We only need to read the MSM to understand 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 by pointing in the other direction to the existing combat troops, and thus provide justification for removing troops from the unsuccessful arenas and downgrading those conflicts before they provide too great an embarrassment.
History gives us many examples of such tactics being used. One is the infamous War of Jenkins’ 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 was thus subsumed into the War of Austrian Succession, an entirely different conflict about an entirely different question which the same powers happened to be on opposite sides of.
But this is one of those conclusions we are supposed to draw. In this instance it is not impending defeat itself which is changing 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 the immigrants they have turned into a much 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 conflicts in Rwanda and Burundi long urged international intervention, but they were seen as disputes between competing power groups, neither one having a better reason to be fighting, and the slaughter continued 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 are between pro-Western and pro-Iron Curtain forces, regardless of their complexity, and therefore part of a conflict over ways of life they themselves are involved in daily.
Interventions like those in Iraq and Afghanistan are seen as the latest foreign adventures in which troops are sacrificed for no apparent 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. During the later invasion it was revealed that his alleged WMD factory had been built by Western contractors, to produce baby milk.
These interventions keep the funding flowing for the military-industrial complex but ultimately they cost governments support, rather than rallying the people round them as wars once did. This may not be the case if nations were acting alone. But 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 perpetuating the policies which caused it, just as in the Great Depression. Then the resulting unemployment problem was resolved by 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 been allowed to for very long. Why it therefore took six years to declare that war, when Hitler’s intentions were clear from the get-go, and actions known, is the point.
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 Defense Robert Work has explained the deployment of more NATO troops near Russia as a “response to increase 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 the Russian 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 accept support from Russia as well as the West, one of the root causes of the present Ukrainian conflict. So if Russia is doing the same as the West, its usual foreign policy tactic, the West has to explain why such behaviour is regarded as “extraordinarily provocative” in Russia’s case alone.
Any such argument rests on the question of Russia’s intent. The implication of Work’s comments is that if Russia is holding exercises near the Baltic States it is preparing to take them over again. These countries declared their independence at a critical time in East-West relations, and were accepted into NATO straight away as an encouragement to others to continue to dismember the Soviet Union. If Russia did have any such intention it would have to take on the whole of NATO, not the fractured individual states of 1940, and knows it.
Furthermore, Russia does have ample grounds for concern over the treatment of ethnic Russians in the Baltics, but has not used these as a pretext for military action. 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 could not travel on their national passports to represent their country. Even today, the Latvian state is actively encouraging immigration from some Orthodox countries because Orthodox = Russian, and the more non-Russians can “cleanse” the Church from this association and “nationalise” it, the better.
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 Russians borders and not the other way.
Bottom lines aren’t straight
One fact about the end of the Cold War which Westerners are not presented with is that the Western governments agree with Gorbachev that NATO would not move eastward after the Berlin Wall fell. This was an attempt to achieve the opposite: if a newly-constituted Russia could live in peace with the West it could actually join NATO itself, thus making this stipulation irrelevant.
Before Russia had the chance to reconstitute itself however NATO went back on this 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, and thus became the aggressor in East-West affairs itself.
Now NATO is going out of its way to show it is still united by trying to share the blame.
The U.S. is likely to provide two battalions for this new retreat-become-attack and Germany and the UK a battalion each, according to Western officials. It would have to be a 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 General Breedlove is calling for an increase in spending, saying that the U.S. has too few intelligence assets focused on the threat from Russia and should concentrate its technical capabilities on Moscow’s “growing military might.” This is an attempt to create the same scenario we saw with the year 2000 problem, when we were told computers would stop working when their internal clocks showed 00:00:00 and we needed to spend millions to protect ourselves. If no threat is discovered, we will be told these measures will have defrayed it. If not, we will be told that we knew this would happen, even though the threat itself may be unconvincing.
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. It recommends that each ally spends 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.
To the horror of the rest of the world, there is a real chance that Donald Trump may become US President. He has stated that if this happens he will oblige the other NATO partners to pay their fair share, not leave it to the US to do so. “Our allies must contribute toward the financial, political and human costs of our tremendous security burden, but many of them are simply not doing so,” he has declared.
NATO knows where it is getting the money from to pay for its current entanglements. If it is to survive operationally as well as politically it has to provoke a conflict within Europe, which its allies will be forced, due to the direct threat to themselves, to contribute towards. The former Soviet countries are the last people who want more conflict with Russia, which is why they went running to NATO to begin with. But to get them to pay their “recommended” [fair share] contribution they may just have one imposed upon them, however limited in scope, for the sake of a Greater Food fewer-and-fewer of them are believing in.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.