One of the things one finds constantly amazing is the ability of western politicians, or political figures, to describe the world in a way that is unrecognisable to the averagely informed citizen. A classic illustration of this point was recently evident in an interview given by NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg to the London Financial Times (China is Coming Closer to the United States. Financial Times 19 October 2021.)
An illustration of NATO’s complete absence of relevant historical memory is reflected in Stoltenberg’s discussion with the Financial Times. He seems completely unaware of, or chooses not to remember, the assurance given to then Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev by then United States secretary of state James Baker when seeking the reunification of Germany that NATO would not expand “one inch” to the East.
Since then of course NATO has steadily expanded to the East to the point where it now threatens Russia directly by having members on Russian borders. There is every indication that it would like more, including Ukraine. For the time being it seems to be having regard to Russian President Putin’s warning that for Ukraine to join NATO would be crossing a line that Russia regards as inviolable.
It is not only Eastwood across Europe that NATO’s ambitions lie. In his Financial Times interview, Stoltenberg referred to NATO’s concerns about the role of China and the issues that China poses to NATO. This was a very revealing comment. For those of you who thought that NATO was an acronym for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, that must come as a shock to realise that NATO’s ambitions now extend to Asia. Stoltenberg sees the rise of China as a global challenge, part of the problem of collective defence that needs to be addressed.
Stoltenberg said that the “whole idea of in a way distinguishing between China and Russia, either Asian Pacific or Europe, it’s one big security environment and we have to address it all together.” This is frankly insane. It is a worldview that dislikes and distrusts the rise of China that is now, in parity purchasing power terms, the world’s largest economy. It is a world that sees the relationship between Russia and China as a distinct threat to its own hegemony.
Hence, in its references to Russia for example, it is always described as “Russian aggression” although in actual fact they are unable to point to a single instance of such aggression, and certainly not in the post-Soviet era that ended more than 30 years ago.
Stoltenberg addressed these issues when he spoke recently in Madrid. NATO’s concept “will reflect the new security environment” he said. The NATO alliances 2030 agenda aims to deal with a “more unpredictable and dangerous world” of “increasingly aggressive” Russian behaviour, and “China flexing its economic muscle to intimidate others.”
Again, one looks in vain for examples of this muscle being used to intimidate others. China is leading the world’s greatest program of economic development through its Belt and Road Initiative, which now has more than 140 countries signed up. The spread of this program is worldwide, with members drawn from Africa, Latin America and throughout Asia. None of them are complaining of China using its economic power to intimidate them. Rather, they are profoundly grateful for the opportunities the program has opened up for them.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, another Chinese inspired development program, recently welcomed Iran as its ninth full member. Somewhat remarkably, that organisation also has Saudi Arabia as an associate member. This is surely the first international group outside the United Nations that has managed to have both Iran and Saudi Arabia as members.
Also singing the tune of “Russian aggression” was United States secretary of defence Lloyd Austin. He used the term during his recent tour of Georgia, Ukraine and Romania. In Romania, Austin claimed that “the security and stability of the Black Sea are in the United States national interest and critical for the security of NATO’s eastern flank.” He said that his tour was a way “to reassure allies and partners of America’s commitment to their sovereignty in the face of Russian aggression.”
Again, this theme of “Russian aggression”. Mr Austin needs to look at a map. The United States is nowhere remotely near the Black Sea and to describe it as “critical to United States security” is simply nonsense. There is no evidence of “Russian aggression” there or anywhere else in Europe. It is true that Russia has issued a direct warning against Ukraine becoming a member of NATO.
It is not too difficult to imagine the United States reaction if Russia was to enter a treaty with Mexico for example. One can clearly remember the drastic United States reaction to the Soviet presence in Cuba during the Kennedy presidency. The proximity of the Soviets 150 km from the United States coast was perceived as an existential threat. Why should the Russian reaction to United States nuclear weapons in Ukraine be any different?
The blunt truth is that the single greatest threat to world peace and stability is the United States. One can see this in the constant warmongering which this century alone includes Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Their troops continue to occupy both Iraq and Syria, and in the latter case includes the shameless theft of Syrian oil. Despite occasional hints that they might leave both countries,in fact, they have made no such moves.
Were it not for the Russian presence since 2015 there is little doubt that the Syrian government would have fallen. Syria is regularly attacked by Israel, a country that continues to occupy the Syrian Golan Heights since 1968 and shows no sign of ever leaving. A classic example of the selectively applied “rules based international order” that the United States promotes, but studiously ignores when it comes to either its own behaviour or the behaviour of allies such as Israel.
If there is any country in the world that truly deserves the mantra of “aggression” it is the United States. It withdrew from the ABM treaty in 2003 and two further international treaties in the Trump era. The Russians have finally exhausted their patience and recently announced that they would no longer continue to be part of a discussion group with NATO. The only surprise is why did it take the Russians so long to finally lose patience with the Americans. One hopes that this signifies a tougher Russian line towards the United States. It is long overdue.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based former Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.