As the Serbs never tire of pointing out, international diplomacy is often driven by irrational prejudice. Whenever Serbs try and create a country of their own, which includes all the predominantly Serb population areas, the rest of the world thinks this is a bad thing and does everything it can to prevent it. When asked why it is so bad, no one seems to know – the usual excuse is “protection of minorities”, though this never applies to the protection of Serb minorities in the rest of former Yugoslavia.
The same applies to the Russian Federation. Its neighbours have longstanding grievances against it, dating from pre-Soviet times, and do not want to live under its shadow any more. Therefore they claim they need want protection from somebody else, and the West is happy to provide it for its own, not necessarily honourable, reasons.
This mind-set is a very common element of Post-Empire Syndrome. One reason the Orthodox Church has gained a lasting presence in Uganda and Kenya is that it is not associated with the old colonial power (the UK). However in parts of the post-Soviet realm, such as Lithuania, Orthodoxy is regarded as a relic of Soviet domination, despite the millions of Russians and others martyred by the Soviets for refusing to give it up.
But does this mean that Russia needs to be surrounded by bases armed with missiles pointed at it? It is true that modern Russia wants a loosely recognised “sphere of influence” that comes close to corresponding to the old Soviet republics – the very ones that fought long and hard to be rid of the Soviet. So bases in these countries might reassure their inhabitant, at least that is the story line that some might want us to think!
But if Russia is really that much of a threat, will missiles pointed at it do any good? Does the West really want to destroy the whole planet, as it will have to do to destroy 150 million Russians?
If Russia did move into one of the former Soviet republics with hostile intentions, would the West actually use those missiles to protect that country? Did it in Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, or in any of the local revolts the West always said it supported?
Little kids made big by spending cuts
The West does not have a track record of protecting anti-Soviets, including anti-Soviet Russians. It has consistently betrayed them by leaving them where they were when they cried out for help.
Western economic sanctions did not destroy the Soviet Union. It collapsed due to the inherent structural weakness of Communism itself, corruption, and because those who actually ran it didn’t believe in it anymore. Japan got the atom bomb dropped on it at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the Cold War West, knowing it would have to resort to the nuclear option first in any future war with the Soviet Union, did everything it could to prevent this.
Yet still it is assumed without question that pointing missiles at Russia is the right thing to do. It costs a lot and achieves little, but in an era of “austerity” and every country paying its own way, this is still the unquestioned policy of Western governments.
These are the same governments who rejoice that the Iron Curtain has long since been torn down, and therefore imply they have achieved a world where such missiles are no longer necessary. So what is really going on?
Missiles won’t stop the allegations of Russians interfering in elections through cyber trickery, or building oil and gas pipelines. But this is because the missiles are actually aimed at Western allies, not Russia.
The West has not surrounded Russia with missiles because it won the Cold War, but because it lost it. Those bright shiny missiles, designed to never be used, are just big enough for Western governments to hide behind, and that is what pointing missiles at Russia is actually about.
Copyright infringements on a vast scale
Surrounding Russia with missiles is yet more proof that the Soviet Union won the Cold War by turning the US into the same type of state. The US may have survived at the Soviet Union’s expense, but it is no longer the US the world once knew.
There was a time, within living memory, when the US self-image was largely justified. It really did go round the world trying to improve human rights and rule of law. The Soviet Union really was the bad guy, imposing a corrupt and unworkable system on people who usually wanted something closer to the US model.
When the Cold War ended the US had no need to continue supporting regimes like that of Equatorial Guinea, where US Embassy staff regularly hear the screams of people being tortured in the prison down the road. There was no Communist bloc to protect these countries from any more, so the Peace Corps model, which encouraged the introduction of the superior and desired Western system, should have become the standard.
But as we have all observed, the opposite has happened. The sorts of government which used to be considered unfortunate necessities have been imposed over and over although the necessity is no longer there. Even when they are called democracies, most US client states have governments imposed or selected by the US as an extension of a defence agreement, who serve the advancement of a US agenda, not their own people.
If the US actually believed in the principles it enunciates, it would want to introduce them everywhere to demonstrate its own superiority, as well as benefit the countries concerned. It would go out of its way to create a free association of genuinely sovereign, democratic, publicly accountable, law abiding, humanitarian states, which would then have every reason to love and support the US, the natural leader of such an association.
But the US only held these ideals in Cold War times to present itself as the opposite of its opponent. Having won the battle, it is doing all it can to become everything it accused the Soviet Union of being. What was the US actually fighting against? It wasn’t what the Soviet Union was, but the fact that it was there.
As long as missiles are still pointed at the Russian Federation, its successor state, the US can continue to claim that it is on the right side of any argument regardless, as it was in the old days. But it can only do this now by pointing missiles, because it is no longer able claim superiority in any other way. Even then, it is not the ostensible enemy those missiles are there to control.
Friend in better deed
The terms “West” and “US” are no longer synonymous. Despite the UK’s increasingly bizarre attempts to leave it, the European Union has consistently gained in strength since its foundation, and consequently developed a mind of its own, with the resources to back it up. However, although the EU knows it has its own mind, it has great trouble knowing what that mind is.
The rush of Eastern European applications for EU membership after the fall of Communism was not an endorsement of US policy. These countries saw Europe as the progressive future, not the US – they did not seek the sort of “Special Relationship” which existed between the US and UK before the latter joined the EU—or the client relationship which the US has imposed on countries it has entered through force of arms.
Part of that progressive future is being contrary to Russia for the sake of it. Understandably, after decades (or even centuries) of what they saw as Russian domination, liberated states felt that the future was to be on a contrary side. Even in non-political areas such as rugby, they sought to work with each other but not Russia, simply because they had had enough of the Soviet-era Russians.
One manifestation of this change of allegiance was to allow NATO to establish military bases in their countries, because Russia wasn’t a member. In the absence of a separate EU defence force, this was the nearest they could get. But those bases are doing more to harm to the EU than they are to Russia, and the EU is increasingly trying to segment the various aspects of its work in order to counter this.
The argument made by both the Eastern European arrivistes and the EU itself is something like this: “if you have NATO bases in your country, armed with missiles pointed at Russia, you are part of “the West”. But in the eyes of these former Soviet or Communist states, that means everything they do can be described as Western. They don’t have to submit to Western definitions of what a Western country is supposed to be: as long as they have these bases, they already are one.
Western capitalism is supposed to bring these countries jobs and markets. Western liberalism and openness allow this. But Eastern EU members are increasingly going in the opposite direction internally, becoming highly protectionist in employment and nationalistic in policy – behaviour seen as cronyist and inherently corrupt in liberal Western Europe.
Joining the EU club no longer means you have to play by the agreed rules, which is one reason the EU is even more determined to impose those rules on aspirant countries such as Ukraine and Georgia. This is why distinctions are now being made between “political” and “economic” commitments within the EU, when once each automatically reflected the other.
The EU has to grin and bear the Visegrad Group, an alliance of four Central European States ostensibly designed to help them integrate with the EU, but actually there to change the terms of that integration in their favour. Visegrad Group members seek protection within and freedom without, so their nationals can live off the fat of other EU member states but not have their jobs and housing in their native lands threatened, however, ironic that is.
This may sound like having your cake and eating it too, but what else would these countries be expected to do? The original EU members joined because they had a history of mutual conflict and destruction, and could only prevent a recurrence by working together. The Eastern Bloc did work together, and suffered as a result.
Former Communist realms joined the EU to get away from that enforced collaboration, and knowing what they have suffered, they are not going to be told that the future means doing the same again. EU members are seen as much more independent and established countries, which CHOOSE to associate for their own betterment rather than having it imposed upon them by a foreign system.
As long as countries bordering Russia have NATO bases, they have a self-declared sovereignty and self-declared Western orientation. Therefore they can act like independent states, and do and think what they want.
The EU can’t take those bases away because it doesn’t have any of its own. So their missiles are aimed as much at Brussels as at Moscow, but present a greater threat to the former.
It is a lot easier to destroy an organisation from within than without, as the Soviet Union found. Faced with a choice between firing missiles at Russia and trying to manage its mutually incompatible internal cross-currents, the EU would rather do the latter, even though both will inevitably have bad consequences.
Big Brother still watching you
So does the US care whether it can even use the missiles it has pointed at Russia? After all, the ultimate aim is not to use them, but to achieve political ends. By placing them in Eastern Europe, like the Soviet Union did, it does that.
The EU was founded so that previously conflicting nations would integrate their economies, preventing any one of them dominating the rest or being able to wage war with them. However, although these nations couldn’t then owe each other anything, they all owed significant debts to the US, which bailed them out after World War Two.
In economic and political terms, the EU has succeeded better than the US hoped for. It can stand on its own feet as a trading bloc, and also exert a lot of political influence if it can get its act together.
Its members no longer have to take direction from the US, but can develop their own values and fund the promotion of them, regardless of US interests. Furthermore, while US policy can change from one administration to the next, the EU has largely retained the same values throughout its existence – the same ones the US used to have, but now ignores.
The US doesn’t want the EU deviating too much, even though it is the US which is changing the rules and relationship. NATO is its lever, and the threat to stop funding it.
Ultimately, the EU still depends on the US for its defence, no matter how many troops of its own it contributes. The US employs military presence in exactly the same way the Soviet Union did: if the locals step too far out of line, Washington will move in, and there will be nothing national governments can do about it because Washington controls their military resources and decision making.
Keep in mind that the EU can’t be too independent of the US due to its own inherent contradictions and lack of a single purpose. So the US occupies it with its troops, and imposes foreign values that much of Europe thinks are as alien as was Communism.
So are we to believe that the only way the EU can maintain the independence it has gained is to let the US point missiles at Russia from its territory, even though that weakens the EU and put its territory under threat? This makes EU contradictions worse. But it also gets the US off the hook, and that is why these missiles and bases are going to be there unless Russia itself joins the EU, and everyone gangs up on the Muslim world instead.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.