Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary-general, has a knack for intellectual zig-zagging. Indeed, the 56-year-old former Norwegian prime minister, can be said to have made a very successful career in public life owing precisely to his adept ability at expedient zig-zagging.
Stoltenberg’s latest dubious public intervention this week was to accuse Russia of «dangerous nuclear sabre-rattling». This followed the announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Moscow was to introduce up to 40 new Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) into its nuclear arsenal, and that threats to the country would be countered by deploying modern weapons that could thwart any anti-missile system. That was a clear reference by Putin to recent American moves that intend to introduce more missile systems into eastern Europe aimed at giving the US-led military NATO alliance «first-strike»capability against Russia.
So, who is rattling sabres here? Obviously, the NATO alliance is on a dangerous, threatening roll toward Russia’s borders. American-led war games, thousands of troops and tanks, missiles, warplanes and warships have proliferated at dizzying speed over the past year, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Currently, NATO is conducting its biggest-ever war manoeuvres in the Baltic region, and yet when Russia takes reasonable defensive measures, Stoltenberg accuses Moscow of sabre-rattling. Just this week, prior to the Russian ICBM announcement, the Pentagon told the Paris Air Show that it was considering the stationing of its new generation of stealth F-22 and F-35 fighter jets in Europe – another contravention in a whole series of audacious contraventions of the 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act which forbids such NATO military expansion.
This is not the first time that the Norwegian civilian figurehead of NATO has shown a stupendous ability to invert reality. Back in March this year, Stoltenberg accused Russia of destabilising security in Europe by holding «snap» military drills within its own borders – and that at the same time when NATO is rolling out ever-more military manoeuvres on Russia’s borders.
While on a visit to Britain’s premier David Cameron at 10 Downing Street on March 13, Jens Stoltenberg told the Guardian newspaper: «There are more and more snap [Russian] exercises with no prior notification. It is important we keep the channels for military communication open to have as much transparency as possible to avoid misunderstandings and to make sure that incidents don’t spiral and get out of control. Every nation has the right to conduct exercises, as long as they do it within their international obligations. But the recent Russian practice of calling snap exercises is of serious concern. Sudden, unpredictable and surprise military manoeuvres contribute to instability».
Stoltenberg seems to think that it is perfectly acceptable for the Western military alliance to encircle Russian territory with offensive capability, but when Russia carries out counter-measures «without prior notification» then that is unacceptable and contributing to «instability». Maybe Stoltenberg would find it acceptable if NATO were to be given the exact coordinates of all Russian military bases and future flight plans. Or, in other words, if Moscow were to simply surrender all defensive capability.
Earlier this month, the NATO secretary-general told Norwegian media that «Russia is more aggressive and re-writing the borders of Europe with military force in Crimea, Ukraine and Georgia». He accused Russia of invading Ukraine with heavy arms and troops. As usual, no evidence was provided to substantiate NATO assertions.
But then, incongruously, in the next breath, Stoltenberg said:»We do not see an immediate threat from the east against any NATO country… our aim is to cooperate with Russian that benefits NATO, that benefits Russia».
Stoltenberg has previously made high-flown claims of Russia «invading Ukraine» and threatening European security, while at the same time appealing to Russia for «cooperation».
That anomalous reasoning indicates a lack of seriousness in Stoltenberg’s claims against Russia. How can Russia be considered a threat and a partner simultaneously?
If we take a further look at the Norwegian’s political career, there are telltale signs of a self-serving chameleonic character.
After Stoltenberg took up the top civilian post at NATO, last October, he described the 28-member organisation as the «most successful military alliance in history».
That’s quite a zig-zag from his vociferous anti-NATO campaigning as a rising leader of the Norwegian youth Labour party. Stoltenberg was apparently a bit of Marxist-Leninist firebrand back then, leading sometimes violent protests against the American Vietnam War and his own country’s membership of NATO.
In a report in Germany’s Deutsche Welle last October, cheekily headlined ‘NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg, more secretary than general’, the newspaper recounts: «As a young man, Stoltenberg opposed Norwegian membership in the [NATO] alliance and disputed US policies. In protest to the Vietnam War, Stoltenberg shattered windows at the US embassy building in Oslo, and later, as a young adult, he railed at the Western military alliance».
From smashing windows of the US embassy to now rhetorical window-dressing for the «greatest military alliance in history»is an impressive chasm, equal to the widest Norwegian fiord.
As the Deutsche Welle report notes: «Then he changed his mind, and made sure that Norway's Social Democratic youth organisation officially accepted the country's membership in NATO».
During the 1990s, the thirty-something Stoltenberg was by now finding his footing on the career ladder in professional politics. He soon found ministerial posts in the governments of Gro Harlem Brundtland followed by Thorbjorn Jagland. By 2000-2001, Stoltenberg had reached the pinnacle, becoming prime minister of Norway. His stint as premier was followed by two more periods in office between 2005 and 2013. He is on record for modelling his political tactics on Britain’s former Labour prime minister Tony Blair.
Under Stoltenberg’s leadership, Norway markedly increased its national military spending and deepened its membership of NATO. He committed his country to serving with the US-led occupation of Afghanistan; and in 2011 Norway was a major contributor to the NATO bombardment of Libya that precipitated the murder of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and a disastrous regime change in that country. Four years on, the NATO regime-change operation in Libya – which substantial legal opinion condemns as criminal aggression – has resulted in an explosion of the refugee crisis assailing Europe and a surge in Islamic State terrorism across the Middle East and North Africa.
But such militarist policies earned Stoltenberg important favour in Washington – the executive power that rules NATO. As Deutsche Welle points out, when the Dane Anders Fogh Rasmussen was standing down as NATO civilian chief in October 2014:
«By then, the United States and other NATO states had forgotten his [Stoltenberg’s] youthful follies – and he was gradually brought forward as a candidate for the alliance's top political job».
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Mr Zig-Zag, can thus be seen as a chameleonic species of politician who survives and thrives by adapting his rhetorical skin to suit the prevailing geopolitical environment. Therefore, anything he says can be taken as skin-deep and is best ignored.
Russia is eminently correct to take necessary defensive measures against what any objective observer can clearly see as flagrant NATO aggression. Mr Zig-Zag’s opinion on the issue should be kicked into the long grass where it will no doubt revert to something else in the next instant.