Intentional Chaos: Trump and the Global NATO Alliance
NATO Counter-Summit, Brussels, Belgium, July 8, 2018
Friends, first allow me a few words about Trump’s assaults on democratic and constitutional rule. With the imprisonment of refugee families, stacking of the supreme court with right-wing ideologues , and the campaign for regime change in Iran, Pastor Niemoller’s words “First they came for the communists, …Then they came for the Jews…” remind us of our responsibilities in this critical time.
With Hitler’s defeat the Civil Rights Movement and peace movement victories, most Americans long believed that the fascism, racism, and autocracies of the twentieth century were past. But, with Bush and now Trump, we are experientially learning William Falkner’s truth that “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”
There is resistance, like the 750 demonstrations across the U.S. a week ago, and even sectors of the military are denouncing Trumpian “totalitarianism.”[i] This is time to be relearning lessons from our Civil Rights movement, from the collapse of the Weimar Republic and resistance to Nazi rule. November’s mid-term Congressional elections are an opportunity to place some limits on Trump’s assaults on the laws, institutions and culture essential for constitutional democracy. But he is devastating people’s lives and inflicting long-term human and structural damage.
Turning then to NATO, we need to begin by recognizing that it is an imperial military alliance, with a first-strike nuclear war fighting doctrine. NATO’s first secretary general explained that the alliance’s purpose was to keep Germany down, Russia out and the U.S. in. With the end of the Cold War, the alliance’s publicly articulated rationale – defending Western Europe against possible Soviet invasion disappeared.
Rather than being retired, NATO was repurposed. Contrary to the Bush-Gorbachev agreement permitting German reunification on West German terms in exchange for the commitment not to move NATO a centimeter closer to Moscow, President Clinton began NATO’s expansion to Russia’s borders. With Russia at its military nadir in 2010, the Lisbon NATO summit adopted a new primary mission: Out of Area Operations to attack terrorists and to secure the free flow of minerals and money to the Global North. There were precedents in the bombing of Bosnia and in Iraq.
Following Putin’s revitalization of autocratic – if corrupt – order in Russia, the Maidan protests and coup in Ukraine, and Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Eastern Ukraine, NATO’s primary mission changed again. Preparing possible great power war with Russia or China became the alliance’s priority. NATO forces were dispatched to Poland and the Baltics, with massive military exercises there, in the Black and Baltic Seas, and in ostensibly neutral nations. NATO’s military ties with Japan were also deepened.
With NATO as an expression and instrument of U.S. foreign and military policies, we need to pay attention to the ambitions and actions of those who set its policies. Trump, who rules in the tradition of European fascism, was recently described in the New York Times as “trying to remake America…into a selfish, dishonest country, with no close friends, totally unpredictable, free of any commitment to enduring values … and much more comfortable with mafia-like dictators than elected democrats.”[ii]
As we saw in Trump’s insults to the G-7 – now G6+1 leaders, his efforts to topple the Merkel government, and repeated Trump shocks to Japan, he has made it clear that America First means that if the U.S. is to have allies, they must accept their roles as vassal states. He and his mandarins are racing to undo the post-WW II order and to replace it with autocratic, potentially totalitarian, rule and a Hobbesian world of all against all where only coercive power counts.
Journalist Jeffrey Goldberg polled White House officials to learn how they define the Trump doctrine. The two most telling responses were: “Permanent destabilization creates American advantage”, and “We’re America, Bitch!”[iii]
This leads the world to wonder how Trump will wield his wrecking ball at the NATO summit and how to square John Bolton’s statement that the “president wants a strong NATO” with Trump’s bromance and scheduled summit with Putin. Ten days ago the New York Times opined that “Nobody knows which president will show up [in Brussels] – the truculent one railing about inadequate military spending by the allies or the boastful one taking credit for recent spending increases.”[iv] And last week we could read that Trump has already reiterated his insistence that NATO allies increase their military spending, threatening that current arrangements are “no longer sustainable”[v]
The ambiguous answer to the Times question lies in the imperial systems- including NATO, built over generations. The alliance spans the planet, providing the U.S. with military allies and bases for its wars and military interventions, international markets for weapons sales, and access to advanced technologies. These are not incidental considerations. Not surprisingly, given NATOs size and the competing ambitions of its elites – as we see today in Turkey’s flirtations with Russia and the pressure Trump claims to be placing on Pakistan – NATO partnerships come with inevitable contradictions.
NATO’s Cold War expansion and its partnerships serve the so-called “European Reassurance Initiative. Its multinational battalions in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland lead NATO’s preparations for great power war confirmed as the Alliance’s new priority during the 2016 Warsaw summit. They also reinforce continuing U.S. and European ambitions and interests in the Global South. NATO’s eastern expansion also includes deployment of a multinational force in Romania, a country that just past legislation legitimating its keptocracy. to confront Russia on land and in the Black Sea. Provocative U.S., NATO and Russian military exercises risk accidents and miscalculations that could escalate beyond control.
There were precedents for NATO’s expansion into the Global South and for its out of area operations. Seven NATO nations joined the U.S. in its 1991 Gulf War “to create a new world order.” There was the bombing of Bosnia in 1993-94, and in 1994 the Mediterranean Dialog was created. But, out of area operations began in full force with the 1999 Kosovo War against Serbia. As John Glennon observed, the U.S. and NATO “with little discussion and less fanfare…. effectively abandoned the old U.N. Charter rules that strictly limit international intervention in local conflicts….in favor of a vague new system that is much more tolerant of military intervention but has few hard and fast rules.”[vi]
Following Al Qaeda’s 9-11 attacks, the U.S. nvoked NATO’s Article 5, requiring all Alliance members to consider it an attack against their countries, and to join the U.S. war was invoked. Steve Coll writes that in addition to destroying Al Qaeda and the Taliban, “A secondary aim” for invoking Article 5, “was to prove that the compact of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization…had meaning, and that N.A.T.O. could operate if necessary outside …the West.”[vii]
In 2002, Bush and Cheney concluded that “There are no more threats to NATO from within Europe, but from a nexus of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.” They thus pressed to create a NATO “expeditionary force, a strike force.” Over time, with the Taliban again on the offensive. all of Afghanistan became a theater for NATO operations.[viii] And, in 2011, driven by Sarkozy, Hillary Clinton and Samantha Power, we had NATO’s catastrophic war on Libya.
In Europe, prospective future members of the alliance are termed Partners for Peace. The EURO-Atlantic Partnership Council totals 50 governments with NATO members and partners from Ireland to Turkmenistan. The Mediterranean Dialog, created in 1994, coopts Israel, Jordan, and North African nations. The rationale for its creation, consultations and joint military exercises was “the understanding that security in the Mediterranean is vital to assure the security of Europe.”[ix] The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative – Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE – was established in 2004 to focus on Counter WMD, counterterrorism, training, participation in NATO exercises, and promotion of military interoperability. And, Partners Across the Globe, which was established at the 2010 Out of Area summit provides for deeper military collaborations with Afghanistan, Australia, Colombia, Iraq, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand and Pakistan.”
Israel is “doing double duty as a new partner in Europe and the Pacific. The Israel Defense Force (IDF) is now participating in RIMPAC, the world’s largest naval exercise” in the Pacific.” The IDF also joined last month’s military exercises across Poland, Germany, Latvia and Lithuania. [x]
Japan also receives NATO support for its territorial and cyber tensions with China. And, not long ago, Prime Minister Abe, told the North Atlantic Council that Japan “will play a bigger role in defending the freedom of overflight, freedom of navigation and other global commons.”[xi]
Finally, Colombia is NATO’s newest Global Partner, the first in Latin America. “In the past it engaged in intelligence sharing, military-training exercises,” and in so-called humanitarian interventions. It is Latin America’s second biggest military spender, and like Japan, China factored into Colombia joining NATO. It has ports on the Pacific Ocean that Washington wants to keep out of China’s sphere as the U.S. struggles to retain its hegemony in Latin America and the Pacific.[xii]
Where does this leave us? With Trump’s disdain for alliances, his threats to reduce U.S. deployments in Europe, his admiration of repressive autocrats, his trade wars and the regime change campaign against Iran, everything – including NATO’s future – is up for grabs. On the one hand, we can hope his meeting with Putin will lead to the extension of the New Start Treaty, reinforcement of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty that ended the Cold War and provide us openings to press for Common Security diplomacy. We can also hope that it leads the two great powers to withdraw from Syria. With the wave of right-wing authoritarian governments, growing military tensions with Russia and China, and the nine-member nuclear arms race, and Trump’s ego and need to dominate, we face multiple and very dangerous crises.
But as the Chinese remind us, and with our movements’ push back, in crisis there is opportunity. We are pushing back for peace, democracy and human rights, but this is a time to marshal all the wisdom and courage we can, lest history repeat itself again with monumental tragedy.
[ii] Thomas L. Friedman. “Do You Feel More Secure?” New York Times, April 13, 2018
[iv] Steven Erlanger. NAO Allies Worry About Trump Before Meeting, New York Times, June27, 2018
[v] Juie Hirschfield Davis. “Spend or Else, President Tells NATO Nations, New York Times, July 3, 2018.
[vi] Michael J. Glennon. “The Search for a Just International law”, Foreign Affairs. May/June, 1999
[vii] Steve Coll. Op. Cit.
[x] Paul Mcleary. “Israel Deploying to Eastern Europe, Pacific for First time Alolngside U.S. Forces”, https://breakingdefense.com/2018/06/israel-deploying-to-eastern-europe-pacific-for-first-time-alongside-u-s-forces/
[xii] W.T. Whitney. “Fallout from Colombia’s New Association with NATO”, www.counterpunch.org/2018/06/fallout-from-colombias-new-association- with-nato”