Typically, discussion of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy lingers at a vague level that only serves to polarize hawks and doves: the former praise her experience, while the latter brood over her militancy. When the scrutiny gets more specific, it’s usually about topical concerns, like her role in the Iraq War and the Benghazi attacks, or her position on Syria and Iran.
What we are not talking about are concerns about Clinton’s record that are neither summary nor trending – the details that are only part of the picture, and that aren’t of immediate interest. And that’s a problem, because some of these details are foreign policy time bombs waiting to explode.
Hillary Clinton has been a long and outspoken advocate of NATO expansion into Ukraine and Georgia. Article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty requires member states to come to each others’ aid when under attack. And since both prospective members are presently occupied by hostile forces of the Russian Federation, Clinton’s push for their accession would ultimately obligate the United States, under binding international law, to go to war against Moscow.
That’s why a coalition of NATO members, led by France and Germany, have fought the organization’s continued expansion into former Soviet states. “We are opposed to the entry of Georgia and Ukraine because we think that it is not a good answer to the balance of power within Europe and between Europe and Russia,” France’s then Prime Minister Fillon said after a failed 2008 attempt by the United States, under President George W. Bush, to integrate them into the military alliance.
Ironically, Germany itself is only a member of NATO because of what Noam Chomsky describes as a “historic swindle” by the United States.
“As the Soviet Union collapsed, Gorbachev made an astonishing concession,” Chomsky writes. “He permitted a unified Germany to join a hostile military alliance [NATO] run by a global superpower, though Germany alone had almost destroyed Russia twice in the century.” They did this, he continues, on one condition: one of Hillary Clinton’s predecessors, Secretary of State James Baker, promised that “NATO’s jurisdiction would not shift on inch eastward”.
Since then, the history of NATO expansion has been a perpetual breach of that promise; and repeatedly, Clinton has called for shifting NATO jurisdiction nearly 1500 miles eastward, to the very border of Georgia and Azerbaijan.
In 2005, then-Senator Hillary Clinton joined John McCain in nominating Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko for the Nobel Peace Prize, a move that the New York Times read as “a possible indication of her views on NATO membership” for the two countries. Three years later, she joined McCain again in co-sponsoring S.Res.439, “A resolution expressing the strong support of the Senate for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to enter into a Membership Action Plan with Georgia and Ukraine”. After the 2008 Georgian war, Clinton, as Secretary of State, urged “the [NATO] alliance to leave open the door to membership for former Soviet states Ukraine and Georgia.” And in 2012, she declared to multiple foreign ministers, including Georgia’s, that “this summit should be the last summit that is not an enlargement summit.”
And even as NATO’s jurisdiction has expanded east, so have Clinton’s financial interests. Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Clinton Foundation has received more donations from Ukrainians than from any other foreign donor: contributions of more than $50,000 totaled to $10 million between 1999 and 2014. And even while Clinton was Secretary of State, her aids met with lobbyists for Clinton Foundation donor Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch who has pledged her organization $29 million.
Obviously, the Russian Federation sees the growth of NATO to its borders as a threat.
“Georgia and Ukraine’s membership in the alliance is a huge strategic mistake which would have most serious consequences for pan-European security,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told Interfax news agency after the 2008 summit.
President Vladimir Putin’s response was even less subtle. “It is horrible to say and even to think that, in response to the deployment of [NATO missile missile facilities] in Ukrainian territory…Russia could target its missile systems at Ukraine. Imagine this for a second.”
This was Putin’s nightmare scenario in 2008 – but of course, there is no longer any need to imagine hostilities between Russia and Ukraine, because they’ve already begun. At the end of 2015, the United Nations reported that the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has claimed at least 9,000 lives since it began in 2014. In the media this has often played out as a proxy war between Ukrainians and Russian-backed rebels, but Ukraine continues to allege, often with compelling evidence, the presence of Russian regular forces and GRU agents among the opposition.
Meanwhile, Russia continues to occupy two disputed regions also claimed by Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia – the battleground of the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. Even absent Georgian NATO membership, George W. Bush reportedly considered intervention in the country – but ultimately rejected it, concluding, in the words of then National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, that “it would be a direct military confrontation with Russia.”
That Clinton stands to commit the United States to a war that even the infamously reckless and belligerent Bush Administration rejected is a testament to how radical and dangerous her foreign policy really is. During the first Clinton Administration, historian and former diplomat to the the Soviet Union George F. Kennan wrote that “expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.” If there is a second Clinton Administration, that error seems all but assured.
Carl Beijer is a writer who focuses on the Left, linguistics, and international affairs.