Question: This week NATO will hold a summit in Warsaw. Most of the media coverage is singing from the same hymn sheet – the alliance must confront “Russian aggression.” What does this summit want to achieve? What message does NATO want to send?
Answer: This summit – as with all NATO summits – is all about Washington’s security designs for Europe. The alliance members will be informed of Washington’s plans for them and then there will be a “family photo” demonstrating solidarity. The word “solidarity” is the operative word here. In the wake of the Brexit vote in the UK and member EU governments grumbling about how anti-Russia sanctions are hurting their economies at home has Washington is concerned. The summit is an opportunity for the U.S. to make sure the Europeans don’t wonder off the reservation.
Q.: In your answer you mentioned NATO, U.S., the EU and Russia, but not all in the same context. What are the overlaps and what are the challenges?
A.: NATO is an American design – its purpose since the Cold War is to be the armed wing of Europe under Washington’s control. The expectation is to have EU and NATO membership be the same. (Why else was tiny Montenegro added to NATO?) Brexit upset this plan and Washington is more than red-faced about this. With NATO and the EU an exact overlap (minus Turkey for a variety of reasons), Washington has a quick track to influence both institutions directly and ensure both works in tandem. The problem with this is that not all European countries have the same security interests and have various trading relations (i.e. with Russia). The Americans approach of “one size fits all” for the EU and NATO is inheritably dysfunctional.
Q.: Let’s speak about “Russian aggression.” After all, we are told this will agenda item number one.
A.: “Russian aggression” is the unifying element for Washington. NATO has no real mission – the reason for its existence collapsed when the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact did. At first, eastward expansion (adding EU countries) substituted as a legitimizing reason for the alliance. Once that was more or less accomplished, the need to justify NATO’s reason to exist focused on including such countries as Georgia and Ukraine. And Washington knew it would engender a negative Russian reaction. To back up the claim NATO is necessary “for the projection of security” it needed to create insecurity. Courting Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance is designed to make Russia react – and Russia has. The next flash point to be expected is NATO’s designs on the Black Sea (to be discussed at the summit). Russia will react and it will be called “aggression.”
Q.: Straight forward question: Is Russia really threatening the Baltic States and Poland, as western media endlessly claim?
A.: The Baltic States and Poland are classic “security free riders.” They want absolute security guarantees from the alliance without paying for their defense or be held responsible for their loose and bellicose rhetoric. This suits NATO’s nomenklatura just fine. But it is also very dangerous. Like in any self-defense alliance system, the irresponsible behavior of a single member can threaten the entire alliance. Recent polls demonstrate not all Europeans (particularly in western Europe) feel a strong need to intervene militarily if a member of the alliance wants to pick a fight with Russia. We already saw this with Turkey’s reckless behavior. This, of course, is another reason for such summits – Washington must enforce party discipline!
Q.: Looking to the future, is a NATO-Russia conflict possible? What about Ukraine? And can the alliance reform itself for different mission?
A.: A NATO-Russia conflict is very possible! I have no doubt there are those in Washington’s “thinktankistan” who dream about this! The single most glaring defect of the NATO project is that it does not recognize that Russia has legitimate security interests. Every time Russia reminds the world it indeed does, the west instantly calls this aggression. In fact, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ukraine has become a disaster for the EU and NATO. Though for some western security thinkers this is a good thing. Ukraine is an ideal situation to bait Russia into a conflict. Lastly, NATO should become a European security institution minus the U.S. and Turkey (and maybe include Russia one day). Europe and Russia face serious security threats (refugee crisis and terrorism). Europeans and Russians are better served not working at crossed purposes.
Peter Lavelle is host of RT’s political debate program CrossTalk. His views may or may not reflect those of his employer.