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    NATO’s New Lease on Life: Confronting Foes of Its Own Creation

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    Opinion
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    Dmitry Linnik
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    In his speech at the Royal United Services Institute looking at the ‘changing nature of threats faced by the UK’, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond described Russia as a principal threat and geopolitical foe.

    In explaining the reasoning, Philip Hammond said that for two decades since the end of the Cold War, "we and our allies sought to draw our old adversary [Russia] into the rules-based international system…

    "We now have to accept that those efforts have been rebuffed. We are now faced with a Russian leader bent not on joining the international rules-based system which keeps the peace between nations, but on subverting it."

    Now that's rich coming from a leading politician of a country that took a direct part in a patently illegal war in Iraq and was involved in other similarly illegal pursuits with tragic consequences — in Libya, Syria and Egypt to mention but a few. Provoking and enabling a coup in Ukraine a year ago is probably another example of the West’s adherence to international law, if one tries to follow Hammond's logic.

    In fact let's recall that in the early 2000s President Putin suggested that Russia would be willing to join both the EU and NATO — but was never taken seriously. The response was that Russia was not up to certain European or NATO standards on a number of fronts. Incidentally, neither were any of the Central and East European countries that were nevertheless rushed through the process of accession to the two blocs. With Russia the choice was different.

    When Ukraine was offered an Association agreement with the EU, was it ever ready — under the deposed president, allegedly pro-Russian? When there was a push for Ukraine to join NATO under his predecessor — how ready was Ukraine for that?

    Or has anyone in the EU or NATO ever been serious about the offer of membership to Ukraine? Apparently, Ukraine is needed only as a military outpost for confronting Russia. 

    Back in 2007 at the Munich security conference — and on several occasions later — Putin spoke about Russia’s grievances over the US claim to global dominance and stated Russia’s refusal to accept it. No note was taken of Russia’s serious concerns; instead Putin was vilified for his anti-Americanism.

    In fact, what Putin said then and repeated many times since is that Russia is unhappy with the philosophy and practice of US global domination. It is a feeling certainly shared by many countries, including a fair number of US allies, but Russia happens to be one that has the attitude and the fortitude to say it out loud.

    That is precisely the reason for the escalating demonisation of the Russian president and, increasingly, of Russia and its people.

    In 2011 Vice-President Joe Biden came to Moscow to tell Putin not to run for president again. After which Washington effectively adopted a course towards regime change in Russia. That's how the situation is viewed not only by the Kremlin but by a vast majority of the Russian public.

    And now, alongside international terrorism, Russia is defined as the principal single threat to the West.

    As Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond put it in his speech at RUSI "we are in familiar territory for anyone over the age of about 50: with Russia’s aggressive behaviour a stark reminder that it has the potential to pose the greatest single threat to our security".

    To any Russian over the age of 50 the greatest threat to the world's security were the American nuclear missiles across the border in Turkey, capable of hitting Moscow within 15 minutes (a much more real 15 minutes than in Tony Blair's infamous claim about Iraqi WMD); or Dropshot: The American Plan for World War III Against Russia in 1957.

    The agenda that is taking centre stage these days in the western political discourse is — again — pushing things dangerously close to an open military conflagration.

    To the clamour of Russia bashing the West is sleepwalking into a confrontation which it won’t know how to handle.

    European security in the post-Cold War period has been defined by a dichotomy of conflict and cooperation. Over the past few years, starting well before the turbulent events in Ukraine, a push towards conflict has been gaining the upper hand. US neocons and their proxies in Europe have been allowed to hijack western policies towards Russia.

    On Ukraine, the routine argument is that it is up to the countries on Russia's borders to determine who they ally with and what international organisations they want to join and that Russia has no say in this.

    But it is a profoundly flawed argument. Kiev’s seemingly free choice to turn West and away from Russia was taken under enormous pressure from Washington, Brussels and other western capitals – and some false promises too, as the ordinary Ukrainians were led to believe that with closer ties to the EU, visa-free travel and jobs in the West would come immediately.

    The latest news from Brussels is that a visa-free regime for Ukraine is not on the agenda.

    As for Russia, when the geopolitical and military situation in its vicinity changes, would it not be proper, indeed simply practical, to take her interests into account or, at the very least, try to calculate what her reaction is likely to be. Russia's response to Georgia's military attack on South Ossetia in 2008 should have provided some clues.

    The question for NATO, particularly for Europe and Britain, stands as such: is there a different way of managing relations with Russia besides extremely risky confrontation?

    The mood at the recent NATO summit in Wales was one of almost jubilation: the military alliance, apparently destined for irrelevance, has rediscovered a sense of purpose: it has now got a worthy foe in Russia. The biggest military alliance in the world which outspends Russia 11 times over has designated Russia as the paramount threat.

    Atlanticist thinking and political agenda have scored a major victory, a victory over reason and common sense. Besides political hawks, this victory will undoubtedly benefit the NATO brass and the military industrial sector.

    US prevalence in shaping this course of events has at least for now trounced any dissenting voices in Europe. Leading EU nations appear to be increasingly uncomfortable with how this confrontation has been snowballing but not finding the strength to oppose it.

    And what is the point of a European Union if questions of war and peace on the continent are decided overseas?

    NATO has received a new lease on life. A military alliance meant to serve, to protect and defend the western community of nations has grabbed the lead in shaping its policies — something that by definition should not be allowed. In the circumstances it looks very much like another case of a tail wagging the dog.

    Ever since the end of the Cold War the US has virtually had a free hand in meddling anywhere it fancied. All of its interventions have been abysmal and none have been to the benefit of the countries concerned. It is hard to see how with this kind of record Washington should be trusted to shape the future of Europe.

    Related:

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    NATO, military, Cold War, politics, security, geopolitics, Philip Hammond, Europe, Ukraine, Russia, United States
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