PARIS, September 10 (RIA Novosti), John Laughland — Much geopolitical comment commits the mistake of believing that foreign affairs should be understood in terms of national interests. The crisis in Ukraine, for instance, can be viewed as being over gas pipelines or spheres of influence. In reality, however, the decisive factor in foreign policy is very often the personal self-interest of the decision-makers themselves, and by extension the institutional self-interest of the bodies in which they work.
Take last week's Joint Statement of the NATO-Ukraine commission issued at the summit in Wales. It would be difficult to imagine a more belligerent or aggressive document. It is uncompromising in its hostility to Russia, full of allegations against Moscow, and devoid of any criticism for the way that Kiev has sought, from the very beginning of the conflict in the East, to crush its opponents by force. "Despite Russia’s denials," it says, "Russian armed forces are engaged in direct military operations in Ukraine; Russia continues to supply weapons to militants in eastern Ukraine; and it maintains thousands of combat-ready troops on its border with Ukraine."
Like all Western policy on Ukraine, therefore, the Statement cuts no slack to the concerns of the Russian population of Eastern Ukraine and gives no quarter to the peace proposals which have emanated from the Kremlin since the beginning of the conflict and which were repeated on 3 September. It does not even mention the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled into Russia as a result of the conflict. As the West did during the Bosnian war, it doggedly presents a civil conflict as an international one. The document even condemns "external interference" in Ukraine while at the same time announcing a huge programme of new NATO and bilateral lethal and non-lethal military aid to Kiev: the Statement not is therefore not only disconnected from reality but also self-contradictory.
Such a position is irrational from the point of view of national interest. NATO states have no interest in throwing oil on the flames by attacking Russia: even they admit that Russia can play a key role in calming things down. They have no interest in aggravating the internal tensions within Ukraine by encouraging it to apply for NATO membership: everyone knows this is far more serious than association with the EU. They have no interest in supporting a military solution to the conflict when a political one is at hand (NATO's declared support for Kiev's alleged pursuit of a political solution is nothing but a bad joke): fighting can only drag out the agony. By the same token, the EU has no interest, and certainly no intention, of accepting responsibility for a failed state like Ukraine: swimming in debt themselves, the EU states cannot possibly find the money to bail it out.
So what is the explanation? The NATO-Ukraine joint statement, like the EU's Eastern Neighbourhood policy of which Ukraine is the key part and which caused the crisis in the first place, makes sense only as ideology and in terms of institutional self-justification. According to the ideology, "the West" is a body of post-national states united by common values of diversity and tolerance. At his speech to European Youth in Brussels on 26 March, President Obama presented the conflict in Ukraine in precisely these stark civilisational terms — between, on the one hand, a West attached to the principles of freedom and, on the other, a Russia attached to the use of authoritarianism and brute force. The West needs to bolster this external ideological enemy, Russia, for the purposes of ensuring its own political cohesion.
This ideology not only flatters Westerners' sense of moral superiority; it also serves a specific function for Western political elites, namely to justify the existence and expenditure of NATO and the EU. Both bodies need to continue to expand to foster the illusion that they have universal appeal because they are based on universal values; both bodies need to dissipate their own internal tensions and lack of legitimacy by currying enmity with an external enemy which embodies the values they reject. Without such an enemy, they would have to be dissolved and their officials dismissed. These structures give the officials who work for them, and the politicians who control them, far greater power than they would otherwise have, because their expansion and strengthening means that ever greater areas of policy-making are transferred to the cosy world of international summitry, and away from the difficulties created by public scrutiny in the domestic arena. It is for this reason that the Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said that last week's summit in Wales would be "one of the most important summits in the Alliance's history". It was nothing of the kind, of course, but Rasmussen and his Western political bosses need to keep up a sense of urgency to justify their own pay packets.
The virulence of the Statement, and Kiev's announcement that it will abandon non-aligned status and seek NATO membership, also confirms a crucial point which has in fact been clear from the very beginning of the crisis — that the EU Association Agreement, which Viktor Yanukovich refused to sign last November, and which caused the whole crisis in the first place, was in fact always really about NATO. The political chapters of that agreement, signed by Prime Minister Yatseniuk in March only weeks after his seizure of power, requires that there be "convergence in the area of foreign and security policy, including the Common Security and Defence Policy". This Common Security and Defence Policy, in turn, thanks to Article 42 and Protocol 10 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, is itself integrated into that of NATO: the treaty declares that the Policy "shall be consistent with commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation". A key geopolitical point which was previously buried inside the arcane paragraphs of an international treaty has at least now been publicly announced.
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