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“Only One Tiger on the Mountain"

Why NATO Has Not Permitted Russia to Join

by JOHN V. WALSH

As the West’s assault on Ukraine gets ever bloodier, the “news” on National Public Radio (NPR) is teeming with anti-Russian propaganda, interspersed with the usual pieces declaiming on one’s senior prom and other matters of equal import.   All in all it is a pretty dismal substitute for news and analysis.

But even at the “Diane Rehm Show,” very near the bottom of the dung heap that is NPR, a few scraps of truth can be scavenged on occasion – usually uncovered by a caller’s question.  Such was the case on March 27 when Rehm’s guests were Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, before which he was Director of Policy Planning at the Bush/Powell State Department, and Ian Brzezinski, son of Zbig.

In this case the caller raised an oft-asked question since Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland put the final touches on the $5 billion plan to install a fascist-ridden government in Ukraine.  The caller asked: Rather than antagonize Russia with the relentless advance of NATO, why not incorporate Russia into the European “security structure” and into NATO itself?  Before Hass’s answer, a little history.  NATO was formed in 1949.  In 1954, the year after Stalin’s death, the USSR proposed that it join NATO as part of a mechanism to preserve peace in Europe.  By that time the denazification campaign in Germany had been halted and the German intelligence services, chock full of “ex”-Nazis were up and running.  West Germany was on its way to being incorporated into NATO, and the Soviets were alarmed.  NATO turned down its request.  In 1955, the Warsaw Pact was formed in response.

To return to the Diane Rehm show, here is how the caller posed the question, directing his question to Haass (Italics mine):

REHM:  “And welcome back as we talk about what’s happening in Russia, in Crimea and possibly in Ukraine, as well as the president’s recent trip to Europe. Let’s open the phones now first to Michael in Kingston, R.I. Hi, you’re on the air. Go right ahead.”

MICHAEL:  “Good morning, Diane. Thank you. Mr. Haass, with respect to NATO, you were in President Bush’s administration, George H.W. Bush. You know more than anyone in this country the question I’m about to ask. Was there nuanced reason or a specific reason why the Western powers, specifically NATO, did not, after the fall of the Soviet Union — why didn’t we specifically extend an invitation to Russia to become a part of NATO? And if we had, would we be looking at a Crimea crisis today”?

REHM: “Richard”?

HAASS:  “Look, it’s a great question. The issue did come up at various times. I, at one point, to be honest, advocated it. I wrote a memo when I was the head of policy planning – so this was not under H.W. Bush, but George W. Bush, the 43rd president — suggesting that this was something that we could (do) for two reasons.”

“One is I didn’t think it would really impair the functioning of NATO, as we just discussed. I think NATO had already become, if you will, what I described as an a la carte relationship. So it wasn’t all or nothing. Coalitions of the willing had increasingly become the norm. And, second of all, I thought it would take some of the sting out of NATO enlargement and it would remove the argument that the post-war order was somehow built against Russia. So it would take away the kind of humiliation or rant we heard the other day from France and Putin.”

REHM:  “And why was the suggestion denied”?

HAASS:  “Those who doubted the wisdom of it, besides the possibility that Russia might not accept, which was a side argument, worried that it would impair the continuing military effectiveness of NATO, that Russia, essentially as an insider, would become obstructive and would work against NATO’s continuing viability.”

Let us stop right there and consider Hass’s reply.  What does it mean to say that NATO would not have continuing “viability”?  Certainly, with Russia inside, it would be better as an instrument of peace in Europe.  But it would be useless as an instrument for the U.S. to dominate Europe.  Refusal of membership to Russia is simply another way of saying that NATO is not a means to ensure peace in Europe. In NATO there is to be “Only one tiger on the mountain,” as the Chinese saying has it, and that tiger is the U.S.   No other tigers need apply.

At this point a voice to give the Russian view would have been salutary, even “balanced.”  But in the realm of Rehm and NPR, there is no such voice.  So on she went to Ian Brzezinksi:

REHM:   “Ian, do you think it would have been a good idea?”

BRZEZINSKI:  “No. I would have argued against at that point. But I think the general prospect of saying that one day one could consider Russia being part of NATO is something you wouldn’t want to take off the table. You know, to be a NATO member, you have to meet standards of democracy. You have to demonstrate a consistency of a shared-world view, shared interests. You have to demonstrate those commitments to those common interests.”

“And if there’s a point in time — which I think will be quite far down the road — that Russia meets that (sic) criteria, then it’s something we should address. But one would also want to think carefully about how it would affect the balance of power within NATO. Because right now you have an alliance really that features one predominate power and then a group of smaller powers that enables a certain amount of cohesion that might be undermined if you had two great powers sitting at the table.”

Brzenzinski’s reasoning there echoes the naysayers to whom Haass alludes and certainly reflects that he is a chip off the old block.    “One predominant power,” he says.  Only one tiger on the mountain, as the Chinese say.   In fact the nations of NATO are condemned to follow the U.S. in its quest for global hegemony.  And Russia will be admitted only after it bows to the West.  That indeed will be “quite far down the road.”

What about Germany as a counterweight to the U.S?  Germany, however, is not really a sovereign nation; it is occupied by tens of thousands of U.S. troops, and the German NATO forces are under U.S. command.  Whereas the NATO Secretary General can be a citizen of any NATO country, the Supreme Commander, that is the number one military commander, has always been an American.  So the German NATO forces answer to an American commander.  And the U.S. keeps a watchful eye on Germany in other ways, as the latest scandal of NSA’s spying on Germans in general and Angela Merkel in particular.

NATO’s goal remains what it was from the beginning, a mechanism to “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down,” as the first NATO Secretary General, Lord Ismay, stated in 1949.  The idea that the U.S. keeps troops in Germany, and in Japan for that matter, out of excessive generosity to help in their “defense” is only for us rubes.  It is time to dissolve NATO and let Russia and the rest of the European nations devise their own mechanisms for preserving peace on the Continent in a nuclear age.

John V. Walsh is a contributor to Antiwar.com, CounterPunch.com, DissidentVoice.org and Unz Review.  He can be reached at john.endwar@gmail.com