The Shadow of Munich

The big news at the recent NATO meeting in Romania is that Croatia and Albania are now happy members of the family of peace-loving nations conducting a brutal war in Afghanistan . The bad news is that Ukraine, Georgia and Macedonia didn’t get the green light, with Russian and Greek revanchism the culprit–clearly a great setback to the cause of world peace.

US President George W Bush wanted to “lay down a marker” for his legacy, and not “lose faith” with the Ukrainian and Georgian peoples and all those other juicy ex-Soviet tid-bits, so he threw the usual stage-managed NATO script to the winds, ignoring a behind-the-scenes deal with Germany and France to try to slip their application in next year–NATO’s 60th anniversary–when Russia isn’t looking, and loudly demanded they be allowed to join.

“It would send a signal throughout the region that these two nations are, and will remain, sovereign and independent states,” he opined. So, by implication, at present they are not? Is independence something that is reserved for this Skull and Bones fraternity? There is certainly no love lost between Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Nicolas Sarkozy and President Vladimir Putin, but Germany and France have no interest in provoking Russia, something that the US seems to take delight in doing these days. And it’s not only the two biggies; Spain, Italy among others have also had enough.

Wolfgang Ischinger, the German ambassador to London, stated the obvious: a so-called Membership Action Plan (MAP) offer to a divided Ukraine could destabilise the new government there, and not enough diplomacy had taken place beforehand with Russia . German Marshall Fund Director Ronald Asmus said that Bush leaves “a legacy of divisiveness” over Ukraine and Georgia . “It was a classic example of bad diplomacy–waiting too long to decide, then going public and then trying to roll people, and only getting half a loaf.” As for Greece vetoing Macedonia, he said, “Only Washington could have taken Greece to the woodshed on this issue, and it didn’t do so.”

No one even bothered to comment on the explosive situation that would result from offering Georgia a MAP. Such a made-in-USA “roadmap” would be sure to lead right over a political cliff. As a hint of how dangerous some of the new drivers in the “Atlantic” alliance are, Georgian Foreign Minister David Bakradze said, “A no for Georgia will show those people in the Kremlin that by a policy of blackmail, arrogance and aggression, they can influence NATO decisions.” Referring to a speech by Putin at a Munich peace conference last year warning about US warmongering, Hungarian political analyst Istvan Gyarmati said Putin “will say that the policy of brutality we started in Munich has worked. This is the result of a Western appeasement policy and the Russians will be extremely proud of it.” So, Putin is by implication the new Hitler? Will someone please rescind this guy’s Learner’s Permit?

The other huge bone of contention is of course the US missile bases in the Czech Republic and Poland . Bush got a NATO endorsement for this bald provocation of Russia, something presumably should have been done long ago. During a conference organised on the sidelines of the NATO summit by the German US Marshall Fund, Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the international affairs committee of the Russian Duma, said, “we still do not have a proper explanation of this project. It is not about the number of interceptors. It is about undermining mutual confidence and trust.” “NATO cannot guarantee its security at the expense of other countries’ security,” Putin said, complaining that some NATO members “went as far as total demonisation of Russia and can’t get away from this even now.”

Poland is still negotiating with the US over the terms for deploying 10 interceptors. “We are not close to a final agreement,” said Bogdan Klich, Poland ‘s defence minister. “It is difficult to predict the conclusion of talks with the Americans.” Clearly sensing the US can’t afford to backdown and seeing the chance for a huge financial windfall, Prime Minister Donald Tusk has insisted on security guarantees from the US including new air defences as well as US financing and protection of the system. The Czech Republic foolishly only asked that its defence companies be involved in building the system and that its scientists and security officials get US training.

The promise by France to boost troop numbers in Afghanistan did not include a commitment to put them in the line of fire alongside the Canadians in Kandahar . Sarkozy did manage to bury General de Gaulle’s legacy of keeping aloof from NATO’s command structure. “Let Europe ‘s defence pole advance and we will continue to advance towards NATO,” he huffed. “I repeat, these are two things that go together.” Just why Europe needs three levels of defence–national, European and NATO–is not clear. Nor why all defence concerns among these supposedly peace-loving nations can’t be fulfilled through, say, the United Nations.

This makes two failed NATO conferences in a row, after the February shouting match in Lithuania which, along with Romania, is one of the lucky new members of this “Atlantic” alliance. And the bases are very much a case of the US cutting off its nose to spite its face. Putin has made it clear numerous times that Moscow wants to cooperate with NATO on joint security problems like Afghanistan and terrorism. But then the stated reason to invade Afghanistan was to catch Osama bin Laden, which has been shown to hold as much water as US claims of invading Iraq to find WMDs. So it is safe to conclude that the machinations to expand this very un-Atlantic organisation and to install US missiles in eastern Europe is more smoke and mirrors.

This was Putin’s first visit to a NATO summit meeting as Russia ‘s president, and his last, and he was treated with kid gloves and even praised by purported foes. An American official noted that Putin’s opening and closing remarks–which were not broadcast, in favour of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s–were “very classy”. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos said that Putin “showed a willingness for dialogue”, that Russia would be willing to return to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe treaty if Western nations were willing to compromise on the treaty limits. Explaining Germany ‘s veto of Ukraine and Georgia ‘s MAPs, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that after Russian anger over Kosovo’s independence, “we could see no convincing reason to create more tension.

There seems little chance that Ukraine or Georgia will ever join this club of Atlantic peaceniks. It’s far more likely that it will first collapse under the weight of its many contradictions. But whatever the outcome of the Polish missile deal, it must be observed that Russia ‘s checkered relations with the Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Lithuanians et al, and their collective long-term love affair with things American are continuing to haunt Russia . So far, rational voices are few and far between, but the light of day continues to shine every 24 hours. For the present, that, and Russia’s new-found vigour, will have to be our beacon.

ERIC WALBERG writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him at





Eric Walberg is the author of Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games.