NATO

Cold War cloud

Print edition : August 05, 2016

(From left) Polish President Andrzej Duda, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, U.S. President Barack Obama, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (second row, from left) German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko and British Prime Minister David Cameron pose with other leaders for a group portrait at the the NATO summit in Warsaw on July 8. Photo: STEPHEN CROWLEY/THE NEW YORK TIMES

Polish Army soldiers hold flags of countries taking part in the Anaconda-16 military exercise during the opening ceremony in Rembertow, Poland, on June 6. The largest-ever military exercise involving NATO partners took place amid the West’s worst stand-off with Russia since the end of the Cold War. Photo: MAREK JEZIERSKI/AFP

The NATO summit in Warsaw reinforces its collective defence strategy with Russia and China as its targets.

THE North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) summit held in Warsaw, Poland, on July 8-9, has been billed as the most important one since the end of the Cold War. Held in the wake of the Brexit vote in Britain and the threat it poses to the concept of European unity, the summit’s goal was to project unity. Britain has been the United States’ foremost ally within the European Union (E.U.) and NATO. With the exit of Britain from the E.U., the Union is theoretically better positioned to follow a more independent foreign policy. The outgoing British Prime Minster, David Cameron, was in Warsaw to pledge his country’s unflinching support to the military alliance, in particular, and to the concept of European unity. But the summit’s main purpose was to send a political and military message to Russia. By massively expanding its military presence all along Russia’s borders in eastern Europe, NATO has signalled that it is prepared for the eventuality of a military confrontation.

Anytime NATO

U.S. President Barack Obama, in his concluding remarks at the summit, said NATO “was moving forward with the most significant reinforcement of collective defence anytime since the end of the Cold War”. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, in his opening remarks, said NATO would step up its military activities in Syria, Iraq and Libya. The organisation plans to establish a new “intelligence infusion centre” in Tunisia to coordinate anti-terrorism activities in the region. The U.S. and NATO are supporting the forces of General Khalifa Hifter in the Libyan civil war. NATO also announced a contribution of $1 billion to finance its military presence in Afghanistan, which would be extended until the end of 2017. The decision came after Obama’s announcement that the U.S. would keep 8,700 troops in Afghanistan, in effect indefinitely continuing with its military presence in that country.

The summit ratified the decision to send additional NATO troops to Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. Stoltenberg praised NATO’s decision to install missile bases across Eastern Europe and expand its rapid response force to 40,000. NATO’s troop strength was tripled in 2015 and now it is much larger than it was during the height of the Cold War. Stoltenberg said NATO sent out a clear message that any attack on “an ally will be treated as an attack on the whole alliance”. On the opening day of the summit, he said there was no attempt to restart the Cold War. “The Cold War is history and should remain history.” But his subsequent pronouncements and the decisions taken at the summit have belied this claim.

U.S.-Russia stand-off

Tensions between the U.S. and Russia have risen sharply ever since the Western-sponsored regime change happened in Ukraine in 2014. “We are increasing our military presence in the Baltic countries and Poland, but there is no doubt that it is something we do as a response to what Russia did in Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said. Obama announced the creation of a U.S. military headquarters in Warsaw and the additional delivery of most advanced weaponry to NATO and Poland. He also announced plans to bolster the number of U.S. troops in Poland along its border with Russia.

Coinciding with the summit, it was announced that NATO would take over the command of a U.S.-built missile shield in Europe. Russia had opposed the missile shield, saying that it went against the spirit of the disarmament agreements between the two countries. The U.S. and NATO have maintained that the defence shield was only meant to protect Europe from “rogue states” such as Iran, which have long-range missile capabilities and posed no threat to Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrent. Russia argued that there had never been an Iranian missile threat to Europe, even before the signing of the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement.

The message to Moscow is clear: any Russian interference in local conflicts such as the ones going on in Ukraine and Georgia will prompt an immediate NATO response. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Ukraine just before the Warsaw summit and announced another $23 million in aid to those affected by the war in eastern Ukraine. At the summit, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called for “further consolidation of the military partnership” with NATO. The NATO spokesperson in Warsaw said Ukraine’s application for membership was still under consideration.

Roping in Finland and Sweden

The U.S. and the NATO military leadership are spreading the canard that the Russian government has sinister plans to destabilise its Baltic and Scandinavian neighbours. Finnish President Saulii Ninisto and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven were specially invited to attend the summit. Finland and Sweden are not members of NATO, but the U.S. has been putting pressure on the two countries to join NATO by hyping up the so-called Russian military threat. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Finland that Russian troops, which were currently stationed more than a thousand miles away from the Finnish borders, would be moved to the border between the two countries if Finland joined the military alliance.

German Foreign Minister Frank Walter-Steinmeir shared the concerns of many western European E.U. members about NATO’s U.S.-inspired moves against Russia. The leader of the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SDP) said that “saber rattling and war cries” along Russia’s borders were ill-advised moves. “Whoever believes that a symbolic tank parade on the alliance’s eastern border will bring security is mistaken. We are well advised not to create pretexts to renew an old confrontation,” he observed.

The Warsaw summit, according to analysts, constitutes the final repudiation of the 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act. The West had pledged at the time to desist from exploiting the collapse of the Soviet Union to further expand militarily into Eastern Europe and reignite an arms race. Under the pact, NATO had pledged to “radically” reduce its forces and both sides had undertaken not to view each other “as adversaries”. Many Eastern European leaders present at the summit called for the formal scrapping of the Founding Act.

Military build-up

While releasing the U.S. military’s annual budget of $583 billion in February, U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said the Pentagon should be prepared for “a return to great power competition”, including the possibility of an all-out war with “high-end enemies” such as Russia and China. Carter placed Russia on top of the list of threats the U.S. would face. During the Cold War, the principal task of the U.S. Army was to prepare for an all-out war with the Soviet Union. This situation is being recreated, but it is not farcical from the Russian point of view. The U.S. and Russia together have around 2,000 nuclear warheads on hair-trigger alert.

Russia has not witnessed this kind of military build-up across its borders since Adolf Hitler’s “Operation Barborasa” during the Second World War. Russia lost more than 27 million people in that war. Counterterrorism is no longer the main focus of the U.S. and its allies even as the Islamic State is running berserk all over the world with its suicide terror attacks. Although NATO and Russia did not confront each other militarily during the Cold War, things changed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. NATO’s first major military intervention was in the Balkans. Its 70-day bombing campaign in 1999, carried out without the United Nations Security Council’s authorisation, led to the final dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation. It set a precedent for the 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S. and British forces. NATO intervened in many other international conflicts after 1999.

Russia has condemned NATO’s recent actions as a symptom of “anti-Russian hysteria”. The spokesman for the Kremlin said it was absurd to talk about threats from Russia when refugees were dying in Europe and hundreds of people were dying in West Asia on a daily basis. Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet President, has accused NATO of making preparations to turn the Cold War into a “hot one” by stationing more troops in Eastern Europe. “All the rhetoric from Warsaw just yells at a desire to declare war on Russia. They talk about defence, but actually they are preparing for offensive action,” he said.

At around the time that NATO was making its militaristic announcements, the South Korean government announced that it was installing the U.S.-supplied advanced “THAAD” anti-missile defence systems. South Korea already hosts U.S. bases along with military personnel. China has protested against the installation of the new missile systems in its immediate neighbourhood, saying that it will complicate the regional situation and adversely impact on China’s “strategic security interests”. China and Russia are the two main targets of the new Cold War. The former Communist countries of Eastern Europe are the U.S.’ main allies in Europe. In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan and South Korea are its key allies, with India poised to emerge as an important supporting player.

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