According to a Harvard/Harris poll, a majority (64%) of Americans accept the conclusion of the Mueller report that the Trump campaign/administration did not collude with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election. 68% of respondents think the Democrats should also accept the conclusion and move on. Amen.
Meanwhile, in celebration of NATO’s 70th anniversary this year, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was invited to address a joint session of the House and Senate today.
Stoltenberg spoke for 40 minutes (video embedded below). He started his speech by stating that the founders of NATO had lived through two devastating world wars. This is ironic because in researching WWI for my work-in-progress, it stands out how – even though all the major players who went to war in 1917 had long-standing tensions – it was the entanglement of alliances that prompted the greatest death and destruction then known to man (16 million deaths) after an assassination in a small nation provided the spark.
With 29 members, including many small nations who were formerly part of the Soviet Union and have varying degrees of historical axes to grind with Russia, NATO has turned itself from an alliance meant to prevent the now-dead Soviet Union from exercising any expansionist ambitions its leaders may or may not have had in the rest of Europe into an alliance that could precipitate a similar conflict as we saw in WWI.
With Article V obligating all members of NATO to fight if any member is attacked, could a provocative act in, say, Lithuania be the spark that starts another world war? In an age of nuclear weapons, might NATO’s continued expansion right up to Russia’s borders and courting of nations whose political elites have an interest in continuing to use Russophobia as a diversion for their lack of implementing solutions to the many domestic problems they face be unwise? Might it even provoke the very thing its supporters claim it exists to prevent, a devastating war?
He goes on to claim that NATO has been a force for peace. He clearly hasn’t asked the citizens of Serbia, Afghanistan, and Libya what they think of this assertion.
He also didn’t hesitate to repeat debunked or unproven allegations against Russia: use of a nerve agent in the UK, that it had attacked power grids and interfered in elections in Europe (France and Germany’s own governments came out and refuted these accusations).
Stoltenberg also claims that NATO has been striving to have a better relationship with Russia. But he doesn’t give a single example of NATO doing this. Probably because there isn’t one.
He also repeats the allegation that Russia was violating the INF Treaty before Washington abrogated it, though this was never proven. He also fails to mention some important context to the controversy over INF Treaty violations as the U.S./NATO has had Aegis-ashore missile systems in Romania since 2016 and has had plans to place them in Poland for years, which effectively violates the treaty as MIT professor Theodore Postol has explained. It has also been recently reported that the U.S. has been designing other missiles that would be in violation of the treaty since 2017. So Washington and NATO are not the innocent victims in the INF Treaty controversy that they are claiming to be.
The congressional speech was just the last leg of the Secretary General’s big PR blitz over the past couple of weeks leading up to NATO’s 70th anniversary tomorrow.
On March 25th, Stoltenberg reiterated on a visit to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, inaugurating a joint military exercise between Georgia and NATO, that the country would eventually become a full-fledged member of the military alliance. Stoltenberg dismissed Russia’s concerns as reported by RFERL:
Speaking alongside Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze, he said that the 29 NATO member states had “clearly stated that Georgia will become a member of NATO.”
“We will continue working together to prepare for Georgia’s NATO membership,” Stoltenberg said, adding that no country has the right to influence NATO’s open-door policy.
“We are not accepting that Russia or any other power can decide what members can do,” he said.
Stoltenberg followed up with a tweet later that day singing Georgia’s praises and extolling the virtues of the country’s partnership with NATO:
Delighted to observe the joint NATO-Georgia exercise with PM
& honoured to meet veterans & serving soldiers. Georgia is a unique partner for #NATO & we are stepping up our cooperation.
In spite of the reverence with which the alliance is often treated by Washington, the media establishment and the political elites of various nations near Russia that think NATO represents the cat’s pajamas in terms of security, there are some indications that perhaps NATO isn’t all that.
On March 25th, Professor Walter Russell Mead published an oped (behind a paywall) in the Wall Street Journal asking if “NATO is Dying?” Mead thinks the alliance may very well be on its last legs. Some facts he cites to support his argument include the German government’s recent decision to maintain 1.25% of its GDP as an annual contribution to the alliance for the next five years rather than the Washington-mandated 2%, and Turkey’s decision to purchase the S-400 defense system from Russia regardless of protestations from Washington that included threats to withhold sale of the F-35 fighter jet. Mead states:
NATO members are less committed to the alliance than they used to be because most worry less about conventional military attacks from Russia. … Countries with the misfortune to be neighbors of Russia are still enthusiastic about NATO. But the anti-Russian zeal of Poland and the Baltic states is something of an embarrassment for Germans eager to cut Nord Stream 2-type deals with Moscow over the heads of their mostly small, poor and importunate eastern neighbors.
He goes on to point out that Russia and China are taking note of these developments and will be waiting to parlay any disillusionment by members of the alliance to their geopolitical advantage.
Veteran investigative journalist Gareth Porter pours his own bucket of cold water on NATO with his recent article in Al Jazeera. Porter reports that the alliance – looking for a purpose so it could stay alive after the Cold War ended – persuaded the Bush II administration to let it take the lead in the Afghan war, believing it could show its continued worth while expanding its geographical mandate. But the move backfired.
The Supreme Allied Commander for Europe at the time, James Jones, pitched the idea to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld between 2003 and 2005 as the solution to the administration’s desire to focus their military action on Iraq.
“Jones sold [Defence Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld on turning Afghanistan over to NATO,” said the officer, adding that he did so with the full support of Pentagon officials with responsibilities for NATO. “You have to understand that the NATO lobbyists are very prominent in the Pentagon – both in the Office of the Secretary of Defence and on the Joint Staff,” said the officer.
Jones admitted in an October 2005 interview with American Forces Press Service that NATO had struggled to avoid becoming irrelevant after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. “NATO was in limbo for a bit,” he said.
But the 9/11 attacks had offered a new opportunity for NATO to demonstrate its relevance.
In order to address the concerns of NATO members whose populations were opposed to an actual combat mission in Afghanistan, Jones convinced them that only “mop up” and nation-building operations would be needed as the Taliban were no longer a significant military threat – even though US intelligence realized that the Taliban was rallying and troops would likely be facing a new insurgency in the south.
Of course, it didn’t take long for the NATO members who agreed to this to realize they were being hornswoggled.
But conflicts immediately arose between the US and NATO member countries over the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Britain, Germany, Canada and the Netherlands had all sold the NATO mission to their publics as “peacekeeping” or “reconstruction” as distinct from counterinsurgency war.
When the Bush administration sought to merge the US and NATO commands in Afghanistan, key allies pushed back, arguing the two commands had different missions. The French, meanwhile, were convinced the Bush administration was using NATO troops to fill the gap left by shifting US troops from Afghanistan to Iraq – a war they strongly opposed.
Eventually, NATO member countries laid down limitations on their participation as the Taliban increased their attacks and improved their position. Later, General Karl Eikenberry – commander of US troops in Afghanistan in 2005 – and then-ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann admitted that NATO’s involvement in the war was to prop up the alliance.
Eikenberry stated in testimony to Congress in 2007 that “The long view of the Afghanistan campaign is that it is a means to continue the transformation of the alliance.”
One former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Canadian Rick Hillier, stated that NATO’s performance in the country was “abysmal” and lacked strategy. As a result, he claims, the alliance has lost credibility among many of its members.
So if NATO’s military performance against a technologically unsophisticated foe like the Taliban leaves something to be desired, how effective would it be in facing a far larger and more advanced opponent like Russia?
One is left to wonder if NATO serves any meaningful purpose other than being a self-perpetuating bureaucracy that keeps the profits rolling in for the merchants of death while allowing its members to puff themselves up. Simultaneously it is also a dangerous irritant or even a provocation for the nuclear-armed countries which it is aimed at – countries that various NATO members already have long and complicated tensions with.
While Stoltenberg pays lip service to the death and destruction of WWI – which laid the groundwork for the even more devastating WWII – it is clear that he and his ideological fellow travelers, including members of congress who clap like trained seals at every self-serving platitude uttered by a military leader on their team, have learned nothing from it.
More analysis and commentary on NATO in general and Stoltenberg’s speech in particular can be heard from Peter Kuznick and Pietro Shakarian on the Real News Network: