FLASHBACK: Joe Biden Warns About NATO Expansion

In 1997, then-US Senator Joe Biden recognized that North Atlantic Treaty Organization expansion into Baltic states could potentially elevate tensions with the Russian Federation. 

Ben Norton of Multipolarista noted that Biden declared that an eastward expansion of NATO into the Baltic states would create  “the greatest consternation,” which could “tip the balance.” The result would be a “vigorous and hostile reaction” from Russia. 

The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania joined NATO in 2004, a move that international relations scholar John Mearsheimer said Russia “swallowed” at the time. Norton noted that “Estonia and Latvia directly border Russia, and frequently do military exercises with Western troops a mere 100 kilometers from the border.”

At the time Biden made these comments, there was some degree of realism taking place in DC where policymakers understood the limits of NATO expansion. They recognized that once Russia became strong enough, it would start re-asserting itself in its historical domain., which it did so emphatically on February 24, 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine. On previous occasions in Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014), Russia has demonstrated its willingness to use punitive action within its sphere of influence to advance its security interests. 

Biden made this statement on June 18, 1997 during an Atlantic Council event. As Norton observed, the Atlantic Council is “NATO’s de facto think tank, and one of the most powerful organizations in Washington.”

When this event was held, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland were seeking NATO membership, which they finally achieved in 1999. 

At the time of the speech, Biden was the US Senator of Delaware. He praised NATO and was critical of elected officials who were against its expansion. Biden was a proponent of NATO expansion though he did recognize that such expansion could make Russia uncomfortable and provoke a “hostile reaction” 

“I think the one place where the greatest consternation would be caused in the short term, for admission – having nothing to do with the merit and preparedness of the countries coming in – would be to admit the Baltic states now, in terms of NATO-Russian, US-Russian relations,” Biden stated.

“And if there was ever anything that was going to tip the balance, were it to be tipped, in terms of a vigorous and hostile reaction, I don’t mean military, in Russia, it would be that,” the then-Delaware Senator continued. 

The twitter user @ImReadinHere published a clip of Biden’s remarks on March 7. 

Other leading American officials such as George Kennan, the author of the US containment policy against the Soviet Union, warned about NATO expansion. In the New York Times he offered the following ominous statement:

I think it is the beginning of a new cold war. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.

As BLP previously reported, former US Ambassador to Russia Wiliam Burns, who is currently the Biden administration’s CIA director,  warned about NATO expansion in Russia’s historical sphere of influence. Individuals like John Mearsheimer, former Congressman Ron Paul, and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan have also warned about NATO expansion. 

Norton added that “US, British, French, and German officials repeatedly promised the former Soviet Union in 1990 that NATO would not expand eastward after the reunification of Germany.” He stressed that “This is an undeniable historical fact confirmed by numerous documents from Western governments.”

NATO did not keep its promise and added 14 new member states, all which lie to the east of Germany.  

In his present state, Biden has completely taken leave of his senses and has a cabal of foreign policy advisors  — ranging from National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken — who are actually running foreign policy. This calls into question who is really calling the shots when it comes to foreign affairs. 

Populist Republicans must fill in the void by bringing back foreign policy restraint and realism into political discourse.

The present course is unsustainable and could lead the U.S. into a catastrophic military conflict sooner or later. 

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