In his first public response to the Brexit vote that has shaken Europe and much of the world, President Obama sought to reassure Americans and others. He urged us not to give into hysteria and stressed that NATO did not disappear with Brexit. The Trans-Atlantic alliance, he reminded the world, endures.1 In the face of what may be the slow motion breakup of the European Union under pressure from Euro skeptics, look for U.S. and allied European elites to increase their commitments to the sixty-seven year NATO alliance. The hysteria that was manufactured in the wake of Russia’s seizure of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine and fears of the fallout from the continuing wars and catastrophes in the Middle East will serve as NATO’s selling points.
But, as we face the future, either/or thinking and NATO need to be left behind. As even President Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski taught, since its inception NATO has been an imperial project.2 Rather than creating a new, full-blown and extremely dangerous Cold War, our interests and survival depend on Common Security diplomacy3 rather than the repeated and deadly failures of militarism.
This does not mean turning blind eyes to Putin’s assault on free speech and democracy, or to Moscow’s nuclear saber rattling and cyberattacks.4 But it does mean that we should be mindful that Common Security diplomacy ended the Cold War, that repressive and brutal though Putin may be, he arrested Russia’s calamitous Yeltsin-era freefall, and he played critical roles in the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons and the P-5+1 nuclear deal with Iran. We also need to acknowledge that with two million people in U.S. prisons, including Guantanamo, the embrace of the Poland’s autocratic government and Saudi monarchy, and the militarized “Pivot to Asia” the U.S. leads a not-so-free world.
Zero-sum thinking is not in anyone’s interest. There are Common Security alternatives to today’s increasing and dangerous military tensions.
We oppose NATO because of its neo-colonial domination of most of Europe, its roles in imperial wars and domination, the existential nuclear threat it poses to human survival, and because it diverts funds from essential social services, truncating lives in the U.S. and other nations.
William Faulkner wrote that “the past isn’t dead, that it isn’t even past,” a truth that reverberates with the Brexit vote. Our approach to the present and to the future must thus be informed by the tragedies of history. Central and Eastern European nations including Poland have been conquered, ruled and oppressed by Lithuanians, Swedes, Germans, Tatars, Ottomans and Russians –as well as by home grown despots. And Poland was once the imperial power in Ukraine.
Given this history and other considerations, it’s madness to risk nuclear annihilation to enforce the borders at any given moment. And as we learned from the Common Security resolution of the Cold War, our survival depends on challenging traditional security thinking. Spiraling tensions that come with military alliances, arms races, military-industrial complexes and chauvinistic nationalism can be overcome with commitments to mutual respect.
This is an era with similarities to the years preceding the First World War. The world is marked by rising and declining powers anxious to retain or expand their privilege and power. We have arms races with new technologies; resurgent nationalism, territorial disputes, resource competition, complex alliance arrangements, economic integration and competition, and wild card actors including a U.S. Secretary of Defense who prepares for the NATO summit by imitating gangster movies by saying “You try anything, you’re going to be sorry”,5 as well as right-wing forces across the U.S. and Europe, and murderous religious fanatics.
Competing NATO and Russian military exercises are ratcheting up military tensions to the point that former U.S. Secretary of Defense Perry warns that nuclear war is now more likely than during the cold war.6 Carl Conetta was right when he wrote “NATO’s militaristic response” to Russia in Ukraine “is a perfect example of reflective action-reaction cycles.” Moscow, he explains, lacks “the will to suicide…it has no intention of attacking NATO.”7 Last month’s Anaconda-2016, involving 31,000 NATO troops – 14,000 of them here in Poland – and troops from 24 countries was the largest war game in Eastern Europe since the Cold War.8 Imagine Washington’s response if Russia or China conducted similar war games on the Mexican border.
Given NATO’s expansions to its borders; its new tactical headquarters in Poland and Romania; its increased military deployments and provocative military exercises across Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, Scandinavia and the Black Sea, as well as by the U.S. quadrupling its military spending for Europe, we shouldn’t be surprised that Russia is attempting to “counterbalance” NATO’s buildup. And, with Washington’s first-strike related missile defenses in Romania and Poland and its superiority in conventional, high-tech and space weapons, we should be alarmed but not surprised by Moscow’s increased reliance on nuclear weapons.
Remembering the consequences of the bullets fired by an assassin’s gun in Sarajevo a century ago, we have reason to worry about what might happen if a frightened or overly aggressive U.S., Russian or Polish soldier, pushed beyond their limits, in anger or by accident, fires the anti-aircraft missile that brings down a U.S., NATO or another Russian warplane. As the trilateral European-Russian-U.S. Deep Cuts Commission concluded “In the atmosphere of deep mutual mistrust, the increased intensity of potentially hostile military activities in close proximity – and particularly air force and naval activities in the Baltic and the Black Sea areas – may result in further dangerous military incidents which…. may lead to miscalculation and/or accidents and spin off in unintended ways.”9 People are human. Accidents happen. Systems are built to respond – sometimes automatically.
An Imperial Alliance
NATO is an imperial alliance. Beyond the ostensible goal of containing the USSR, NATO has made it possible to integrate European governments, economies, militaries, technologies and societies into U.S. dominated systems. NATO has ensured U.S. access to military bases for interventions across the Greater Middle East and Africa. And, as Michael T. Glennon wrote, with the 1999 war against Serbia, the U.S. and NATO “with little discussion and less fanfare … effectively abandoned the old U.N. Charter rules that strictly limit international intervention in local conflicts…in favor of a vague new system that is much more tolerant of military intervention but has few hard and fast rules.” It is thus understandable that Putin adopted the slogan “New rules or no rules, with his commitment to the former.10
Since the war on Serbia, contrary to the U.N. Charter, the U.S. and NATO invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, destroyed Libya, and eight NATO nations are now at war in Syria. But we have the irony of NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg saying that there can be no business as usual until Russia respects international law.11
Recall that NATO’s first secretary general, Lord Ismay explained that the alliance was designed “to keep the Germans down, the Russians out and the Americans in”, which is not the way to build a common European home. It was created before the Warsaw Pact, when Russia was still reeling from the Nazi devastation. Unfair though it was, the Yalta agreement which divided Europe into U.S. and Soviet spheres, was seen by U.S. policy makers as the price to be paid for Moscow having driven Hitler’s forces across eastern and central Europe. With the history of Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler, the U.S. establishment understood that Stalin had reason to fear future invasions from the West. The U.S. was thus complicit in Moscow’s repressive colonization of Eastern European and Baltic nations.
Sometimes the U.S. “national security” elite tell the truth. Zbigniew Brzezinski, formerly President Carter’s National Security Advisor, published a primer describing how what he termed the U.S. “imperial project”12 works. Geostrategically, he explained, dominance over the Eurasian heartland is essential to being the world’s dominant power. To project coercive power into the Eurasian heartland, as an “island power” not located in Eurasia, the U.S. requires toeholds on Eurasia’s western, southern and eastern peripheries. What Brzezinski termed “vassal state” NATO allies, make possible ‘entrench[ment of] American political influence and military power on the Eurasian mainland.” In the wake of the Brexit vote, U.S. and European elites will rely even more heavily on NATO in their effort to hold Europe together and to reinforce U.S. influence.
There is more than integrating European territory, resources and technologies into the U.S. dominated systems. As former Secretary of War Rumsfeld put it, in the tradition of divide and conquer, by playing New (Eastern and Central) Europe against Old Europe in the West, Washington won French, German and the Dutch support for the war to depose Saddam Hussein.
And with what even the New York Times describes as “right-wing, nationalist assault on the country’s media and judiciary” and the “retreat from the fundamental values of liberal democracy” by the Kacynski government, the U.S. has had no hesitation in making Poland the eastern hub of NATO.13 Washington’s rhetoric about its commitments to democracy is belied by its long history of supporting dictators and repressive regimes in Europe, monarchies like the Saudis, as well as by its wars of conquest from the Philippines and Vietnam to Iraq and Libya.
Washington’s European toehold has also reinforced its hold on Southern Eurasia’s resource rich periphery. NATO’s wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East follow in the tradition of European colonialism. Before the Ukraine crisis, the Pentagon’s strategic guidance14 tasked NATO with ensuring control of mineral resources and trade while reinforcing the encirclement of China as well as Russia.15 Thus NATO adopted its “out of area operations” doctrine, making what Secretary Kerry termed “expedition missions” in Africa, the Middle East, and beyond the alliance’s primary purpose.16
Essential to “out of area” operations has been U.S. drone warfare including the Obama kill lists and U.S. and NATO extra-judicial drone assassinations, many of which have claimed civilian lives. This, in turn, has metastasized rather than eliminated extremist resistance and terrorism. Fifteen NATO nations participate in the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) drone system operated from a NATO base in Italy, with NATO’s Global Hawk killer drones operated from the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.17
Ukraine and NATO’s Expansion
An increasing number of U.S. strategic analysts, including former Commander in Chief of the U.S. Strategic Command General Lee Butler have said that U.S. post-Cold War “triumphalism,” treating Russia like a “dismissed serf,” and NATO’s expansion to Russia’s boarders despite the Bush I-Gorbachev agreement precipitated today’s spiraling military tensions with Russia.18 Russia did not precipitate the Ukraine crisis. NATO’s expansion to Russia’s borders, Ukraine’s designation as a NATO “aspirant” country, and the Kosovo and Iraq War precedents each played their roles.
This is not to say that Putin is innocent as he revitalizes his corrupt neo-Tsarist state and campaigns to reassert Russian political influence in its “near abroad” and Europe itself, and as he hitches Russia’s economy and military to China. But, on our side, we have Secretary Kerry’s Orwellian doublespeak. He decried Moscow’s “incredible act of aggression” in Ukraine, saying “you just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on [a] completely trumped up pretext.”19 Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya disappeared down his memory hole!
Great powers have long intervened in Ukraine, and this was the case with the Maidan coup. Leading up to the coup, Washington and the E.U. poured billions of dollars into developing and nurturing Ukrainian allies to turn the former Soviet republic away from Moscow and toward the West. Many forget the E. U.’s ultimatum to the corrupt Yanukovych government: Ukraine could take the next steps toward E.U. membership only by burning its bridges to Moscow, to which eastern Ukraine had been economically tied for decades. As tensions built in Kiev, CIA Director Brennan, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland –famous for her “fuck the E.U.” disrespect of Washington’s vassals – and Senator McCain journeyed to Maidan to encourage revolution. And, once the shooting began, the U.S. and the E.U. failed to hold their Ukrainian allies to the April Geneva power sharing agreement.
The truth is that both the Western political interventions and Russia’s annexation of Crimea violated the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, which committed the powers to “respect the independence, sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine,”20 and to “refrain from the threat of use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.” What was it that Hitler said about treaties being just scraps of paper?
What have the coup and civil war brought us? One set of corrupt oligarchs replacing another.21 Death and suffering. Fascist forces once allied with Hitler now part of Ukraine’s ruling elite, and hardliners in Washington, Moscow, and across Europe reinforced.
From early on, the realistic alternative was creation of a neutral Ukraine, tied economically to both the E.U. and Russia.
NATO: A Nuclear Alliance
In addition to the Ukraine crisis, we now have Washington’s and NATO’s campaign to topple the Assad dictatorship and Russia’s military intervention in Syria to reinforce its Middle East military and political toehold. Russia won’t abandon Assad, and enforcing the “no-fly” zone that Hillary Clinton advocates would require destruction of Russian anti-aircraft missile, risking military escalation.
Ukraine and Syria remind us that NATO is a nuclear alliance, and that the dangers of a catastrophic nuclear exchange did not disappear with the end of the Cold War. Once again we hear the madness that “NATO will not be able to leave things at conventional armament” and that a “Credible deterrent will involve nuclear weapons…”22
How serious is the nuclear danger? Putin tells us that he considered the possible use of nuclear weapons to reinforce Russian control of Crimea. And, Daniel Ellsberg reported that U.S. and Russian nuclear forces were on high alert in the early stages of the Ukraine crisis.23
Friends, we are told that U.S. nuclear weapons are deployed only to deter possible nuclear attacks. But, as Bush the Lesser’s Pentagon informed the world, their primary purpose is to prevent other nations from taking actions that are inimical to U.S. interests.24 Since they were first deployed, these weapons have been used for more than classical deterrence.
Former Secretary of War Harold Brown testified that they serve another purpose. With nuclear weapons, he testified, U.S. conventional forces became “meaningful instruments of military and political power.” Noam Chomsky explains that this means “we have succeeded in sufficiently intimidating anyone who might help protect people who we are determined to attack.”25
Beginning with the Iran crisis of 1946 – before the Soviet Union was a nuclear power – through the Bush-Obama “all options are on the table” threats against Iran, nuclear weapons in Europe have served as the ultimate enforcers of US Middle East hegemony. U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe were placed on alert during Nixon’s “madman” nuclear mobilization to intimidate Vietnam, Russia and China, and they were likely placed on alert during other Asian wars and crises.26
NATO’s nuclear weapons serve yet another purpose: preventing the “decoupling” from the United States. During the 2010 Lisbon Summit, in order to limit NATO member states’ options, “widely shared responsibility for deployment and operational support” for nuclear war preparations was reaffirmed. More, it was proclaimed that “Any change in this policy, including the geographic distribution of NATO nuclear deployments in Europe, should be made … by the Alliance as a whole…Broad participation of the non-nuclear Allies is an essential sign of transatlantic solidarity and risk sharing.”27 And now, on the eve of the NATO summit and the deployment of new B-61-12 nuclear warheads in Europe, General Breedlove, until recently NATO’s Supreme Commander, has insisted that the U.S. must enhance its nuclear exercises with its NATO allies to demonstrate their “resolve and capability.”28
Common Security Alternative to NATO
Friends, history is moved and governmental policies are changed by popular force from below. That’s how we won greater civil rights in the U.S., led Congress to cut off funding for the Vietnam war, and together we forced Reagan to begin the disarmament negotiations with Gorbachev. It’s how the Berlin Wall was breached and Soviet colonialism was relegated to history’s dustbin.
The challenge we face is to respond to NATO’s imperialism and to the increasing dangers of great power war with the imagination and urgency required by our times. Neither Poland and Russia nor Washington and Moscow will be living in harmony any time soon, but Common Security provides a path to such a future.
Common Security embraces the ancient truth that a person or a nation cannot be secure if their actions lead their neighbor or rival to be more fearful and insecure. At the height of the Cold War, when the 30,000 nuclear weapons threatened apocalypse, Swedish Prime Minister Palme brought together leading U.S., European and Soviet figures to explore ways to step back from the brink.29 Common Security was their answer. It led to the negotiation of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, which functionally ended the Cold War in 1987.
In essence, each side names what the other is doing that causes it fear and insecurity. The second party does the same. Then, in difficult negotiations diplomats discern actions each side can take steps to reduce the other’s fear without undermining their country’s security. As Reiner Braun explained, it requires that “the interests of others are seen as legitimate and have to be taken into account in [one’s] decision making process…Common security means negotiation, dialogue and cooperation; it implies peaceful resolution of conflicts. Security can be achieved only by a joint effort or not at all.”30
What might a Common Security order look like? Negotiations to create a neutral Ukraine with regional autonomy for its provinces and economic ties to both Russia and the West would end that war and create a more secure foundation for improved relations between Europe and Russia and between the great powers. The Deep Cuts Commission recommends that enhancing the role of the OSCE is “the single multilateral platform on which dialogue on relevant security concerns can and should be resumed without delay.”31 In time it should replace NATO. Other Deep Cuts Commission recommendations include:
- Giving priority to U.S.-Russian negotiations to restrain and address the intense military buildup and military tensions in the Baltic area.
- “[P]revent[ing] dangerous military incidents by establishing specific rules of conduct…and revive dialogue on nuclear risk reduction measures.”
- U.S. and Russia committing to resolve their differences of compliance with the INF Treaty and eliminating the growing dangers of nuclear-armed cruise missile development and deployments.
- Addressing the growing danger of hyper-sonic strategic weapons.
And, while the Commission calls for restraint in nuclear weapons modernization, clearly our goal should be an end to the development and deployment of these omnicidal weapons.
With reduced military spending, Common Security also means greater economic security, with more money for essential social services, to contain and reverse the devastations of climate change, and investment in 21st century infrastructures.
Another world is, indeed possible. No to NATO. No to War! Our thousand-mile journey begins with our single steps.