NATO’s self-described mission as an expression of the Transatlantic community’s “common democratic values” has always provoked eye-rolling in Moscow. Now a former US ambassador to the alliance has confirmed Russian assumptions.
While Russia has always contended that the most important quality for European members is that they are willing to subjugate themselves to Washington’s control, NATO styles itself as a protector and promoter of democracy and freedom. An alliance of like-minded nations dedicated to upholding ‘Western values’ on both sides of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe, membership has been seen as a prerequisite for inclusion in the ‘Western family’ itself.
Alas, for NATO to exist, it needs an enemy, whether real or imagined, and Russia is the chosen adversary. This has created a bizarre situation where – due to the desire to join ‘the West’ – a number of states have signed up for the club despite having no ax to grind with Moscow.
In Russia, to be blunt, NATO is viewed as a vehicle to serve American geopolitical interests and allow Washington to extend its armed forces ever closer to Russian borders. Experts and officials in Moscow also like to point out that its other function is as a money-spinner, as it ties most European countries to the US military-industrial complex.
To support NATO’s narrative, various branches of the US state, and the US/UK arms industry, spend a lot of cash on various think tanks. Their primary mission is to cultivate ties with influential elites across Europe and push pro-NATO messaging, especially in newer member states.
The most (in)famous is probably the Atlantic Council, but Washington and Warsaw-based CEPA is its little brother. The pressure group is funded by the US State Department, regime-change specialists the National Endowment for Democracy, arms makers Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Bell Helicopters, as well as NATO itself. It’s also curiously supported by the Hungarian American Coalition and the Hungary Initiatives Foundation. Both of these receive financing from the government in Budapest.
This is where it gets interesting. CEPA claims its mission is to promote a “politically free Europe with close and enduring ties to the United States.” Its ‘advisory council’includes folks like Madeleine Albright, Anne Applebaum, Carl Bildt, and Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who have spent years jabbering on about ‘liberal democracy’. Meanwhile, some of its more prominent lobbyists – such as Alina Polyakova, Edward Lucas, and Brian Whitmore have built careers on attacking growing ‘illiberalism’ in Europe. Of course, back when Russia was perceived to be at the vanguard of the drift.
However, now that Viktor Orban’s Hungary has – very deliberately – positioned itself as the leader of the ‘illiberal’ movement, CEPA appears to have made a stunning about-face. This week, it enlisted none other than Kurt Volker – the former White House point man on Ukraine – to defend Budapest’s policies.
“Much of the criticism of Hungary and of Prime Minister Viktor Orban strikes me as shallow,” he wrote, under the lede ‘Western Allies Should Stop Carping and Focus on Shared Values and Interests’. Volker then launched into a passionate defense of Orban’s system, neglecting to mention that even America’s heavily politicized Freedom House NGO believes “Hungary can no longer be considered to be a free country.”
“We need allies,” Volker states, clearly admitting that Hungary being on ‘America’s side’ is more important than NATO’s usual high-minded rhetoric.
The cynicism is stunning, exposing CEPA for what it really is: A shoddy money racket, shouting about ‘values’ while, in reality, offering ‘pay-for-play’ to its funders. This, once again, exposes the rot at the heart of the think tank movement, a grubby industry that has both infiltrated and corrupted US/UK media.
CEPA’s acquiescence to Budapest’s agenda is clearly fueled by the funding it takes from Hungarian government-funded bodies. Indeed, this cash infusion even saw Réka Szemerkényi, Hungary’s former ambassador to Washington – an Orbán appointee – appointed‘executive vice-president’ of the pressure group.
Outfits like CEPA throw shade at Russia constantly over its refusal to follow Western norms, ignoring the fact Russia was expected to westernize without the prospect of Western integration. Yet, countries such as Poland and Hungary which have been allowed to join institutions like the European Union and NATO (and get huge amounts of money to boot) are backsliding but are handed free passes. That’s because this isn’t about ‘values,’ it’s about geopolitics and financial gain.
Hungary’s political system is Hungary’s own business. Indeed, much like in Russia (where the Communists are second to United Russia), the main opposition party (nationalist Jobbik) is even more anti-Western than the government (Fidesz). The hypocrisy here entirely belongs to CEPA.
Indeed, it may even be a welcome bit of honesty from the US foreign policy elite – which Volker clearly represents as a career member of the ‘swamp’.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.