Andrew Cockburn has an interesting article (paywall) in the January 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine where he talks about how the military industry, alarmed by the fact that the end of the Cold War led to a reduction in the need for things like fighter planes, tanks, and other highly profitable heavy armaments, set about creating a new cold war and succeeded.
[T]he end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union had posed a truly existential threat. The gift that had kept on giving, reliably generating bomber gaps, missile gaps, civil-defense gaps, and whatever else was needed at the mere threat of a budget cut, disappeared almost overnight.
For the defense industry, this was a matter of urgency. By the early 1990s, research and procurement contracts had fallen to about half what they’d been in the previous decade.
While things like the war on drugs and the war on terror (America is always at war with something or somebody) were helpful, neither required the demands for the kinds of massive heavy equipment that wars between nations generate. The problem was that when the Cold War ended, the US and Russia apparently agreed that NATO would not seek to expand to the east.
There was one minor impediment: the Bush Administration had already promised Moscow that NATO would not move east, a pledge that was part of the settlement ending the Cold War. Between 1989 and 1991, the United States and the Soviet Union had amicably agreed to cut strategic nuclear forces by roughly a third and to withdraw almost all tactical nuclear weapons from Europe. Meanwhile, the Soviets had good reason to believe that if they pulled their forces out of Eastern Europe, NATO would not fill the military vacuum left by the Red Army. Secretary of State James Baker had unequivocally spelled out Washington’s end of that bargain in a private conversation with Mikhail Gorbachev in February 1990, pledging that NATO forces would not move “one inch to the east,” provided the Soviets agreed to NATO membership for a unified Germany.
But the US set about breaking those promises, with George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Geroge W. Bush, Dick Cheney (of course), a coterie of neoconservatives, and the heavy arms industry led by former Martin-Marietta CEO Norman R. Augustine, pushing the process of trying to encircle Russia, with the Baltic states being among those recruited, with the goal being to defeat Russia totally. Naturally this infuriated the Russians.
The Russians certainly thought they had a deal. Sergey Ivanov, later one of Vladimir Putin’s defense ministers, was in 1991 a KGB officer operating in Europe. “We were told . . . that NATO would not expand its military structures in the direction of the Soviet Union,” he later recalled. When things turned out otherwise, Gorbachev remarked angrily that “one cannot depend on American politicians.” Some years later, in 2007, in an angry speech to Western leaders, Putin asked: “What happened to the assurances our Western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? Where are those declarations today? No one even remembers them.”
The Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili was someone ho thought he could ride this wave of anti-Russian sentiment in the west and prematurely challenged Russia in South Ossetia in 2008, with the result that he was roundly and quickly defeated.
The US and NATO then decided to put Ukraine into their camp and engineered a putsch that overthrew the government and replaced it with a pro-western one and this resulted in Russia moving into Crimea to make sure that it continued to have access to the Baltic ports for its fleet. And we still have a continuing struggle for control of Eastern Ukraine.
So there we are, in a new Cold War with Russia. But not everyone is unhappy about this new state of tension.
In any event, the vision of Augustine and his peers that an enlarged NATO could be a fruitful market has become a reality. By 2014, the twelve new members had purchased close to $17 billion worth of American weapons, while this past October Romania celebrated the arrival of Eastern Europe’s first $134 million Lockheed Martin Aegis Ashore missile-defense system.
When the Cold War ended, some people dreamed of a ‘peace dividend’ where all the vast sums of money being spent on armaments would be now available to actually improve the lives of people. As long as the military-industrial complex is around to pour vast sums of money into the pockets of members of government to keep the war fever high, that will never happen.