Not One Inch

Just finished “Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the making of a postwar stalemate” by Mary Sarotte. The book was recommended to me by Bruce Cochrane. It is an excellent insight into current events in Ukraine today.

The title comes from the assurance given by then-Secretary of State James Baker to Mikhail Gorbachev that German reunification would mean “not one inch eastward” in NATO expansion. This phrase has inspired much finger-pointing by Russia and its Western defenders, since NATO did indeed expand eastward, up to the Russian border in the case of Poland and the Baltics.

The history unfolded by Sarotte is nuanced and detailed. To simplify greatly, the Soviet Union under Gorbachev and later Russia under Yeltsen was in desperate need of hard currency, and Western leaders like Helmut Kohl, François Mitterrand and Bill Clinton were able to buy off Russian resistance. Although many or most of the states in the former Soviet Union and their satellites were eager to join NATO, there was considerable debate in the west on how many new members to admit and whether these applicants were prepared to accept the responsibilities of NATO membership. The first Chechen war under Yeltsen and the second under Putin dissolved any remaining illusions about whether Russia could be trusted, thus accelerating NATO expansion.

Ukraine remained outside, in part because its own leadership vacillated. The situation today would look very different had Ukraine been admitted as a full member of NATO, but the book made it clear why that counterfactual never came to pass.

I’m an eager consumer of 20th century history, and just came off of reading a history of Ukraine, so this book hit a sweet spot for me. The writing is vivid. Sarotte makes extensive use of contemporaneous notes and interviews to guide the reader through the complex labyrinth of events and tortuous decisions that brought us to the present. The book concludes with a thoughtful examination of whether or not NATO expansion was a “good” thing. I won’t spoil it for any readers by divulging her answers. I recommend it to you without reservation.