The recently announced Cabinet Minutes of 1997 (Cabinet Kok I) show how difficult the politics were at the time with NATO’s eastward expansion. Not everyone was convinced of the need for a larger NATO. VVD leader Fritz Bolkestein warned that the inclusion of the former Eastern Bloc countries bordering Russia into NATO could frustrate Russia so much that the alliance could thus win over the aggressor it wanted to avoid. Prime Minister Kok was also critical. Foreign Minister Hans van Mierlo (D66) was in favor of NATO expansion and eventually won the argument.
Wouldn’t Putin have invaded Ukraine had NATO’s expansion not occurred in the East? We don’t know that. But the concerns about this expansion were clearly justified at the time.
What is really troubling is that there used to be room for a critical look at one’s expansive actions, and that room doesn’t seem to be there now. It is evident that subtle considerations, if they are discussed at all, are not appreciated and dismissed as coming from the wrong camps. The criminal character of Putin’s clique, the quality of which cannot be questioned, is completely beyond our thinking. This means that in an atmosphere of blind unilateralism and unanimity, we no longer have room to look for solutions from a historical perspective. As in 1997, let us also be open to the role that our expansion of NATO has played and continues to play. We are waiting for the famous leaders and opinion makers who dare to show us the way.
A version of this article also appeared in the January 16, 2023 Journal
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