NATO War Machine Destabilizes the World
Only through new and inclusive security architecture will ‘Old World’ Europe find any respite from its centuries of internal turmoil.
The Ukraine crisis marks a new stage in the evolution of multipolarity in the international system. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) war machine is a destabilizing factor in the international system. It was obsolete in 1991 the year in which the Warsaw Pact dissolved and the Soviet Union ceased to exist. But for three decades NATO has sought a pretext for its continued existence. Now the world has changed.
Created in 1949, NATO became one of several Cold War alliances designed to contain Eurasia meaning the Soviet Union and China. Over the years, NATO added various countries to its roster but its eastward movement toward Russia in the late 1990’s understandably sparked deep concern in Moscow.
The Russian intervention in Ukraine was triggered by a combination of factors which included this NATO expansion as well as the rejection of diplomacy by the United States and NATO. Russia addressed its December 17 diplomatic proposal to NATO rather than to the European Union (EU) because it regarded the foreign policy of the EU as controlled by the United States via NATO.
From a global context, rather than from a narrow European context, the war in Ukraine is a geopolitical proxy war between the US and Russia. The US and its NATO allies since their coup and regime change operation in Ukraine in 2014 built up Ukraine’s military capability. This build-up included weapons as well as training so that Ukraine essentially became integrated into the NATO system without being an official member of the alliance.
Russia’s intervention in Ukraine is designed for “demilitarization” and “denazification”, according to Moscow. However, what the final state of Ukraine will be is open to question. Already, Russia has recognized the two breakaway republics in the eastern area. Additionally, Russia is advancing on the battlefield and may well end up controlling the entire Black Sea coastal zone beyond even Odessa.
As a result of the Russian intervention, Ukraine could be partitioned with just a rump state remaining. There are various scenarios. The eastern and southern zone of Ukraine which was the former Russian “Novorossiya” could become separated from Ukraine and rejoin Russia. Will former Polish lands in the western part of Ukraine be reattached to Poland? Will former Hungarian lands be reattached to Hungary? Will a rump Ukraine state be neutralized?
Washington and NATO
The Ukraine crisis has triggered much speculation about the future of Europe. Some believe that NATO has been strengthened and that there is increased European unity and support for NATO. Additionally, it is said that the US has strengthened its leadership in NATO and Europe. This view is projected by Washington but it may be wishful thinking.
It is true that the Ukraine crisis has sparked European expressions of concern for NATO and for increased military spending on it. The United States for decades has complained about European NATO members not spending their fair share on it. Washington over the years demanded that NATO members allocate 2 percent of their budgets for military spending. The slogan “burden sharing” was used over the years to little avail.
Of course, the European allies have preferred to let Uncle Sam, meaning American taxpayers, pick up the bill for European security. Europeans have had no problem getting away with such opportunism and cynicism. Naive and reckless US politicians have had no problem voting billions of dollars for NATO and the Pentagon.
From the outset in 1949 some conservative US politicians rejected calls to join NATO. They considered it an “entangling alliance” and unnecessary. They argued that Europe should and could undertake its own defense. Most of these were Republicans following the lead of US Senator Robert Taft who was then known as “Mr. Republican.” The influential Senator was the son of President William Howard Taft (1857-1930. President 1909-1913).
President Donald Trump picked up this anti-NATO sentiment in his political base as a campaign ploy. This “isolationist” streak in some minority Republican Party factions is persistent. When he was actually in office, Trump grumbled some but then came around to supporting NATO. At the outset of his administration, Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary James Mattis flew around the world reassuring allies, including NATO allies that Washington would stick by its alliances. Thus, business as usual.
Today, both political parties are effectively neoconized. This means that the influence of the Cold War neoconservative policy network dominates both parties. This network combines with leftover Cold War hawk circles as well as with the liberal humanitarian interventionist circles. Thus, the political elite in the United States coalesces around what has been called the “New Cold War.”
The New Cold War was first described by the foremost US Soviet and Russian expert back in the late 1990s. Ambassador George Kennan then warned that the eastward expansion of NATO would trigger a “new cold war”. Russia would react negatively to such expansion and would take steps it deemed necessary to counter an increased threat from the West.
Ambassador Kennan was, of course, correct. The “New Cold War” began in the late 1990s with NATO’s eastward expansion just as he said. We are today witnessing its consequence in the newest European war.
The future of NATO
NATO expansion did not stop in Eastern Europe. Over the last three decades, NATO expansion was globalized. The Afghan war is one example of “out of area” NATO activity. But other examples are less known and have included political-military initiatives in the Mediterranean, in Eurasia, and even with Japan. A leading proponent of NATO expansion and globalization was the late Madeleine Albright who was influential in Washington.
Albright was at first a student of Zbigniew Brzezinski and then one of his protégés. A Polish-Canadian, Brzezinski became a US citizen after his graduate studies in the US. His father was a former Polish diplomat and thus ill-disposed to the former Soviet Union and Russia. US neoconservatives approved of his anti-Russia stance and Albright’s influence on the present US secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, is consequential.
Some critics now say that the Ukraine crisis was provoked in a calculated way by Washington. They say that the Russian intervention provides the basis to strengthen US control over Europe. Strengthening the NATO war machine in the face of Russian “aggression” provides Washington with more leverage over the fate of Europe, critics say.
But is this a temporary phenomenon? There are a number of contradictions and divisions in Europe today. They existed before the Ukraine crisis and now are deepened. Poland and the Baltic states are obsessed with Russia and take extreme hawkish positions. On the other hand, western European states like Germany and France are more restrained and calculating.
Will economic pressures moderate European attitudes? The harsh sanctions imposed on Russia have a built-in blowback effect against Europe given the pattern of regional and global economics. What will the political side effects be as inflation mounts for energy, transportation, and food? What will the average European think about their worsening standard of living and economic squeeze? The classic “guns or butter” dilemma may well raise its head in Europe, as well as in the United States, in the coming months.
What of post-war Europe?
After the cessation of hostilities in the Ukraine crisis what will the future of Europe be? Clearly, the Russian military intervention is a historic game-changer but what will the new game be?
The world can hope that Europe finds a way to stability and peace through an earnest and effective process of diplomacy and negotiations. Only through new and inclusive security architecture will “Old World” Europe find any respite from its centuries of internal turmoil.
The article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of China Focus.