U.S. military expansion in Eastern Europe
During what most of the world considered a Cold War thaw, in 1992 Pentagon
hawks set about devising long-term plans to permanently freeze out their
opponents. Central to their plan was securing the buffer zone around the
former USSR, namely in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Eastern Europe.
A draft of the Bush Sr. administration’s “Defense Planning Guidance,” leaked
to the New York Times, outlined the Wolfowitz-Cheney-Libby cabal’s plans
for the United States to prevail as the world’s sole superpower.
For the first time, unilateral and pre-emptive action was mentioned as
viable defense policy. The document also promoted the “world policeman”
concept, encouraging the United States to engage in conflict even if its
own security interests were not at risk, based on bilateral agreements
rather than international treaties brokered by the UN or NATO.
In particular, the document extended “security guarantees” to the newly
exposed Eastern Bloc as a way to ensure U.S. dominance in a previously
off-limits region. One decade later, these guidelines—highly criticized
at the time—have come to fruition under Bush Jr.’s 2002 National Security
Strategy. With NATO now buttressing the Russian Federation’s borders, East-West
rivalry has reached the final frontier. Yet the U.S. military is taking
it one step further, proposing bases in Poland and the Czech Republic equipped
with anti-missile defense radar and interceptor missiles in the next five
Ever since the days of Marco Polo, the Balkans and Caucasus have provided
successive empires with fields and fodder for their battles. But these
days, the value lies underground, with 17-49 billion barrels of proven
oil reserves in the Caspian Sea region alone. With 737 overseas military
bases, the Pentagon’s chain now stretches from Kosovo to Kazakhstan, from
the Black Sea to the Baltic. One can connect the dots between the bases
along several pipeline routes due to be constructed in the region in the
next few years. Long in the making, nefarious in the taking, it’s the Bush
dynasty’s plan for what every empire has attempted, yet failed—total world
domination. But this time, the world is not enough. Outer space is part
of the package.
One of Bush’s first acts as Commander-in-Chief was to dismantle several
World War II-era military bases dotting the globe, most significantly,
in Western Europe. With the exception of Rammstein, Germany, a “home away
from home” for thousands of GI’s, and jointly-run NATO bases across the
continent, Bush washed his hands of “Old Europe.” Troops and installations
were thus moved around the world to match the new geo-strategic needs of
Bush’s “war on terror.”
The Pentagon’s new strategy calls for light and simple bases, to be used
only when and as needed. Yet the “forward force projection” bases cover
more territory, in more hostile regions than imagined by previous Administrations.
Minimally staffed and equipped, these “lily pads” are nonetheless ready
for mobilization at a moment’s notice.
On May 2 the Romanian Parliament quietly approved a formality allowing
U.S. troops on Romanian soil, an undebated and under-reported development
with major implications for the region. Due to a December 2005 agreement
between Condoleezza Rice and Romanian President Traian Basescu, 4 bases
will host up to 3,000 U.S. Army and Air Force troops, which until now have
existed in small numbers at the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Force Base near
the Black Sea port of Constanta.
The U.S. military intends to set up an eastern branch of its Joint Task
Force European Command Center at Constanta. This particular base has already
proven useful to the Bush administration, providing a last-minute mobilization
point for troops and equipment en route to Iraq in 2003, due to Turkey’s
refusal to allow its bases for that purpose.
The Romanian-U.S. flirtation deepened after the Iraq war began when Romania
joined the “coalition of the willing.” And it wasn’t in vain. Washington
pushed for Romania and Bulgaria to join NATO, and join they did, along
with Slovenia, Slovakia, and the Baltic States, in 2004.
According to a press attaché at the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
joining NATO was more important for the region’s security and integration
than joining the EU in 2007. The Ministry’s press office states, “The presence
of the United States forces on Romanian soil…implicitly underlines the
strategic role and position of Romania within South-East Europe. [It] projects
a more visible presence of Romania in the international arena [and] attaches
new values to the Romania-U.S. Strategic Partnership.”
In addition to Romania, the Pentagon has also contracted four bases in
Bulgaria. The Bezmer Air Base is considered by Foreign Policy to be one
of the military’s six most strategic in the world. As in Romania, the government
has no jurisdiction over the base, or authority over the U.S. soldiers
living there. Though the Bulgarian government has requested notification
if the bases are to be used in a conflict, the U.S. military is under no
obligation to listen to objections.
Cornel Codita, dean of the International Relations program at Bucharest’s
National School of Political Studies and Public Administration, says that
the U.S. presence in the Warsaw pact countries reflects the irrelevance
of the East-West power structure. So while NATO makes use of its new Eastern
European territory, those countries are also looking eastward to new areas
of exploitation in the name of “crisis management.”
“The area of the larger Middle East, and Central Asia, between China and
Russia…is becoming more strategic,” Codita points out. “This is big politics.
We as allies within NATO have an interest in keeping that region out of
strong conflict situation. Then this kind of [military] infrastructure
will be useful.”
But as people from Vieques to Okinawa have found out, the costs of hosting
a U.S. base are greater and certainly more tangible than the benefits.
Though the Pentagon pays for operating costs, they do not compensate their
NATO partners for the use of land and facilities. While the Romanian government
looks forward to the infrastructure improvements the Americans will coordinate
(with care to award contracts to certain well-oiled companies, including
KBR and Raytheon), perhaps they’re not as concerned with the Pentagon’s
track record when it comes to the environment. The initial agreement for
these “temporary bases” is ten years. Yet, the heavy artillery shelling,
bomber and transport jets, and other military paraphernalia will leave
a legacy for centuries.
The Pentagon is delighted with the desert and rocky terrain in the Black
Sea region, similar to that of Afghanistan. What’s more, the aura of secrecy
shrouding official operations in Romania makes it an ideal destination
for holding prisoners of the war on terror.
A Council of Europe (CoE) report released in June details, in the most
serious and specific terms yet, the CIA’s system of abduction, transfer,
and detention of terror suspects. According to the CoE—the European Union’s
official watchdog group—the CIA’s “high value detainee” program involves
over a dozen countries. Egypt, Morocco, and Uzbekistan are among the usual
suspects when it comes to violating human rights; Sweden, Germany, and
Iceland’s role in allowing the CIA “rendition flights” to refuel or transfer
prisoners on their territory is more startling.
“The rendition, abduction and detention of terrorist suspects have always
taken place outside the territory of the United States, where such actions
would no doubt have been ruled unlawful and unconstitutional,” writes Swiss
Senator Dick Marty, the report’s chief investigator. “This export of illegal
activities overseas is all the more shocking in that it shows fundamental
contempt for the countries on whose territories it was decided to commit
the relevant acts.”
The CIA went to great lengths to disguise the transfers, using bogus flight
paths and obfuscating data. Only by cross matching known CIA aircraft with
discrepancies in flight data and eyewitness reports was the CoE team able
to deduce the actual destinations, which they claim included countries
in Eastern Europe.
Due to the ultra-secrecy of the illegal program, U.S. and European security
officials quoted in the report remain anonymous. No concrete evidence of
the prisons has ever been released, though their existence in Eastern Europe
has been known since separate Human Rights Watch and ABC News investigations
in 2005. President Bush even admitted as much, without disclosing the exact
locations of the prisons. Suspicions that they were in some sinister communist-era
enclave focused the spotlight on Romania and Poland.
Kai Frithjof Brand-Jacobsen, director of the Peace Action Training and
Research Institute of Romania (PATRIR) and author of several books on peace
studies, says, “Given Romania’s own historical experiences of brutal and
violent repression and use of torture against citizens by an authoritarian
regime, Romania’s believed participation in this U.S.-run torture network,
if true, is one of the greatest betrayals by the regime to the cause of
human rights, democracy and freedom in Romania and internationally.”
The Council of Europe report corroborates claims that top-level officials
in both countries were aware of the CIA’s operations. Yet, in Romania,
rather than sparking public outcry, the report was effectively buried by
sharp- eyed critics who noticed that the authors confused the name of the
country’s first president. Romanian lawmakers have pulled out of the Parliamentary
Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to demonstrate their disagreement
with the report’s findings.
If one looks at the roster, the “coalition of the willing” has some surprising
combinations. Denmark? Bulgaria? Japan? Other than a stated commitment
to fighting terrorism, and unstated desires to secure trade relations with
the U.S., these countries have one thing in common. They are all owed substantial
debt by Iraq. During the 1980s, Sadaam Hussein borrowed from communist
and non-aligned countries to fund his war with Iran. After an initial reduction
from $125 billion, latest estimates indicate that Iraq owes between $50-62
billion to 32 countries, not to mention the IMF/World Bank and a cartel
of creditors called the Paris Club. Coincidentally, 14 of the 49 countries
involved in the “coalition of the willing” were creditors to Iraq. Cash-strapped
nations like Romania and Bulgaria are seeking to recoup some benefits through
cooperation with the U.S. military, whether that’s in cash or contracts.
“President [Bush] clearly and firmly stated that the countries which helped
in the joint effort are to be in the first places to get their money back,”
former Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha told the press
shortly before the Iraq invasion. Iraq owes Bulgaria $4 billion.
In response to U.S. pressure to waive Iraq’s $2.6 billion liability to
Romania, former Foreign Minister Razvan Ungureanu said in February 2005,
“We’re not trying to take the money out in bulk, but gradually. If there
is a possibility of creating an investment fund that would help major Romanian
companies to invest in the Iraqi economy…it would help us a lot.”
The Boston Globe reports Poland’s foreign minister telling Polish radio
in 2003 that he would like to recover its $700 million debt “not necessarily
in cash, but, if possible, by more permanent participation in the Iraqi
economy, to the benefit of both countries.” More accurately, to the benefit
of the Polish corporations.
At a summit meeting in Sharm-al-Sheik, Egypt in early May, Iraqi representatives
met with their creditors to discuss the country’s reconstruction and debt
reduction. Though Russia and Kuwait refused to change their stance, the
Paris Club—through the imposition of an IMF program—committed to an 80
percent reduction in arrears, pressuring other countries to follow suit.
Justin Alexander, founder of Jubilee Iraq, a coalition dedicated to eliminating
Iraq’s debts, points out that the people of Iraq have no responsibility
to pay loans made to a dictator. “It is particularly inexcusable for creditor
countries who are now part of the occupation of Iraq to retain claims on
loans they made in the past to bolster Saddam’s regime,” says Alexander.
Since U.S. plans for Eastern European missile defense bases were revealed
in January, the possibility of a renewed arms race is on the horizon. Nothing
illustrates the unabashed militarism of the United States better than the
$100 billion (and counting) anti-ballistic missile defense (ABMD) shield.
Also known as Star Wars, the idea is to destroy missiles, ostensibly headed
for the United States from Iran or North Korea, while they’re still in
the upper stratosphere.
As Victoria Samson of the Center for Defense Information (CDI) wrote in
a June 13 op-ed in the Prague Post, ABMD is the latest Pentagon “snake
oil…a costly, destabilizing and unproven system.” According to CDI, out
of 11 “highly scripted” missile interception tests, only 6 were successful.
Nevertheless, in Russian eyes, the presence of U.S. military installations
so close to their borders would make it necessary to defend itself. At
the end of April, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a moratorium
on the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which limits troops
and military hardware on the NATO-Russia border. Shock waves rippled across
Europe’s 27 NATO countries, which realized they’d be first targets should
Russia decide to retaliate.
Ahead of June’s G8 summit, Putin said U.S. missiles in Eastern Europe would
be provocation to aim its own warheads at NATO targets, Russia’s Novosti
reports. “[The missile shield is] designed as protection against something
that does not exist…. [It] changes the configuration of international
security,” Putin said. “If part of the U.S.’s strategic nuclear arsenal
is located in Europe and our military experts find that it poses a threat
to Russia, we will have to take appropriate retaliatory steps.”
From its own behavior, it seems as if U.S.-led NATO views Cold War-era
treaties as irrelevant—violating a mutual agreement with Russia that NATO
bases wouldn’t be placed in new member states (i.e., Warsaw Pact countries)
and going so far as to include missile launchers and radar capacities at
those bases. NATO has played down Russia’s hard talk, saying the 1987 CFE
treaty is outdated, no longer reflecting current geopolitics. The United
States already withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty six
years ago in order to implement the global missile shield.
After Russia successfully tested an intercontinental missile capable of
penetrating the “defense shield” in late May, Bush went on a personal defensive,
offering Russian scientists a place on the missile shield’s R&D team. Instead,
Putin made a surprise offer to place the installations at a Russian base
in Azerbaijan. After all, the Russian president said, that’s a more strategic
place for thwarting nearby Iran’s supposed nuclear ambitions.
While the United States remains deaf and dumb to global opposition to militarizing
space, citizens in Czech Republic have mounted a strong challenge to the
Pentagon’s proposal for an ABM radar base in their country. Two-thirds
of polled Czech citizens are against the “son of Star Wars” base and let
their displeasure be known at a protest outside Bush’s pre-G8 speech at
Prague Castle. Speaking, ironically, on the subject of “liberty versus
tyranny,” Bush remarked later to the press that Czechs are no longer caught
between the Cold War superpowers. They can make their own decisions, he
said.“The people of the Czech Republic don’t have to choose to be friends
with the Russians or friends with Americans,” said Bush. “They can be friends
with both of us.”
Bush’s overture didn’t sway citizen opposition to ABM. Shortly after Bush
departed for the G8, referenda were held in the Bohemian villages surrounding
the proposed base sites. An overwhelming majority voted against the bases,
yet the Czech government continues to turn a blind eye to the people’s
will—truly a triumph for liberty over tyranny.
“If the government still continues the negotiations with the U.S., even
though the majority of people oppose this plan, this means that we do not
live in a really democratic country, but we live in a dictatorship,” comments
Jan Tamas, a Czech humanist and leader of an umbrella organization opposing
The Czech Republic’s geography and history might be the determining factors
in its current foreign policy. After the 1968 Soviet occupation and years
of pro-Soviet puppet dictatorship, Czechs are still wary of Russian hegemony.
Yet the promise of European Union prosperity hasn’t panned out the way
Czechs imagined when they joined the EU four years ago, with its economy
stagnating after an initial boom, negotiating with the Americans might
be the velveteen way to snub the European Union.
Despite the Czech prime minister’s claim that cooperation with the Pentagon
will lead to more jobs and investment in the science and technology sector,
Tamas questions why a missile defense base is necessary at all, anywhere
in the world. Instead of protecting their NATO allies, the U.S. presence
in Europe, if anything, makes it a target, says Tamas. While an attack
on the Czech Republic is quite low, he says the country’s sovereignty is
under threat by cooperating with the United States.
“One could look at it as Czech becoming a new U.S. colony,” Tamas says.
“We would become part of U.S. foreign policy without having any real way
of influencing it. As a result we would not be able to pursue our own foreign
policy or that of Europe, if such policies would not be in line with the
Whether it’s for bases, prisons, or pipelines, the United States has made
Eastern Europe the front line for its imperialist ambitions. In a region
where the “American dream” kept people going through decades of oppression,
the alarm bells are sounding.
Elise Hugus is a freelance journalist exploring the countries of the new