During the Cold War, leaders of the Soviet bloc presented a façade of rock-hard unity whenever they met. As late as January 1983, at the 18th session of the Warsaw Pact’s Political Consultative Committee in Prague’s Hradčany Castle, Communist Party and government leaders from the Soviet Union and its six putative allies pledged to continue “the struggle for the preservation of peace” and against militarism and revanchism. They agreed upon the continuation of détente and cooperation, and vowed to support the “movements of national liberation” around the world.
That was all standard Soviet stuff, but not all was well behind the scenes. Poland’s Wojciech Jaruzelski, who presided over the morning session of the gathering, was an army general who had to impose martial law in December 1981 to prevent the collapse of the regime amidst the Solidarity-led unrest. Romania’s Nicolae Ceaușescu, who chaired the afternoon session, was a maverick who often barely pretended to toe the Kremlin line while pursuing close relations with Deng’s China and developing a neo-Stalinist cult centered on his personality. János Kádár, of Hungary, was quietly abandoning the strictures of central planning and turning Budapest into the least unfree capital of Eastern Europe. Erich Honecker, of East Germany, was Yuri Andropov’s most reliable servant, but only because he was the one most dependent on the Soviet Army for survival.
On the other side of the iron curtain, by contrast, NATO occasionally presented an image of serious discord. The Eisenhower administration left its two key European allies, Britain and France, in the lurch during the Suez crisis in 1956. President Charles de Gaulle’s decision in 1966 to withdraw France from NATO’s integrated military command deeply shook the alliance. Two of its early members, Greece and Turkey, were on the verge of going to war with each other over Cyprus in 1974. In the 1980s, West Germany was at odds with the Reagan administration over U.S. sanctions against Moscow, which were designed to target an agreement with the Soviet Union for the construction of a pipeline to deliver Siberian gas into Western Europe.
Despite these earlier outward presentations of the opposing alliances, in 1989-1990, the eastern monolith suddenly and rapidly crumbled, while the heterogeneous West emerged victorious. George Kennan’s concept of long-term containment, first outlined in the Long Telegram of 1946 and embodied in the Truman Doctrine a year later, thus proved to be one of the most successful geopolitical strategies in history.
For reasons yet to be assayed, NATO went rogue after the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact. By the time of Bill Clinton’s war against Serbia in March 1999, NATO had morphed into a tool of the globalist-hegemonist Democrat/Republican duopoly in Washington. Kennan himself, an avid supporter of NATO during the Cold War, near the end of his long life called its eastward expansion “the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era.” He understood that an expansionist NATO would force Russia into a defensive posture; he accurately predicted that this would restore the tenor of the Cold War to East-West relations. Subsequent events, culminating in America’s proxy war in Ukraine, proved him right.
One consequence of NATO’s metamorphosis is that its 2022 summit in Madrid in late June had a distinctly Soviet quality. Its new Strategic Concept, adopted at the summit, included purely ideological references to “the challenges posed by climate change” and “the importance of gender perspectives for the security of us all.” At the same time, the alliance effectively declared war on Russia, announcing an enormous expansion of its joint forces on permanent alert along the borders of its designated eastern enemy. Addressing the summit, U.S. President Joseph Biden said that he did not know “how it’s going to end, but it will not end with a Russian defeat of Ukraine in Ukraine.” Speaker after speaker competed for the most flowery turn of phrase heralding Russia’s defeat and humiliation, and pledging to provide “whatever it takes” to ensure such an outcome.
The summit in Madrid demonstrated that, mainly thanks to the crisis in Ukraine, the U.S. is able to impose firmer discipline on its European associates than the USSR had ever been able to do with its own satellites. Well before the summit, the Europeans were pressured to enact an array of anti-Russian sanctions detrimental to their own economic and security interests, mostly in the field of energy. At the same time, NATO itself—an obsolete Cold War relic—has been dramatically revitalized. The pending inclusion of Sweden and Finland is specifically aimed to aggravate the geostrategic position of Russia more seriously than any other single event since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It is not asked, in polite Western circles, whether and how this aggravation will enhance the security and well-being of either the United States or its European partners.
A noteworthy similarity between today’s NATO and the Warsaw Pact of yore is the gap between official rhetoric and reality. While congratulating themselves on their display of unity, the leaders—most notably German Chancellor Olaf Scholz —ignored the consequences of their actions back home. NATO is composed of “30 states (and soon to be 32) which stand together under the motto of ‘All for one and one for all’,” Scholz effused, adding that the allied countries are willing to risk “life and limb to hasten to one another’s aid.” He noted that such a sense of camaraderie and commitment was tangibly present at the meetings and described that milieu as “a great feeling.”
The head of the German Trade Union Confederation (DBG) does not share his chancellor’s elation. Millions of workers’ livelihoods in Germany will be jeopardized in the long run if Russia decides to cut off gas supplies, DBG chief Yasmin Fahimi told the Handelsblatt newspaper on July 11. If that happens, he explained, previously profitable companies “could quickly find themselves in existential distress and millions of jobs could be threatened as a result.”
Just three days earlier, Germany’s largest importer of natural gas, Uniper, asked the government for a bailout. It announced that its supply of Russian gas was down 60 percent from normal levels, forcing Uniper to fill the gap by purchasing from other sources on the expensive spot market. Russian energy has been an integral part of the German business model for years, accounting for over a third of Germany’s oil imports and well over half of its gas imports in 2021.
The country’s Minister for Economic Affairs Robert Habeck warned earlier that if Russian gas supplies are cut, the impact could bring about a “Lehman Brothers moment” for Germany. A sign of this prediction coming true was the ongoing slide in the value of the euro. It dropped some 20 percent over the past year to reach exact parity with the U.S. dollar on July 13. Lest we forget, during the financial crisis of 2008, one euro was worth about $1.60.
The readiness of Europe to harm itself in order to harm Russia could be considered misguided yet arguably rational if it were based on a clear strategy of forcing a favorable outcome for the war, but there is no such strategy. NATO’s refusal even to consider a diplomatic solution to the conflict may have been explicable, in a Hobbesian sense, while the war seemed to be going badly for Russia. But at the end of the conflict’s fourth month, such a perception was clearly no longer viable.
Israeli analyst Martin van Creveld, one of the most respected military historians of our time, assumed in the early stages of the conflict that Russia would fail. In the immediate aftermath of the Madrid summit, however, he warned that the tide had turned. He lists six main reasons for this assessment.
- First, the Ukrainians are not fighting a guerrilla war but a conventional one, and given Russia’s quantitative superiority, “such a strategy can only be a sure recipe for defeat.”
- Second, the Russians’ reliance on massed artillery has enabled them to reduce their losses to sustainable levels, whereas the Ukrainians are losing up to 200 of their best fighters each day.
- Third, Western military technology may be excellent, but it is reaching Ukraine in limited quantity and along lines of communication that stretch over hundreds of miles of flat, unprotected land, which scenario is ideal for the employment of Russia’s superior airpower.
- Fourth, macroeconomic indicators suggest that Russia is coping much better than many Westerners had expected and that more money is flowing into Russia’s coffers than ever before.
- Fifth, the economic impact of the war on the West has been much graver than anyone thought possible, which may give rise to growing popular discontent and ensuing demands that the war be brought to an end, even if that end means abandoning Ukraine.
- Sixth, the extralegal requisitioning of the property of ill-defined “oligarchs” is undermining Western moral standing, specifically its claims of respect for justice and the rule of law.
Van Creveld concludes that, on balance, “Russia’s prospects of coming out on top and obtaining a favorable settlement are not at all bad.”
In an interview with Sky News Australia on July 6, former top Pentagon advisor and retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor offered an even more sobering assessment of Ukraine’s future. Macgregor, a senior official under President Donald Trump, said that the longer the war lasts, the more
damage will be done to Ukraine, which is “already effectively a failed state” in danger of being erased completely from the map. He said that there is growing support in Europe for a ceasefire and for coming to an arrangement instead of fighting to the last Ukrainian. Macgregor believes that Putin “was never interested in all of Ukraine” but that he is not going to withdraw from those areas he already holds. “The Russians are holding most of the cards at this point,” he concluded.
Similar warnings have multiplied in recent weeks. One came from the doyen of American geostrategy, Edward Luttwak, who suggests that the war should end with a compromise, even if it is “a weak and contemptible” one. World famous economist Jeffrey D. Sachs called Ukraine “the latest neocon disaster,” which is pointed toward “yet another geopolitical debacle” for the U.S.
We are heading straight for Thucydides’ Trap—in which a rising power (China) challenges the dominance of an established hegemony—and sooner than expected.
A disaster, indeed. NATO’s “strategy” means supplying Ukraine with enormous quantities of weapons and hoping that the Ukrainian armed forces can hold their own while most of Europe sinks into a wintry recession (and much of the Third World into hunger). The other unrealistic hope in this dubious strategy is that the rising cost of Russia’s war effort and the effect of sanctions will weaken Putin’s resolve. This dogmatic and ultimately self-defeating approach has been aggravated in Madrid by the decision to name China, for the first time in the Strategic Concept, as a challenge to “our interests, security and values.”
“China is substantially building up its military forces, including nuclear weapons, bullying its neighbours, threatening Taiwan,” NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters after the adoption
of the document. China is “monitoring and controlling its own citizens through advanced technology, and spreading Russian lies and disinformation.” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, for his part, declared that China is
seeking to undermine the rules-based international order that we adhere to, that we believe in, that we helped build … And if China’s challenging it in one way or another, we will stand up to that.
The novelty of NATO formally naming China as “a challenge” indicates further tightening of U.S. control over Europe. Berlin, Paris, Rome, and others had long resisted the pressure from Washington—which started in the second year of Trump’s tenure—to support the United States’ decision to develop a global strategy of containing China. But any NATO-member resistance to that strategy is now over. In Madrid, NATO has formally declared that it would become a global instrument for the maintenance of hegemonistic control (“rules-based international order”). This was confirmed by the presence—for the first time at a NATO summit—of heads of government from Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. Their participation reflected the position of the Biden administration that the “security” of Europe and the Indo-Pacific pan-region are “inseparable.”
We are heading straight for Thucydides’ Trap—in which a rising power (China) challenges the dominance of an established hegemony—and sooner than expected. The world is facing a new division. On one side, there will be NATO and its four Asia-Pacific partners—roughly one-eighth of the world’s population and just under one-half of its economy—and on the other side will be those who reject its hegemonistic order—effectively the rest of humanity. Like its Warsaw Pact predecessor, the new global NATO will be ideologically rigid—guided by the entire gamut of wokedom, of course—and determined to treat nonacceptance of its precepts as a security challenge that warrants a robust response.
The other entity will be heterogeneous, without formal leadership. China, India, and Russia will be the loose association’s key players. Brazil, Indonesia, Egypt, South Africa, Iran, Nigeria, and possibly Argentina and Mexico, also will be among the most prominent members of the new “concert,” which we may accurately describe as BRICS+. Their unstated mission statement will be as follows:
We are not necessarily anti-Western or anti-American, but we do not accept their rules and the global order based on those rules, and most certainly do we reject the imposition of their bizarre new values.
The resulting global edifice will be unstable and likely to slide into a major war. We can’t know where and how it will break out, but the South China Sea seems the most likely powder keg.
It would be in the American interest for the United States to abandon NATO, to let Europe sort out its relations with Russia, and to let those who feel intimidated by China’s rise deal with it as they deem fit. But seeing such a course of action come to pass is as likely as hearing Joe Biden construct a coherent sentence.
Image: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky bumping fists with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at NATO headquarters in December 2021 (Office of the president of Ukraine / via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0)