Forcible Repatriation to Russia 1944–1947 (London, 1974), 92–118; Keith Lowe, Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II (London, 2012), 252–62.

23. Cohen, In War’s Wake, 26.

24. Wyman, DPs, 186–90, 194–5, 202–4.

25. James Barr, Lords of the Desert: Britain’s Struggle with America to Dominate the Middle East (London, 2018), 22.

26. Jessica Pearson, ‘Defending the empire at the United Nations: the politics of international colonial oversight in the era of decolonization’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 45 (2017), 528–9.

27. Jan Eckel, ‘Human rights and decolonization: new perspectives and open questions’, Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism and Development, 1 (2010), 114–16.

28. Stefanie Wichhart, ‘Selling democracy during the second British occupation of Iraq, 1941–5’, Journal of Contemporary History, 48 (2013), 525–6.

29. Eckel, ‘Human rights and decolonization’, 118; Dane Kennedy, Decolonization: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2016), 1; W. David McIntyre, Winding up the British Empire in the Pacific Islands (Oxford, 2014), 90–91.

30. Lanxin Xiang, Recasting the Imperial Far East: Britain and America in China 1945–1950 (Armonk, NY, 1995), 38.

31. Peter Catterall, ‘The plural society: Labour and the Commonwealth idea 1900–1964’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 46 (2018), 830; H. Kumarasingham, ‘Liberal ideals and the politics of decolonization’, ibid., 818. Montgomery citation from ‘Tour of Africa November–December 1947’, 10 Dec. 1947.

32. Kennedy, Decolonisation, 34–5.

33. Geraldien von Frijtag Drabbe Künzel, ‘“Germanje”: Dutch empire-building in Nazi-occupied Europe’, Journal of Genocide Research, 19 (2017), 251–3; Bart Luttikhuis and Dirk Moses, ‘Mass violence and the end of Dutch colonial empire in Indonesia’, Journal of Genocide Research, 14 (2012), 260–61; Kennedy, Decolonization, 34–5.

34. Mark Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton, NJ, 2009), 150–51.

35. Anne Deighton, ‘Entente neo-coloniale? Ernest Bevin and proposals for an Anglo-French Third World Power 1945–1949’, Diplomacy & Statecraft, 17 (2006), 835–9; Kumarasingham, ‘Liberal ideals’, 815–16.

36. Christopher Prior, ‘“The community which nobody can define”: meanings of the Commonwealth in the late 1940s and 1950s’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 47 (2019), 569–77.

37. Harry Mace, ‘The Eurafrique initiative, Ernest Bevin and Anglo-French relations in the Foreign Office 1945–50’, Diplomacy & Statecraft, 28 (2017), 601–3.

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