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The Baltic Assault Paradigm

US-EU-NATO, inseparable, cohesive, in its anti-Russian military policies, which include a new round of economic sanctions and concerted demonization of Putin, has focused its war planning on the Baltic nations—Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia—as a staging area for presumed eventual war, presumed, because as the evidence daily mounts, war with Russia increasingly defines the mindset of political and military leaders throughout the Grand Alliance. Brussels is now the adjunct of Washington, a unified global war capital. Washington orders, NATO delivers, itself hardly an autonomous force, its activities largely guided by the US as an extension of American foreign policy. Eric Schmitt and Steven Lee Myers’s New York Times article, “NATO Returns Its Attention to an Old Foe, Russia” (June 23), stacks the deck through its heading even before it begins. No, NATO never lost sight of Russia, whether as the Soviet Union or now, and indeed the ingrained insistence of policymakers, shared by the reporters, of strict continuity between the two, has justified the unabated Cold War. Stalin/Putin, a voracious appetite to swallow the West, and why not America as well? But “Returns Its Attention” is also a dead giveaway about NATO’s wider role, that of supplementing American power whenever requested in US interventions in far-flung areas—yet without, for the US and NATO alike—taking their eye off the ball, Russia always kept in mind, as with Afghanistan. If NATO represents the militarization of the EU, it still more represents a stalking horse for American global hegemony.

The NYT article precisely because of its bias is a treasure trove of information (boastfully presented) of the stirrings of confrontation. The war fever in the Baltics, transmitted from Brussels and Washington, I put at 103.6 to indicate serious temperature of the patient already, but, for lack of remedies, bound to go up further. Schmitt and Myers are equal to the task, summoning a gargantuan danger: “After years of facing threats beyond its borders, NATO is now reinvigorating plans to confront a much larger and more aggressive threat from its past: Moscow.” They continue: “This seismic shift [as though NATO in fact had been indifferent to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union—utter nonsense] has been apparent in military training exercises in this former Soviet republic [Schmitt writing from Camp Adazi, Latvia], which is now a NATO member and on the alliance’s eastern flank, bordering Russia.” That these military exercises are occurring near the Russian border appears matter-of-fact, not troubling or provocative.

And what exercises! The usual: “On a recent day, Latvian soldiers conducted a simulated attack on dug-in enemy positions in a pine forest here as two United States A-10 attack planes roared overhead and opened fire with 30-millimeter cannons.” But then the highly unusual, the introduction of the B-52 into the training preparations, among America’s most feared (its reputation more than earned) weapons in its arsenal: “Two days before, a B-52 dropped nine dummy bombs radioed in by the Latvians on the ground—all just 180 miles from the Russian border.” Here the reporters are awe-struck yet uncritical: “The symbolism of the B-52s, stalwarts of the Cold War arsenal, was lost on no one. The bombers’ main mission once was to deliver a nuclear knockout punch to Soviet forces, but they were put to use for the first time over this former Soviet republic to show resolve on the new front between NATO and Russia, the heir of the Soviet war machine.” 180 miles from the Russian border.

Words are important, not because of NYT reporters, but because they so faithfully mirror the words and thoughts of political and military leaders, particularly in the US and the alliance as a whole, The Times merely serving as the mouthpiece (aka, authoritative voice) of the US government. “To show resolve” is to anticipate an attack (perhaps the projection onto others of one’s own plans), while “the new front” is to anticipate actual confrontation, and “heir of the Soviet war machine” directly explicates the aforementioned continuity between the Soviet Union and Russia, Stalin and Putin. Here is Estonia’s chief of defense, Lt. Gen. Riho Terras, “who recently mobilized 13,000 soldiers across his tiny country in a separate exercise”: “’If the Russians sense a window of opportunity, they will use it to their advantage. We must make sure there’s no room for miscalculation.” In other words, stand firm, show resolve. The state of preparation augers poorly for a cessation of hostility: “The military drills that unfolded here, part of a series of exercises planned over coming months to demonstrate the alliance’s readiness to confront Russia, emphasize the depth of the challenge facing an alliance that for a quarter of a century turned its attention to threats much further afield.”

The feigned innocence of the statement: “for a quarter of a century” NATO’s thoughts and involvement were elsewhere (the reporters do not realize the damning indictment, a globalized interventionist force), innocence, in that turning toward Russia was only recent—due to Russian conduct—and thus a necessity to ward off aggression (readiness, strength, no room for miscalculation). As for NATO, all is sweetness and light, “conducting expeditionary missions beyond NATO’s borders, from the Balkans to Afghanistan to the Horn of Africa,” Russia nowhere in sight, and now military spending had to be beefed up and “the alliance has had to reinvigorate plans that commanders and political leaders had largely consigned to the past.” No longer. “This week,” the article continues, “Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter [who begins to make Donald Rumsfeld seem like Mahatma Gandhi] travels through several NATO capitals before sitting down on Wednesday and Thursday [June 24-25] with other defense ministers in Brussels to debate how to counter a resurgent Russia.” Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, with Crimea and Ukraine as proof of the resurgent Russia (in each case I note meriting further debate), states the result has been “’the biggest reinforcement of NATO forces since the end of the Cold War.’”

The Cold War never ended, but we get the picture: an increasing build-up and prepositioning of heavy equipment on the Russian border. In addition to “a marked increase in training rotations on territory” in the Baltic countries, NATO announced last February “that it would set up six new command units within the Eastern allies and create a 5,000-strong rapid reaction ‘spearhead’ force.” The prepositioning more recently (which I wrote about in CounterPunch) includes “heavy American tanks and other weaponry,” and, in the offing, when NATO leaders gather in Warsaw for a summit meeting in 2016, consideration of “other measures…needed to adjust its forces, to increase spending that had plummeted as part of a ‘peace dividend,’ and to revisit NATO’s military strategy and planning.” The so-called peace dividend did not appear in US military expenditures, and as for Warsaw, the agenda strongly suggests the meeting is for purposes of mobilizing aggression. One of my favorite sources, Julianne Smith, formerly at Defense and the White House, and now at the Center for a New American Security, expresses the current mood: “’During the Cold War we had everything there in the neighborhood we needed to respond. It’s all atrophied. We haven’t gone through the muscle movements of a conventional attack in Europe for decades.’” Presumably we should now to keep the Strangelovian juices flowing, or in any case, maintain a strong military posture which cannot but help to intensify the vigor of confrontation and war feeling.

James Stavridis, whom I quoted in a previous article, retired admiral and NATO military commander, now dean at the Fletcher School, glibly joined the chorus: “’I don’t think we’re in the Cold War again—yet. I can kind of see it from here.’” Michael Fallon, Britain’s defense secretary, stated last February that Russia’s attempt to destabilize the Baltic countries was a “’real and present danger,’” a view the reporters observe that will be presented at the NATO meeting in Brussels—and frankly they add: “But the potential for such an attack has implicitly been the focus of much of the training and planning going on in places like this [Adazi, Latvia].” I say “frankly,” because the training and planning has an offensive as well as defensive character. B-52s were not intended for sightseeing. Let’s hear now from Tomasz Siemoniak, Poland’s defense minister, who, claiming that NATO required a “’strategic adaptation’” in that Russia’s hostility to NATO was “’a change in climate and not a summer storm,’” wants “significant deployments of heavy weapons in Eastern Europe,” whatever Russia might think. Speaking to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in May, Siemoniak said: “’I think the caution expressed by some of our European allies is excessive.’” Birds of a feather—Warsaw and Washington! One is made to feel that peace is an ignominious condition of humankind.

An undercurrent of lamentation among defense intellectuals because NATO is not more powerful can be seen in the views of David Ochmanek, “a former senior Pentagon official” now at the Rand Corporation. His concern is activating spirit as well as appropriations both having declined with the fall of the Soviet Union. NATO members must “maintain military spending at 2 percent of gross domestic product, a level considered minimal for effective defense.” We have dropped our guard; but “’Putin has changed that.’” NATO allies have not wanted to increase military spending: “’Nobody in any military establishment is looking for more bills to pay right now.’” Sorry Ochmanek and the people at Rand; but I think your luck is changing. Depend on the alliance for making clear its intentions: “While American officials say that exercises like the one at this former Soviet tank base are mainly to allow NATO and Baltic states to hone their training together, they are also intended to send a strong message of solidarity.” Thus, “More than 6,000 troops from 14 allied nations…conducted the annual Saber Strike training exercise in the Baltics and Poland that ended Friday [June 19].”

Describing one exercise, “both sides trad[ing] simulated artillery and rocket fire,” A-10 attack planes roaring overhead, Schmitt and Myers write, “what really snapped back the necks of Baltic and other European observers was the B-52 bomber, on call for any additional strikes.” The B-52 is the symbol for steeling the conviction of rightness against the foe: Lt. Gen. Raimonds Graube, Latvia’s defense minister, “looked up admiringly at the warplanes, and dismissed any suggestion that a NATO exercise with B-52s might provoke the Russians,” instead saying: “’Our soldiers must be ready to train on an international level,’” a somewhat ominous phrase. Estonia to the ready has created a “defense league” of 30,000 civilians who “engage in basic infantry training once a month, receive arms from the government, and in the event of an invasion would be called to active duty to be commanded by professional soldiers,” this beyond the regular forces and hinting at the prevailing state of mind. Michael McFaul, former American ambassador to Russia, to whom I give the last word, differs from the rest only in expecting a drawn-out conflict: “’There’s a hope this is all a bump in the road and with a little bit of tweaking we can get back to the status quo [itself hardly a desirable state]. In my view, that’s naïve. Putin’s not going to change his position, and he’s not going away. You’ve got to be in this for the long haul.’”

Temperature 103.6 and rising.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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