Declassified U.S., Soviet, German, British and French documents show that U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s famous “not one inch eastward” assurance about NATO expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and on into 1991.
The first concrete assurances by Western leaders on NATO began on January 31, 1990, when West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher opened the bidding with a major public speech at Tutzing, in Bavaria, on German unification. The U.S. Embassy in Bonn sent a confidential cable to the Secretary of State, James A. Baker:
Genscher makes it clear that the changes in Eastern Europe and the German unification process must not lead to an ‘impairment of Soviet security interests.’ Therefore, NATO should rule out an ‘expansion of its territory towards the east, i.e moving it closer to the Soviet border‘.https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/document/16112-document-01-u-s-embassy-bonn-confidential-cable
On February 6, 1990, when Genscher met with British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd, the British record showed Genscher saying:
The Russians must have some assurance that if, for example, the Polish Government left the Warsaw Pact one day, they would not join NATO the next.https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/document/16113-document-02-mr-hurd-sir-c-mallaby-bonn
Repeating what Bush said at the Malta summit in December 1989, Baker tells Gorbachev:
We understand the need for assurances to the countries in the East. If we maintain a presence in a Germany that is a part of NATO, there would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east.https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/document/16116-document-05-memorandum-conversation-between
In the Russian version of the conversation, the Gorbachev Foundation provides a record of the Soviet leader’s meeting with Baker on February 9, 1990:
Baker: And the last point. NATO is the mechanism for securing the U.S. presence in Europe. If NATO is liquidated, there will be no such mechanism in Europe. We understand that not only for the Soviet Union but for other European countries as well it is important to have guarantees that if the United States keeps its presence in Germany within the framework of NATO, not an inch of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.
I want to ask you a question, and you need not answer it right now. Supposing unification takesplace, what would you prefer: a united Germany outside of NATO, absolutely independent and without American troops; or a united Germany keeping its connections with NATO, but with the guarantee that NATO’s jurisprudence or troops will not spread east of the present boundary?
Gorbachev: We will think everything over. We intend to discuss all these questions in depth at the leadership level. It goes without saying that a broadening of the NATO zone is not acceptable.
Baker: We agree with that.https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/document/16117-document-06-record-conversation-between
The next day, the West German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, understood a key Soviet bottom line, and assured Gorbachev on February 10, 1990:
We believe that NATO should not expand the sphere of its activity. We have to find a reasonable resolution. I correctly understand the security interests of the Soviet Union, and I realize that you, Mr. General Secretary, and the Soviet leadership will have to clearly explain what is happening to the Soviet people.https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/document/16120-document-09-memorandum-conversation-between
Gorbachev agreed to German unification in NATO as the result of this cascade of assurances, and on the basis of his own analysis that the future of the Soviet Union depended on its integration into Europe, for which Germany would be the decisive actor.
And so what happened next? I’ll let this graphic explain:
Thanks for reading,