We won't have the opportunity to applaud!

Image: Dmitry Trepolsky


NATO prepares for a war it cannot win, while the rest of the world acts as mere spectators in a play about our demise

“North Americans in, Russians out, Germans down.” Thus Lord Ismay – Hastings Lionel Ismay, 1st Baron Ismay, general of the British Army, first secretary general of NATO (1952-57) – defined the objectives of the organization, founded in 1952, in the midst of the Korean War and at the beginning of the Cold War .

As Victor Davis Hanson, historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and author of The Second World Wars: how the first global conflict was fought and won, Lord Ismay was not referring to leaving out the Soviet Union (which once unsuccessfully tried to join NATO), but rather the “Russians”. Not East Germany, or the Nazis. Simply the “Germans”.

In an article published in July 2017, Victor Davis Hanson argues that Lord Ismay understood that, trapped between Germany and Russia, Europe needed a powerful external ally to avoid new conflicts. That ally was the United States, then tempted by isolationism faced with the risk of becoming involved in another European war. A concern that Donald Trump's eventual triumph next November will awaken again. What Victor Davis Hanson does not say is that preventing the emergence on the European continent of a power that could challenge London has always been a fundamental objective of modern British foreign policy.

For some reason, Victor Davis Hanson would say, both former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1979-90) and Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1985-91), were concerned about German unification in 1989. Whether for Lord Ismay, Thatcher or Gorbachev, a divided Germany seemed safer. Although Germany is currently, in many ways, a “model democracy”, one should not forget certain “roots” that suggest that history could repeat itself, added Victor Davis Hanson. General Ismay did not fail to remember the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, nor Germany's role in the two world wars.

A Europe with a German profile

NATO's objective of keeping “the Germans down” was not achieved. German unification in 1990 and Brexit, approved in a referendum on June 23, 2016, through which the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union, are two expressions of this failure. Fourteen years before Brexit, in 1o. January 2002, the Euro, the single currency that Great Britain never adopted, entered circulation in twelve European states. At that moment, his withdrawal from a Europe that was increasingly organized with a German profile began.

The euro was the backbone of this construction. A common currency that prevented the appreciation of a national currency, such as the mark, making exports from a country that maintained a growing trade surplus, as was the case with Germany, more expensive. The German central bank de facto controlled European finances, says Victor Davis Hanson. The impoverished Mediterranean economies were tied to Germany, which saw Brexit as “an intolerable affront to its leadership”.

Analyzes on the effect of the euro on European economies are abundant and it is not possible to analyze them in detail here. I suggest the text by Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winner in Economics and author of the book The Euro. How the common currency threatens the future of Europe, published in 2017. According to Joseph Stiglitz, to save the European project, the euro had to be abandoned. The euro has made weaker countries weaker and stronger countries stronger, Stiglitz said.

Germany's GDP, which represented 10,4 times that of Greece in 2007, increased to 15 times in 2015. Adam Tooze, a British economic historian, had already pointed out, in September 2012, in the magazine Foreign Affairs, that Germany's growth was unsustainable because a large part of its surplus was obtained at the expense of the current account deficits of European countries in crisis.

Germany saw the huge trade surplus – from which it had benefited since 2000 – as a way of returning to the old post-World War II glory days. But then, says Adam Tooze, they invested in their own country. In 2012, Germany invested more abroad than at home. In this sense, the surplus was not a repetition of the post-war growth model, “but a sign of its disintegration”.

Perhaps in no other scenario has this “German” Europe been portrayed more dramatically than in the conditions imposed on Greece in its debt renegotiation in 2015, with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (2009-2017) playing an aggressive role in imposing of drastic cuts in public spending, privatizations and the obligation to make them pay every last penny of the debt. Eurozone governments did not want to see any kind of renegotiation, Greek debt relief.

Gradually it became clear what this was all about. The IMF had decided to protect the affected banks, mainly German and French, exposed to Greek debt. The Greek economy was sacrificed to save the euro project and the northern European banking system. Mario Draghi, then president of the European Central Bank (ECB), recognized that the euro zone countries made a profit of 7,8 billion euros thanks to the conditions they imposed on Greece when renegotiating its debt. Berlin gained around 2,9 billion euros from the Greek crisis, thanks to its share of the profits generated by the European Central Bank's program to buy Greek debt.

Meanwhile… how did England fare?

In 2018, British Prime Minister Theresa May was negotiating with the European Commission the agreements for Great Britain's exit from the European Union after the June 2016 referendum. “At Theresa May's famous dinner in Downing Street with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister argued that they should commit to making the Brexit a success". Juncker, perplexed, reminded her that this was impossible, as “both sides would lose.” The Luxembourger Juncker was the same man who, together with the German Schäuble, had raged against Greece three years earlier in the debt renegotiation.

In November 2022, the Bank of England warned that the United Kingdom faced a “very challenging” scenario for its economy and that unemployment would almost double by 2025, rising from 3,5% to almost 6,5%. While it would not be the deepest recession in its history, it would be the longest since records began in the 1920s, the central bank said. Rishi Sunak's conservative government announced new spending cuts and interest rate increases. The Labor opposition warned that households would not be able to afford these increases, that food prices and energy bills were rising and that they would now face higher mortgage rates.

At that time, it was already being read in the British press that millions of people were being forced to abandon meals (or go the whole day without eating). One in four families with children was food insecure. In October 2022, the with the BBC published an article titled “Rats, Bones, and Mud: The Hunger Foods Desperate People Are Eating to Survive.” “People are eating pet food and heating their food with candles,” said another article two months later, commenting on the effects of inflation in the UK.

With the economy practically stagnant, the IMF forecasts GDP growth of 0,6% in 2024. The OECD projected a contraction of 0,4% in 2023 and a more modest growth of 0,2% in 2024. An opinion poll of Observer found that 41% of respondents thought Britain had become less influential in the last ten years. And 19% thought it was more influential. 35% thought that the Brexit had made her less influential, compared to 26% who thought otherwise.

The European Commission's forecasts for the region's economy are also not optimistic. “The significant stagnation of the European Union throughout 2023 translated into weak momentum for the new year. (…) the European Union economy entered 2024 in a weaker situation than expected, and the latest indicators do not suggest an imminent recovery”. This was not the scenario imagined by the British when NATO was created 75 years ago.

The Russians… out or defeated?

It is no longer a question of leaving the Russians out of NATO, as Lord Ismay argued. Now, the goal of its member countries is to defeat Russia. Something much more ambitious – and dangerous.

“The post-war era is over,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told a meeting of the conservative European People's Party (EPP) in Bucharest, Romania. “We are living in new times: a pre-war era.” “Either we fight to protect our borders, territory and values, to defend our citizens and future generations, or [we accept] the alternative which is defeat.”

The defeat of Russia “is indispensable for the security of Europe”, the French president also believes. “Europe is on the warpath”, said, enthusiastically, two correspondents from the Spanish daily The country. “More ammunition, more weapons production, more investment and coordination in defense capabilities.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen assured the European Parliament that “the threat of war may not be imminent, but it is not impossible.” For Spanish journalists, this is one more grain, a contribution to the paradigm shift, a warning to European citizens to mentally prepare for war, as requested by the Swedish government, which recently joined NATO.

What war should European citizens prepare for?, we should ask ourselves in Latin America, and around the world. Are those who intend to prepare for a war between Russia and NATO in their right mind? Are they talking about the need to produce more ammunition or about a paradigm shift? What ammunition are they talking about, what paradigm?

For Russian Chancellor Sergei Lavrov, the current of supporters of war is very strong in Europe. Putin reiterated that he has no intention of waging war with NATO, which will inevitably be a nuclear war.

There are those who think that by further militarizing Europe and fencing NATO's borders with Russia, we will all be safer. Von der Leyen's warning, Spanish journalists say, is just the latest "in a series of blunt statements warning about the risk of Russian President Vladimir Putin attacking a European country."

The warnings have the same tone but are never precise: “Our experts predict that this could happen within five to eight years,” according to German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius. For Danish Defense Minister Troels Lund Poulsen, “the hypothetical attack could happen even earlier”.

Conservatives and socialists

Journalists are enthusiastic about what they consider “a historic step” by the European Union to militarily support Kiev with intergovernmental funds. Or for the European Investment Bank to change its lending policy “to finance companies that manufacture weapons and ammunition”.

The West has progressively increased its participation in the war: it provides long-range artillery, advanced air defense systems, tanks, cruise missiles and satellite intelligence. For the head of the Estonian intelligence service, the Kremlin is “probably” anticipating a “possible” conflict with NATO in the next decade, “or something like that…”. “The defense ministers of Denmark and Germany also warned that Russia could attack NATO in less than a decade.”

“We are at the dawn of a new, more turbulent and difficult era,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said at the congress of European socialists in Rome. Vladimir Putin is the “great destabilizer”. “Russia attacks where it smells weakness.” So it's a matter of joining forces against him.

It is the same congress in which Luxembourger Nicolas Schmit will be nominated as the candidate of the European Socialist Party (PES) for the presidency of the Commission. For which the conservatives will nominate the current president as a candidate for re-election. The European Parliament will be elected next June and will be responsible for electing senior Commission officials. According to mainstream European media, the Conservatives not only have a guaranteed majority, but by moving further to the right they will consolidate a larger bloc than the current one.

Nicolas Schmit was categorical: “There can be no compromise with the extreme right, nor with those who support and protect it.” He then adds: “We cannot accept that our children are exposed to permanent threats (from Vladimir Putin), to permanent blackmail from a power (Russia) that is an imperialist power and, because of its guidelines, a fascist power.” .

Nobody talks about NATO's permanent advance towards Russian borders, about the Ukrainian Maidan of 2013-14, encouraged by the United States. Only about the “Russian threat”. “The defense of Ukraine is essential for European stability and to prevent the expansion of Russian global power. Containing Russia in Ukraine means keeping the line of contact as close as possible to the Russian border, restricting Russian expansionist tendencies,” argue four academics from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based organization.

“Europe reaffirms itself”, according to Spanish journalists. In 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, the military budget of the European NATO allies was 235 billion dollars: 1,47% of GDP. In 2023, the amount rose to 347 billion dollars, equivalent to 1,85% of GDP. By 2024, 380 billion dollars are expected. Which represents 2% of GDP. Number already considered insufficient by European countries.

The Russian threat

Is Russia a real threat to NATO? asked Andrea Kendall-Taylor, director of NATO's Transatlantic Security Program. Center for a New American Security, and Greg Weaver, former director of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, in an article published March 5 in Politico.

They didn't doubt it. In their article, they sought to analyze how NATO allies should prepare for a Russian aggression that, despite all evidence to the contrary, they considered highly likely. Weaver and Kendall-Taylor quote former Chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mike Milley, explaining that while the costs of deterring aggression are high, the costs of a major war are much greater. They are worried about having to fight in two scenarios: Europe and Asia. To achieve this, it is necessary to guarantee the ability to transport and supply its forces, by sea and air, to the battle theater and to have sufficient conventional ammunition to maintain its superiority.

Fyodor Lukyanov, director of the Valdai Debate Group, suggests another view of the problem. Today's Western ruling elite is very different from those of previous generations in that it believes in its infallibility. He believes that any deviation from the political and ideological norms established after the Cold War would be “a true catastrophe for the world.” And since any compromise with the Russians would mean this, “it must be avoided at all costs.” “The United States failed to cope with the responsibility of being the world's only superpower at the end of the Cold War,” said Vladimir Putin at the recent Youth Festival in Sochi.

Fyodor Lukyanov refers to the origin of these ideas, the “end of history” mentality that prevailed with the end of socialism in Eastern Europe. The world seemed to be moving in a single direction, until it was confronted with a new reality, with states capable of opposing and blocking this movement.

For twenty years, Russia has tried to demonstrate the need to rearrange the international order. These warnings were ignored. The result is what happened on February 24, 2022, when his troops entered Ukraine. Russia is now trying, with military force, to force the West to review its 1990s approach to seeking a new agreement on the European security landscape, says Fyodor Lukyanov. The West's increasingly strident rhetoric about the unacceptability of a Moscow victory is alarming. “We are entering a dangerous period”, in his opinion.

For Indian diplomat Kanwai Sibal, former ambassador to Russia (2004-07), European Union member countries promise more weapons to Ukraine, while at the same time refusing to accept Moscow's claim that they have no plans to attack any NATO country. They think that by increasing the level of confrontation, they will force Moscow to come to the negotiating table. “This could be a serious error of judgment,” he said. Far from forcing a negotiated solution to the conflict, this logic could lead inexorably to a confrontation between Russia and NATO. The argument is that if Russia wins, it will attack other countries to satisfy its imperialist ambitions.

“Does anyone in this room think Putin will end up in Ukraine? I guarantee you not,” Joe Biden said in his State of the Union address on March 7. The phrase reminded me of that of the then Secretary of State Colin Powell who, on February 5, 2003, displayed before the UN Security Council a sample of anthrax, supposedly from Saddam Hussein's arsenal, another argument to justify, a month and a half then, the invasion of Iraq. These are false arguments, says Kanwai Sibal. “Putin has been in power for 24 years, NATO has expanded five times, its troops and US missiles are stationed near Russian borders, without any aggressive response from Russia.” No one explains now why Russia would be interested in attacking NATO.

Vladimir Putin warned the West about the risks of its policies, especially NATO's advance towards its borders. He did so in 2007, in his speech at the Munich security conference, and has done so ever since. His last offer for a deal, in December 2022, two months before the invasion of Ukraine, was rejected.

The West believes that Moscow will not respond militarily if the West continues to increase its support for Ukraine. “This could be a serious error of judgment; may explain why Europeans do not take due note of Russia’s formidable nuclear apparatus.” “This,” said Kanwai Sibal, “could drag the West and the entire world into the nuclear nightmare.”

NATO prepares for war

The fact that Russia does not have the means to realize its neo-imperialist ambitions does not prevent it from achieving them to a bitter end, said Joschka Fischer, former foreign minister and leader of the German Greens (who now hold that portfolio again, with the ex-peacenik Annalena Baerbock). Regarding neo-imperialist ambitions, the most recent lessons of history reveal that what Joschka Fischer attributes to Russia better fits German behavior. Imperialist ambitions that have led us to bitter intermediates, but which, repeated, could lead to the bitter end that the German politician was referring to. The European Union is no longer just a peace project. Europe must prepare for war. This program does not contradict the initial objective of avoiding war in Europe, said Riho Terras, a conservative member of the European Parliament and a former Estonian military commander.

The European Commission has just presented a Defense Industrial Strategy, together with a subsidy fund of at least 1,5 billion euros for a European Defense Investment Programme. But much more will be needed for Europe to create a competitive industrial complex, according to European Commission Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton. One hundred billion euros would be needed. Other European diplomats consider this to be beyond the realm of possibility.

When NATO was created, the United States was an expanding power. It was his moment of greatest prominence on the international scene. They controlled around 50% of world industry. In 1999, ten years after the end of the Cold War, Bill Clinton (93-2001) announced that the United States had a bright and prosperous future ahead of it. That seemed right: the country was richer than ever.

Since then, its share of the world economy, its productivity, has been steadily falling, while its manufacturing industry and infrastructure have become increasingly obsolete. Financial instability is just one of the problems facing the Western economy, said the economic analyst at Financial Times, Martin Wolf, in his latest book, The crisis of democratic capitalism. It is a long text, for a deep crisis, to which Wolf adds other factors, such as “increasing inequality, growing personal insecurity and slow economic growth, especially after the Great Recession”. The debate over the decline of the American empire has many rough edges, but it is clear that the country that imposed Bretton Woods rules on the world today must strive to maintain them before they get out of control.

It is the same thing that has made NATO the backbone of its defense policy, a belligerent organization that continues to tighten its grip on Russia, getting closer and closer to a nuclear war from which its leaders seem to dream of emerging victorious. Will we, the rest of the world, remain mere spectators of a play about our end? Do China's mediation efforts, with the early March tour of its special representative for Eurasian affairs Li Hui that included Kiev, have any chance of success? Or Lula's, or Petro's, or Pope Francis's? The only unacceptable thing is to wait sitting while the curtain falls…

We won't have the opportunity to applaud!

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

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

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