It is not difficult to see the new direction the US and its NATO apparatus are taking. It is a commonly-used one – turning retreat into advance by changing the so-called enemy.
Following the debacles in Libya and Afghanistan, and the gradual unravelling of the Iraq and Syria adventures, the Western allies are now preparing to deploy four battalions—a force of about 4,000 troops—in Poland and the Baltic countries.
These will of course point in the other direction from the battle fronts where US and NATO troops are currently engaging in combat, thereby providing justification for removing troops from unsuccessful arenas and downgrading those conflicts before they become too much of an embarrassment.
History gives us many examples of this tactic. One is the infamous War of Jenkins’s Ear, the 1739 British-inspired conflict with Spain designed to promote more trade and protect slave markets. This resulted in heavy losses for the British, and the temporary gain of only one Spanish possession in the Caribbean. It therefore became subsumed into the War of Austrian Succession, an entirely different conflict about an entirely different question in which the same powers – Britain and Spain – just “happened” to find themselves on opposite sides.
In this case it is not just impending defeat which is causing a change in the game. It is the fact that NATO countries have long realised that they have no business being involved in places like Syria. Their own publics no longer think they are defending the free world, or protecting anyone from terrorism, or keeping out immigrants. So they have turned into a more important issue.
Like the League of Nations and French Community before it, NATO is dying of pointlessness. It won’t survive unless it can find a higher purpose – and having failed to do so, its only option is to demonise Russia, the enemy everyone grew up with, regardless of what it might actually be doing.
The Ghost of Christmas Past
A generation or two ago, when wars broke out people would look for the causes over which they were being fought. NATO wouldn’t get involved in conflicts it couldn’t find a good reason for. For example, both sides in the hideous civil wars in Rwanda and Burundi long urged international intervention. However their conflicts were seen as disputes between competing power groups, neither one having a better reason to be fighting, and the slaughter was left to continue unabated.
Now we live in a world where there is one global superpower, one generally agreed economic line and therefore no enemy to protect the free world from. People no longer assume that conflicts, regardless of their complexity, are between pro-Western and pro-Iron Curtain forces and therefore part of a globally fought ideological struggle over a way of life they themselves are part of.
Interventions like those in Iraq and Afghanistan are seen as the latest foreign adventures in which troops are sacrificed for no obvious reason, to overthrow governments we all remember supporting when it suited the same West to do so.
For example, it was frequently pointed out during the Gulf War that Saddam Hussein was using against the West the same weapons and training the West had given him to fight the Ayatollah Khomeini when he was the ruler of Iran. During the subsequent invasion of Iraq it was revealed this alleged WMD factory had been built by Western contractors, supposedly to produce baby milk.
These interventions keep the funding for the military-industrial complex flowing but ultimately they cost governments support rather than rallying the people round them as wars once did.
This might not be the case if nations were acting alone in pursuit of their own interests. However the collaborative nature of NATO is itself a problem. The comment European politicians often hear on the doorsteps is, “why are you sending our troops to be killed in someone else’s war, for someone else’s issue, which nobody here cared about before you told us you were sending the troops?”
Having no more enemies was supposed to be the consequence of the Western victory in the Cold War. The publics of NATO countries, having endured that war, have taken their governments at their word. So if there is going to be a Western force, upholding Western values, it has two options: it can find completely new enemies – the reason we hear so much about “Islamic fundamentalism” – or it can revert to the old ones.
The West is getting nowhere in its supposed assaults on Islamic terrorist groups because it is actually arming and supporting them, and always has done to suit itself. But it can’t admit this to the public, as then that same public would want to string them up.
So all that is left is to restore NATO’s original purpose and attack Russia. Maybe people will understand this, maybe not, but with nothing else to hold on to, this is the deadly gamble the West is preparing to take.
A bit late to start worrying
Most Western countries are still struggling with the fallout of the banking crisis but persist in perpetuating the same policies that caused it – just as was the case during the Great Depression. At that time the resulting problem of unemployment was “solved” through a world war.
It can be argued that a war to stop Hitler was entirely justified, as no anti-war advocate of today would have wanted to live under the Nazis, or would have been allowed to go on doing so for very long. Why therefore did it take six years to declare that war, when Hitler’s intentions were clear from the start and his actions were entirely consistent with them?
The present Russian administration is the same one the West sought to “reset” relations with when Obama took office. It even has the same foreign minister. If the West has suddenly discovered something new and disturbing about this administration, what is it?
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defence Robert Work has explained the deployment of more NATO troops near Russia as a “response to increased Russian activity near the Baltics”—Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. He maintains that tensions have been rising there due to an upswing in the holding of Russian military exercises in the vicinity, which he described as being “extraordinarily provocative behaviour.”
Russia has frequently pointed out that NATO holds exercises near Russia’s borders on a regular basis, has surrounded Russia with military installations armed with weapons pointed at Russia and has told countries bordering Russia that they cannot maintain equally strong ties to Russia as with the West.
That insistence was one of the root causes of the Ukrainian conflict.
If Russia is simply doing the same as the West, the West should explain why such behaviour is regarded as “extraordinarily provocative” when done by Russia but not when done by the West.
Any such argument rests on the question of Russia’s intent. The implication of Work’s comments is that if Russia holds exercises near the Baltic states it is getting ready to take them over again.
These countries declared their independence at a critical time in East-West relations. They were later – in 2004 – accepted into NATO, becoming an encouragement to others to continue to behave as if the Soviet Union had never existed. If Russia had had any intention to attack the Baltics at any time after the USSR broke up in 1991, it would have been obliged to take on the whole of NATO, not the fractured individual states of 1940. Russia has at all times known this – never more so than now.
Furthermore, Russia does have ample grounds for concern over the treatment of ethnic Russians in the Baltics. However it has not used their situation as a pretext for military action.
There are lot of absurd situations connected to the situation of ethnic Russians in the Baltics. For example, one of the first actions Latvia took after gaining independence was to establish a national rugby team, because it was not a sport favoured by the Olympic medal-hungry Soviets. However over half its team, including the captain, were not entitled to Latvian citizenship because they were of ethnic Russian origin and their families had not lived in Latvia before 1939, as the new Latvian citizenship law required. Thus these players could not travel on their national passports having no Latvian citizenship, and this did not allow them to represent their country properly.
Russia’s “provocative action” is simply to be Russia. When all else fails, it is the standing enemy Westerners can understand. They may not be too interested at present, but the remaining subliminal instinct that Russian expansion is a bad thing may still kick in to help NATO out. However, it is NATO that is moving its membership to Russia’s borders and not the other way round.
Bottom lines aren’t straight
One fact about the end of the Cold War which Westerners are not presented with is that Western governments before 1991 had agreed with Gorbachev that NATO would not move eastward after the Berlin Wall fell. This was part of an attempt to do the opposite: if a newly-constituted Russia could live in peace with the West it could actually join NATO itself, thus making a conflict irrelevant.
However before Russia had the chance to reconstitute itself, NATO went back on the deal and took in several former Eastern bloc states, including the Baltics.
These countries had genuine concerns about being left at the mercy of new Russian domination, but NATO nevertheless breached the agreement by making them members,rather than providing other support – thereby itself becoming the aggressor in East-West affairs.
Now NATO is going out of its way to show it is still united in facing the outcome of its own aggression.
According to Western officials the U.S. is likely to provide two battalions for this new retreat-become-attack and Germany and the UK a battalion each. It would have to be Germany and the UK – traditional powerhouses and belligerents – to show NATO is serious. But 4,000 or 5,000 soldiers will not be able to resist any real action. They are there to ready the public for the idea of future action, and suck more NATO countries into it because they can’t be seen to go against an action spearheaded by the US, the UK and Germany.
NATO’s former commander, General Breedlove, is calling for an increase in defence spending, saying that the U.S. has too few intelligence assets focused on the threat from Russia and should concentrate its technical capabilities to counter Moscow’s “growing military might.”
This is an attempt to create the same scenario we saw with the year 2000 with the so-called Millennium Bug, when we were told computers would stop working when their internal clocks showed 00:00:00 and millions had to be spent to fix the problem to protect ourselves.
But there is another reason NATO has to create a new enemy for the sake of it. NATO has to pay for any action it takes. At present, it is having difficulty doing this in an official, over-the-counter way.
NATO recommends each ally spends at least 2 percent of its GDP on defence, but in 2015 Germany spent just 1.2 percent, Italy less than 1 percent and France 1.8 percent, levels which are symptoms of the pointlessness consuming NATO.
So by its own reckoning, there is a hole in NATO’s finances which makes it difficult to conduct official operations, paid for by taxes rather than illegal oil and drug sales.
NATO knows how to get the money to pay for its current entanglements. If it is to survive operationally as well as politically, it has to provoke a conflict within Europe, by which its allies will be forced to join the fray.
The people in the former Soviet countries (unlike their Western-financed elites) are the last to want more conflict with Russia. They were promised that NATO membership would help them to avoid such a conflict. But in order to get them pay their “recommended” contribution, they may just have a conflict imposed upon them, however limited in scope. And then they will be forced to take risks for the sake of a Western Paradise, which fewer and fewer of them believe in.