In 2015 Bill Gates gave a talk titled “We’re Not Ready for the Next Epidemic” in which, in a remarkable exhibition of understated and uncannily accurate prescience, he reflected on the outbreak of Ebola virus and forecast worse to come. This amazing man told us that “As awful as this epidemic has been, the next one could be much worse. The world is simply not prepared to deal with a disease — an especially virulent flu, for example — that infects large numbers of people very quickly. Of all the things that could kill 10 million people or more, by far the most likely is an epidemic. But I believe we can prevent such a catastrophe by building a global warning and response system for epidemics. It would apply the kind of planning that goes into national defence — systems for recruiting, training, and equipping health workers; investments in new tools; etc — to the effort to prevent and contain outbreaks.”
The world did nothing, with Trump, for example, claiming on March 20 that “nobody could have ever seen something like this coming,” and we are now suffering the ravages of a terrifying virus that threatens to kill countless millions of people if such heads of state as the criminally dithering Trump continue to wield influence on our destiny.
It is likely, however, that logic and science will overcome ignorance and political point-scoring, and that Trump and his ilk will fade away while the world limps to normality after a price in lives and suffering that nobody can estimate.
But there could be positive spin-offs that could make the world a better place, and one of them is movement towards rapprochement between the US and Russia and China, both of which Washington’s finest insist are “a greater threat than terrorism”, so that the world will be spared the debilitating effects of continuing confrontation.
One of the things that should be examined is refocusing of the Nato military alliance. Bill Gates had some good ideas about what could be done to prepare for the Covid-19 pandemic, and in his talk about likely future developments went so far as to say that the best lessons from the Ebola years were to get prepared as “we do for war” and expanded on this by noting that “We have reserves that can scale us up to large numbers. NATO has a mobile unit that can deploy very rapidly. NATO does a lot of war games to check, are people well trained? Do they understand about fuel and logistics and the same radio frequencies? So they are absolutely ready to go. So those are the kinds of things we need to deal with an epidemic.”
Nato is indeed well-prepared for medical emergencies and has a logistics system ideally suited to cope with the problems now facing European and other communities. According to Nato Headquarters its medical support embraces “medical general practice, force health protection before and during deployments, medical logistics and supply, medical intelligence and the medical dimension of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) warfare. Civilian-military cooperation in the medical area is very important during disaster relief, mass casualty situations and population movements, [and] military medical support may be involved in these missions too.”
Unfortunately, Nato is taking no action whatever on the medical front, but continues to concentrate on expansion, with its latest addition being North Macedonia, a country of two million people with armed forces of 8,000 whose contribution to international security — and combating Covid-19 — is trivial. But it seems that it’s the gesture, the symbolism, that counts with Nato, while practicalities — and international medical catastrophes — mean nothing when there’s an opportunity to show the world that yet another tiny country has joined the military alliance that has been expanded specifically to menace Russia. On 27 March Nato announced that “As Allied armed forces help save lives in the battle against the virus, NATO’s ability to conduct operations has not been undermined. Our forces remain ready, and our crucial work goes on, in the air, at sea, and in all other domains”.
While individual countries of Nato have committed their armed forces nationally and most effectively in their fight against Covid-19, Nato itself has not lifted a finger and concentrates on confronting Russia whenever and wherever it can. The latest charade involved Royal Navy warships which had supposedly been “shadowing seven Russian warships in the English Channel and North Sea [for] over a week.” The fact is that the Russian ships (two frigates, three corvettes and two landing ships) had grouped in the North Sea before sailing perfectly normally through the English Channel. This non-event was covered by some of the UK media in terms verging on the hysterical. The Daily Mail reported that “The Navy said ‘every movement’ of the Russian vessels was monitored, amid fears Vladimir Putin could try to exploit the turmoil over the spread of the killer virus. Concerns have also been raised that Russia is behind a wave of disinformation about the disease seemingly designed to foster panic among the public.”
The connection between the pandemic virus, President Putin, the Russian navy and the supposed “wave of disinformation” and “turmoil” are creatures of the West’s trash media.
Nato itself announced that “NATO navies shadowed seven Russian warships in the North Sea. While Russian navy ships generally transit through the English Channel on their way between the High North and the Mediterranean Sea, on this occasion they remained in the North Sea for several days.” Britain’s Ministry of Defence declared that “The Navy has completed a concentrated operation to shadow the Russian warships after unusually high levels of activity in the English Channel and North Sea.”
This was a nothing event. Nobody explained what the “high levels of activity” involved. The entire affair was a publicity fandango by Nato and its supporters.
Nato is desperate to justify its existence and it seems that Brussels will go to extraordinary lengths to maximise its profile, aided by media outlets such as the tabloid Mail, which is owned by the billionaire Lord Rothermere, who lives in France and “saves a fortune in tax each year on account of his ‘non-dom’ status.” Trash papers/websites like the Mail have enormous readerships, thus exercising great influence on the public, and the propaganda effect is enormous. So it is not surprising that Nato has achieved much support in the UK.
But this does not alter the fact that Nato is completely irrelevant, not only in the pandemic crisis, but in much wider terms. If Brussels, in essence the sub-office in Europe of the all-embracing Pentagon, had paid attention to the brilliant Mr Gates and heeded his advice to prepare for “the next epidemic” then the world would have been grateful beyond words for Nato’s foresight, expertise and assistance. As it stands, the Nato posturing about a few Russian ships in the North Sea and the addition of a totally unnecessary and valueless thirtieth member simply demonstrates its irrelevance in this virus-stricken world.
On March 27, as international efforts continued to counter the foul pandemic, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that “North Macedonia is now part of the NATO family, a family of thirty nations and almost one billion people. A family based on the certainty that, no matter what challenges we face, we are all stronger and safer together.” He declared that “a flag-raising ceremony for North Macedonia will take place at NATO Headquarters on March 30.”
And so Nato wobbles from irrelevance to absurd triviality. It would be amusing were it not so tragic.