November 1992: The Hinge of History, by James Carden

The Ukraine-Russia war began in the 1990s. From James Carden at

Bill Clinton’s wholesale rejection of his predecessor’s Russia policy laid the groundwork for the current crisis between Russia and the West.

Understanding the history behind US policy toward Russia since the end of the Cold War has taken on renewed urgency in light of current events. As of this writing, the war in Ukraine, begun on February 24, 2022 has taken the lives of tens of thousands of people and has displaced million others in the largest wave of refugees on the European continent since the end of the Second World War. An understanding of how we arrived at this perilous moment takes on an even greater urgency in light of the real, if distant, possibility of nuclear war. International relations experts, including the realist scholar John J. Mearsheimer and the former US ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack Matlock (1987-1991) agree that today’s crisis surpasses the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis in its potential to bring the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe.  

A review of American policy towards Russia in the immediate post-Soviet decade of the 1990s suggests that things didn’t have to be this way: Specific American policy choices (made with the acquiescence of America’s NATO allies in Europe) pursued over the course of that decade have led us to where we are today.

What we will find is that American policy wasn’t always marked by the hubris that later became its hallmark. In the years following the end of the Cold War (which Matlock has convincingly argued Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev ended in his address on December 7, 1988 before the UN General Assembly) the US had an opportunity to pursue a policy towards Russia that was both magnanimous and prudential. 

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