Wednesday, August 20, 2014

NATO Dangerous War Games

NATO expansion (original members in blue)
All year the Wall St. Journal editorial page has been unrelenting in its call for an escalation of an arms build up in Eastern Europe. Editorials, op-eds, and columnists have all called for confronting Russia. This week the Journal pulled out the big guns with an op-ed jointly written by Anders Fogh Rasmussen and General Philip M. Breedlove, the civilian and military heads of NATO.

The article was entitled “A NATO for a Dangerous World” but a close reading would indicate that NATO bears some of the responsibility for making the world more dangerous. The authors refer to an imminent NATO summit where steps will be urged to make NATO forces “fitter, faster, and more flexible to address future challenges from wherever they come.” Can anyone doubt that Rasmussen and Breedlove believe that the major challenge comes from Russia?

In particular the authors call for “the presence of NATO forces in Eastern Europe for as long as necessary,” and that intelligence capability, defense plans, training and exercises all be expanded and upgraded. In addition, they see the need to upgrade “rapid reaction” capability, and even “pre-position equipment and supplies” along NATO’s borders for future rapid deployment. I wonder what borders they are thinking of.

If this is not an arms race and escalation of tension in Eastern Europe, I don’t know what is. Ironically, if you read between the lines, you will see that Rasmussen and Breedlove believe that after all these years NATO is not ready to deal with new circumstances in a changing world. NATO performed a valuable service during the Cold War but with the break-up of the Soviet Union, it is time to consider whether it is still needed.

The Journal likes to compare the situation in the Ukraine with the appeasement of Hitler before the Second World War. It seems that a more apt comparison would be with the arms build up and entangling alliances that led to the start of the First World War 100 years ago. Today, the threat of an increased military build up in central Europe with the potential of a nuclear exchange makes the world a much more dangerous place than it ever was.

In his famous farewell address George Washington warned that the new American nation should avoid any foreign entanglements. Washington was not only the first President of the newly formed United States of America but he was also the general who had guided the American colonies through their seven-year struggle for independence from the British Empire. When Washington uttered his warning, Great Britain and France were in the midst of a life and death struggle for supremacy in Europe.

About a hundred and sixty years after Washington’s warning, another American President cautioned about the growing influence of a military/industrial complex in America after the great victory in World War II. Like Washington, Dwight Eisenhower was also a general before becoming President. He had experienced the horrors of the greatest and most devastating war in history. During his term in office he brought an end to the Korean War and subsequently warned that the United States should never become involved in a land war on the continent of Asia.

Perhaps it is time for us to re-consider the entangling alliances and commitments that have involved us militarily all over the world. Rather than a summit in Wales to escalate the arms race, the United States, the European Union and Russia should convene a summit meeting to limit NATO expansion, calm Russian fears, and de-militarize Eastern Europe.


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