What Is the Point of NATO Expansion? - (PART 7)
by Gary Leupp
So while NATO has expanded in membership, it has showing a growing proclivity to go to war, from Central Asia to North Africa. One must wonder, what is the point?
The putative point in 1949 was the defense of “Western Europe” against some posited Soviet invasion. That rationale is still used; when NATO supporters today speak in favor of the inclusion of Lithuania, for example, they may state that, if Lithuania had remained outside the alliance—the Russians would surely have invaded by now on the pretext of defending ethnic Russians’ rights, etc.
There is in fact precious little evidence for Russian ambitions, or Putin’s own ambitions, to recreate the tsarist empire or Soviet Union. (Putin complained just a few days ago, “We don’t want the USSR back but no one believes us.” He’s also opined that people who feel no nostalgia for the Soviet Union—as most citizens of the former USSR young enough to remember it say they do—have no heart, while those who want to restore it have no brains.)
As NATO expanded inexorably between 1999 and 2009, Russia responded not with threats but with calm indignation.
Putin’s remarks about the dissolution of the Soviet Union being a “geopolitical tragedy,” and his occasional words addressing the language and other rights of Russians in former SSRs, do not constitute militarist threats. As always the neocons cherry-pick a phrase here and there as they try to depict Putin as (yet) “another Hitler.” In fact the Russians have, relatively speaking, been voices of reason in recent years, Alarmed at the consequences of U.S. actions in the Middle East, they have sought to restrain U.S. imperialism while challenging Islamist terrorism.
In August 2013 Obama threatened to attack Syria, ostensibly to punish the regime for using chemical weapons against its people. (The original accusation has been discredited by Seymour Hersh among others.) Deft intervention by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and the refusal of the British House of Commons to support an attack (insuring it would not, like the Iraq War, win general NATO endorsement), and domestic opposition all helped avert another U.S. war in the Middle East.
But it’s as though hawks in the State Department, resentful at Russia’s success in protecting its Syrian ally from Gadhafy’s fate, and miffed at its continued ability to maintain air and naval facilities on the Syrian coast, were redoubling their efforts to provoke Russia. How better to do this than by interfering in Ukraine, which had not only been part of the Soviet Union but part of the Russian state from 1654 and indeed was the core of the original Kievan Rus in the tenth century?
NATO had been courting Ukraine since 1994—five years before the alliance expanded to include Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Kiev signed the NATO Membership Action Plan in 2008 when Viktor Yushchenko was president, but this was placed on hold when Viktor Yanukovych was elected in 2010. Enjoying the solid support of the Russian-speaking east, Yanukovich won what international observers called a free and fair election.
Yanukovich did not want Ukraine to join NATO: he wanted a neutral Ukraine maintaining the traditional close relationship between the Ukraine and Russia. This infuriated Victoria Nuland, the head of the Eurasia desk at the State Department, who has made it her life’s project to pull Ukraine into NATO. This would be NATO’s ultimate prize in eastern Europe: a country of 44 million well-educated people, the size of France, strategically located on the Black Sea historically dominated by the Russian Black Sea Fleet. An ethnically divided country, with a generally pro-Russian and Russian-speaking east, and a more western-oriented Ukrainian-speaking west with an unusually vigorous and fiercely anti-Russian neofascist movement—just there waiting to be used.
Nuland, a former Cheney aide whose neocon worldview drew Hillary Clinton’s favorable attention, resulting in her promotion, is the wife of neocon pundit and Iraq War cheerleader Robert Kagan. (Kagan was a founding member of the notorious Project for a New American Century “think tank”.) The couple represents two wings of incessant neocon plotting: those who work to destroy Russia, and those who work to destroy the Middle East, consciously using lies to confuse the masses about their real goals.
At the National Press Club in December 2013, Nuland boasted that the U.S. (through such “NGOs” as the National Endowment for Democracy) had spent $ 5 billion in Ukraine in order to support Ukraine’s “European aspirations.” This deliberately vague formulation is supposed to refer to U.S. support for Kiev’s admission into the European Union. The case the U.S. built against Yanukovich was not that he rejected NATO membership; that is never mentioned at all. She built the case on Yanukovich’s supposed betrayal of his people’s pro-EU aspirations in having first initialed, and then rejected, an association agreement with the trading bloc, fearing it would mean a Greek-style austerity regime imposed on the country from without.
From November 2013 crowds gathered in Kiev’s Maidan to protest (among other things) Yanukovich’s change of heart about EU membership. The U.S. State Department embraced their cause. One might ask why, when the EU constitutes a competing trading bloc, the U.S. should be so interested in promoting any country’s membership in it. What difference does it make to you and me whether Ukraine has closer economic ties to Russia than to the EU?
The dirty little secret here is that the U.S. goal has merely been to use the cause of “joining Europe” to draw Ukraine into NATO, which could be depicted as the next natural step in Ukraine’s geopolitical realignment.
Building on popular contempt for Yanukovich for his corruption, but also working with politicians known to favor NATO admission and the expulsion of Russian naval forces from the Crimean base they’ve had since the 1780s, and also including neo-fascist forces who hate Russia but also loath the EU, Nuland and her team including the ubiquitous John McCain popped up at the Maidan passing out cookies and encouraging the crowd to bring down the president.
It worked, of course. On Feb. 22, within a day of signing a European-mediated agreement for government reforms and new election, and thinking the situation defused, Yanukovich was forced to flee for his life. The neofascist forces of Svoboda and the Left [corr. Right] Sector served as storm troops toppling the regime. Nuland’s Machiavellian maneuverings had triumphed; a neocon Jew had cleverly deployed open anti-Semites to bring down a regime and plant a pro-NATO one in its place.
It seemed as though, after 14 years of expansion, NATO might soon be able to welcome a huge new member into its ranks, complete the encirclement of Russia and, booting out the Russian fleet, turn the Black Sea into a NATO lake.
Alas for the neocons and “liberal interventionists”—the new regime of Nuland’s chosen Arseniy Yatsenyuk and his Svoboda Party allies immediately alienated the eastern Russian-speaking population, which remains up in arms making the country ungovernable, even as its economy collapses; and the notion of expelling the Russians from Sevastopol has become unimaginable.
But what do NATO planners want? Where is all the expansion and reckless provocation heading?