militarized international politics

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By GILBERTO LOPES*

The world falls apart, but NATO decides to double the bet

History repeats itself, recalls Ravi Agrawal, editor-in-chief of the North American publication Foreign Policy: war between states is back, the world is turning its eyes to nuclear weapons, the pandemic is killing millions of people and interrupting the usual trade chains, inflation is reaching levels not seen since 1970, much of the world is starting to run out food, there is an energy crisis.

As in the Cold War, the United States aligned its partners against Russia, in a conflict that had two important moments. The first was to prevent the completion and operation of Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline that would link Russia with Germany and Central Europe. A “geopolitical project with which Russia intended to divide Europe”, in the opinion of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, but which, for former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, should be seen as an economic project, much more than a political one. The second was the 2014 coup d'état in Ukraine, which made it a key player in the confrontation with Russia.

Thus, a policy of isolation from Russia was imposed, dividing Europe, which now faces the serious consequences of its decision. On July 5th, the Euro was trading at its lowest level in 20 years and the prospects of an economic recession were growing. Agrawal's list may not be exhaustive, but it certainly has an extraordinary dimension. In the opinion of Pope Francis, this crisis “does not come out alone. To leave, it is necessary to take a risk and take the other by the hand”.

From the 26th to the 28th of June, the most developed economies, grouped in the G7, met in the castle of Elmau, in Bavaria. At seven, Senegal, Argentina, Indonesia, India and South Africa joined, at the invitation of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Patrick Wintour, envoy from The Guardian to Elmau, summarized the agenda by highlighting the setting of a cap on the price of Russian oil (in an attempt to limit Russian revenues, but also to reduce inflationary pressure), the postponement of measures to combat climate change, potential famine in Africa and increased arms supplies to Ukraine.

 

A new strategic concept

In other circumstances, what was decided at the G-7 meeting would have particular relevance for dealing with crises. This was not the case. The meeting in Elmau was just an appetizer for another that – this one – would occupy the stage where the West would define its priorities: the NATO Summit in Madrid, from 29 to 30 June, with the participation of heads of state and government of the 30 member countries, plus “key guests” from Europe and Asia. For the first time, highlighted a statement from the White House, the meeting will include Asia-Pacific allies, represented at the highest level.

It was about approving the “New Strategic Concept” that will guide NATO's policies in the next decade. A relatively short, simple document with few ideas. Enough to excite its general secretary, former Norwegian Labor prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, who summed up for the press what had been agreed in the end. In ten tight pages, NATO redefines its enemies. It describes the Russian Federation as “the most significant and direct threat to the security of our allies”. And he points to China, “whose ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values”. Their deep strategic alliance and their attempts to undermine the “rules-based international order are against our values ​​and interests,” they say.

Rules that – as pointed out by Ivo H. Daalder, former ambassador to NATO between 2009 and 2013 and president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and James Linsay, Vice President of Council on Foreign Relations in an article in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs – “Washington normally ignores them when they are not to its liking”. They cite the wars in Kosovo, Iraq and the torture of captured enemies. “The United States has refused to negotiate new agreements on nuclear tests, arms control, prosecuting war criminals, and regulating trade in the Asia-Pacific,” they add.

But the call for a “rules-based international order” is repeated in the NATO document. Among these rules (never well defined) is the “freedom of navigation”, in a veiled reference to the tense situation in the South China Sea. The NATO document states that “maritime security is fundamental to our peace and prosperity”, and commits to strengthening its regional position to “defend itself from all threats in the maritime domain, guarantee freedom of navigation, security of maritime trade routes and protect our main lines of communication”.

 

The Indo-Pacific region

At stake in the Indo-Pacific region is the central issue of the South China Sea; the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) has 168 member countries, but the United States arrogates itself the right to interpret it unilaterally, says Dr. Anuradha Chenoy, former director of the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and director of the Center for Russian and Central Asian Studies. Chenoy also points out that negotiations between ASEAN countries and China on a code of conduct in the region have not progressed either.

In an article on NATO's renewed vision for the Indo-Pacific region, Chenoy reminds us that US defense spending is three times that of China. Combined with those of NATO, they multiply and the growing militarization of the region causes all military budgets to increase. Measures taken in the Indo-Pacific region by the United States include the creation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) – with Singapore, Japan and India – and an informal but openly military alliance with Australia and the United Kingdom (AUUKUS ), noted.

Most of the ten countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are concerned about NATO's strategy and US pressure. “NATO's hyperactivity in the region, China's containment policy and the expansion of strategic and military alliances will increase tensions and benefit no one,” says Chinoy.

 

NATO's Great Umbrella

NATO is today the umbrella under which Washington shelters European countries more comfortably. In other scenarios, such as economic, energy or environmental, this umbrella, much smaller, is not enough to accommodate everyone. Investing in NATO, says the document approved in Madrid, “is the best way to ensure lasting ties between European and North American allies”.

It is clear that the Russian invasion of Ukraine made it easier for all European allies to accommodate themselves under the great umbrella of NATO, whose strategy is now the best expression of the international policy of a West that claims to be ready to defend its billion inhabitants (less than 15% of the world population), its territory and, above all, its vision of the world: its freedom and its democracy. The main expression of this policy is now military.

For its members, NATO enlargement “is a success story” that helped consolidate peace in the Euro-Atlantic zone, which it intends to extend to the rest of the world. Sweden and Finland's request to join the alliance excited member countries. Its General Secretary, the pathetic Stoltenberg, now the leading mouthpiece of Western politics, could not hide his euphoria. Two neighboring countries which – as Günter Grass recalls in the book the drum – “never liked each other very much”. The scene is exiting a church on Christmas 1930. "Suddenly," says Grass, "the knives are long and the night is short."

 

A weakened NATO

Regarding Finland's accession, Heikki Talvitie, his country's ambassador in Moscow between 1988 and 1992, the last years of the Soviet Union, spoke in an interview published in the newspaper La Vanguardia from Barcelona. “Do you believe Finland's decision to join NATO was a wise decision?” asked journalist Andy Robinson. “The 50-page report, which was written before the deputies voted, lacks any historical perspective. Part of the idea that the history of the world began on February 24th. The incredible thing is that in Finland, over the last 70 or 80 years, we've made huge efforts in developing our safety policy. But the report only covers the period from February 2022,” replied Talvitie.

“Do you believe that NATO will increase Finland's security?” - No. There is no Russian threat. There are no troops on the border. It is a mistake, nonsense to compare the geopolitical situation in Ukraine with the situation in Finland. It has nothing to do. Russia considers NATO to be a threat. So Russia is already a threat to us. It wasn't before. Now is. – The most important thing for the government has been its re-election. And public opinion has been dragged by the media and social networks. This government understands very little about Russia, added Talvitie.

The NATO of the Cold War was the NATO of anti-communism. Today's NATO is the NATO that divides Europe, which pits it against Russia, a European country whose integration is a condition for the region to consolidate its independence on the international stage. The need for raw materials, including gas and oil, whose natural supplier is Russia, is a good illustration of the weakness of a Europe that, however, defines it as its main enemy. This is only possible by sheltering under the American umbrella, which, at the time, neither Angela Merkel nor Emmanuel Macron wanted. On the contrary, most Eastern European countries, especially Poland and the Baltic countries, were enthusiastic about the idea.

That NATO will not be able to contribute to peace, nor to the consolidation of Europe in the world. Submitted to US interests, organized around a military option, the fate of this NATO is a dead end. Militarized international politics has never been more useless in tackling the world's problems.

There are sensible voices in Europe. They abound, although they are now drowned out by NATO's bravado, which does not hide its aspiration to expand around the world. "We will work with our partners to address challenges in regions that are strategic to the alliance's interest: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia and Ukraine, Balkans and Black Sea, Middle East and North Africa, Sahel and the Indo-Pacific region." According to the document, all this now affects Euro-Atlantic security.

 

Nuclear war?

Only Latin America is not mentioned in the document, which constitutes an explicit challenge for us to define our place in this world and to propose initiatives to make it effective, which we will refer to later. One of these roles – and not the least important – is to seek out the sensible voices of Europe and form with them a new and powerful alliance capable of making itself heard in the world. For a war between NATO and Russia, or China, is not just a Euro-Atlantic problem.

The NATO document is full of promises. The aim of the militarization of world politics, we are assured, is to “preserve peace”. The ultimate tool for this achievement is NATO's nuclear capability, which depends particularly – as the text reminds us – on the United States.

Nowadays it is frequent to find voices of all kinds speculating about the possibility of a nuclear war. Among the many articles on the subject, one by Mark Cancian, a retired Marine colonel and adviser to the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), is a good example. Cancian speculates in his article – titled “How to Break Russia's Black Sea Blockade”, published in Foreign Affairs on July 1 – about diplomatic and military options for breaking the blockade, such as NATO convoys to protect ships leaving Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea, or air protection with NATO planes deployed at bases in Romania and Bulgaria.

The withdrawal of Russian forces from Cobra Island, close to the Danube delta in the Black Sea, which they had occupied at the start of the war, is seen as a hopeful sign of this military strategy. Located 35 km from the Ukrainian coast, with only 0,205 km2, it is not possible to maintain a permanent force on the island, which can be bombed from the coast, and the Russians eventually withdrew. But neither was the island reoccupied by Ukrainian forces, who could not defend it.

Since Putin has repeatedly warned NATO not to intervene in this conflict, says Cancian, "he is unlikely to allow a NATO convoy to break the blockade without responding in some way." A “less confrontational” option, he believes, would be to integrate an escort with ships from non-NATO countries. Which? Hard to imagine.

Cancian also suggests that the United States register the merchant ships responsible for such an operation under its flag, forcing Russia to attack American ships if it wants to avoid breaking the blockade. Where would such an option take us? It's easy to imagine. For now, he says, there is enough food in the world. But if the war drags on, famine could hit everyone, triggering unrest that could threaten social stability. According to Cancian, “it is the responsibility of NATO and the West to have a plan in place before food shortages become a crisis”.

Others speculate about different scenarios. They hope that once the European winter is over, with its army better armed and trained, Ukraine will be able to successfully face a protracted war. Part of this is suggested by Jack Detsch in his article “West Worries About Fraying Consensus Over Ukraine”, published in Foreign Policy, where he is a Pentagon foreign policy and national security reporter. Democratic Senator Chris Coons, a member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, argues along the same lines. “Putin is counting on our loss of interest in the war in Ukraine,” he said in an interview with the same Foreign Policy.

“Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is grateful for our help, about six billion dollars in military equipment and billions in direct economic support,” says Coons, concerned about securing the supply of agricultural products, of which Ukraine is one of the world's leading producers. For this, Black Sea ports are essential, especially as the autumn harvest approaches.

The Latin America option

We are not part of NATO's strategy for the next decade. Sheltered under the huge North American umbrella, under which practically all the dictatorships that periodically organized and promoted the region were accommodated, in Latin America, in any case, there have never ceased to be political forces that try to do politics outside this umbrella. -rain. The best (and most dramatic) example of a response, when it was possible to move along this path, is the 1973 military coup against the government of Salvador Allende in Chile.

This policy has not ceased, as has happened recently in Bolivia, and as is the case with the sanctions imposed on countries like Cuba and Venezuela. It is difficult to reconcile this situation with the NATO document, which claims a “clear vision” of the world order: “we want to live in a world where sovereignty, territorial integrity, human rights and international law are respected and where each country can choose its own way, free from aggression, coercion or subversion”. Naturally, Latin America is not included in these considerations.

We must demand an end to these policies implemented by Washington in Latin America, but, above all, we must organize ourselves to participate in a scenario where the fate of humanity is at stake.

The Pope's recent words to the Argentine news agency Telam suggest some ideas. “Right now, we need courage and creativity. Without these two things, we will not have international institutions that can help us overcome these serious conflicts, these situations of death”, he said. “We lived this up close in Ukraine and that's why we are alarmed, but think of Rwanda 25 years ago, Syria ten years ago, Lebanon with its internal conflicts, or Myanmar today. What we are seeing has been going on for a long time. The careful omission of Iraq from this list is striking.”

Francisco recalled recent statements he made to a Jesuit magazine, which caused a stir, when he said that "here there are neither good nor bad". “They took that single sentence and said: “'The Pope does not condemn Putin!' The reality is that the state of war is something much more universal, more serious, and here there are neither good nor bad. We are all involved,” Francisco said. “Latin America is still on this slow path, of struggle, of the dream of San Martín and Bolívar for the unity of the region. It has always been a victim, and will always be a victim until the liberation is finished, of exploitative imperialisms”, added the Pope.

The political scenario in the region, with the changes of government in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia and probably Brazil, in the October elections, joined by political organizations from several countries that are not in the government, is a powerful base to seek – with the courage and creativity requested by the Pope – alternatives for dealing with war and the global crisis.

It seems essential to build bridges between Latin America and European politicians who oppose the development of military alternatives to resolve the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. To tie NATO's hands. To explore the creation of a large international movement oriented in this direction, with European politicians of the stature of Merkel, Gerard Schröder, Mélenchon, of Portuguese, English, Finnish politicians (such as the former diplomat Talvitie) and certainly many of the countries of Eastern Europe, who disagree with the militarization of European politics.

One of the most dramatic expressions of this militarization is Germany's decision to reverse the main orientations of its foreign policy, avoiding rearmament and involvement in military conflicts in other countries. The short view of a Europe that forgets how 1933 became 1939 is astonishing. Latin America has a lot to say in the face of the mediocre Euro-Atlantic scenario. Worth trying.

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). author of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

 

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