The US-NATO military alliance is not exactly a joke. It’s far too expensive and disastrously inefficient to be regarded as any such thing. But the anomalies and absurdities of that amazingly flawed grouping are such that they attract a grimace of grudging mirth from time to time.
The expense of running the US-NATO machine is colossal. Not only has it recently opened its vast and luxurious glittering new Palace in Brussels (very quietly, because it didn’t want attention to be drawn to the enormous cost-overrun to 1.5 billion dollars), but it imposes enormous annual bills on its 28 member nations. Certainly the US pays by far the most, but all 26 European countries (Canada pays up too, of course) can ill afford what they have to contribute. There’s no question that NATO has to dance to the American tune, because its entire existence depends on what America provides in cash – much of which is returned with interest by the NATO countries purchase of US weaponry.
The US-NATO alliance failed dismally in its war in Afghanistan. As its website states, «Its mission was to enable the Afghan authorities to provide effective security across the country and ensure that it would never again be a safe haven for terrorists». In 2011, at the height of its military fandangos in that unfortunate country, it had 140,000 troops battling a few thousand militants. And now in 2016, far from there being «effective security», it is reported by Médecins sans Frontières (MSF; an admirable medical charity) that «Security for the Afghan people has also deteriorated in large swaths of the country, further complicating humanitarian response. Afghan civilians are at greater risk today than at any time since Taliban rule».
The UN Security Council states that «The security situation in Afghanistan remains dire, with the Taliban carrying out a spate of attacks in Kabul and other parts of the country in early 2016, causing high levels of casualties to civilians and security forces».
One of the people who criticised NATO’s war, US Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis, wrote that its mighty forces opposing the Taliban had :
«Main Battle Tanks; artillery, mortars, advanced rockets, precision guided missiles, and hand-held rocket launchers… a wholly uncontested air force composed of NATO’s most advanced ground attack fighter jets, bombers, AWACS controllers, spy planes, signals-interception aircraft, B1 bombers, attack helicopters, and massive transport jets to ferry our troops and critical supplies where they are needed… thousands of unmanned aerial drones both for intelligence collection and missile-launching…»
And, as Davies put it, they couldn’t beat «a bunch of dudes in bed sheets and flip-flops» who didn’t have a single bomber or drone or tank.
Then there came the equally abysmal shambles in Libya, when on 19 March 2011, the United States led NATO countries in a blitz of aircraft and missile strikes against the government of President Muammar Gaddafi. They subjected Libya to 9,658 air attacks and reduced it to an economic wasteland. Then after the murder of President Gaddafi on 20 October 2011 (as Hillary Clinton laughingly had it, «We came; We saw; He died».) there was rejoicing, and US-NATO ceased its bombardment.
After their happy war, Mr Ivo Daalder, the US Representative on NATO’s Council 2009-2013, and Admiral James G (‘Zorba’) Stavridis, the US Supreme Allied Commander Europe (the military commander of NATO) in the same period, wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2012 that «NATO’s operation in Libya has rightly been hailed as a model intervention. The alliance responded rapidly to a deteriorating situation that threatened hundreds of thousands of civilians rebelling against an oppressive regime. It succeeded in protecting those civilians and, ultimately, in providing the time and space necessary for local forces to overthrow Muammar al-Gaddafi». So everything was going to be wonderful in Libya after the «model intervention» by US-NATO that enabled rebels to topple and murder the President.
But in February 2016 the UN recorded that in Libya «since the 2011 armed conflict, thousands of individuals remain in detention, the vast majority without any proper examination of their cases… human rights defenders have been targeted, through assassination, attempted murder, abduction, threats, surveillance, and raids on their homes and offices… Journalists have been subjected to killings, death threats, arbitrary detention and abduction».
As Human Rights Watch reports, «Continuing armed clashes have displaced hundreds of thousands of people and interrupted access to basic services, including fuel and electrical power. Forces engaged in the conflict are guilty of arbitrary detention, torture, unlawful killings… In addition, armed groups that pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State are also summarily killing people in areas under their control». And now the migrant crisis in Europe is caused, as MSNBC informs us, by «the largest flow of modern African migration funnels through a single country – Libya. Coming from the south, migrants flee the vestiges of wars that have left entire nations in ruin… Some arrive by choice, others by force. But Libya is the purgatory where most migrants prepare to face the deadliest stretch of the Mediterranean Sea». Thank you, US-NATO, for a «model intervention».
The message is that US-NATO action results in military, political and social disaster. In this past fifteen years it has achieved nothing but catastrophe in the countries unfortunate enough to have received its military attention.
But US-NATO is always ready to seek new foes, to validate its expensive existence, and the nation upon which its leaders place their hopes is Russia.
NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, speaks of «Russian intimidation of its neighbours» and stressed that NATO’s response to the non-existent threat is with «most intensive strengthening defences since the Cold War period». He claims that «We don’t seek confrontation with Russia. We do not seek a new Cold War» – but then supports the US-led massive military manoeuvres along Russia’s borders. He increases the numbers of troops to be permanently based in countries close to Russia’s borders because he champions "enhancement" of «our forward presence in the eastern part of our alliance».
«Forward presence»? – The US official definition of «forward presence» is «maintaining forward-deployed or stationed forces overseas to demonstrate national resolve, strengthen alliances, dissuade potential adversaries, and enhance the ability to respond quickly to contingencies». In other words – preparing for war.
Mr Stoltenberg’s double-speak may be intended to draw a cloak round the US-NATO military buildup, but at least there are some sane voices that point out the pointlessness and dangers of the alliance’s confrontation. Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier has warned that all the belligerent military posturing around Russia’s borders will worsen regional security and advised that «What we should not do now is inflame the situation with sabre-rattling and warmongering. 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».
It is heartening to hear such level-headed observations, and he was followed by General Petr Pavel, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, who was forthright in declaring that Russia’s supposed «aggression is not on the agenda and no intelligence assessment suggests such a thing».
The problem is that much of the western public firmly believe that there have indeed been «intelligence assessments» that Russia poses a grave threat to the Baltic States and to much else besides. The western media is full of warnings, ranging from ponderous to shrill and melodramatic, concerning supposed Russian intentions to invade the countries surrounding it.
As made clear by two open-eyed realists, there is no threat, and the cudgel-brandishing of the US-NATO alliance only inflames the situation – as it is intended to do. But these sparks of sanity have no effect, and the US-NATO build up for war continues.