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NATO: Expansion and Confrontation

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has many secrets, of which one of the most closely guarded is the final cost of its luxurious new headquarters complex in Brussels.  As reported last year by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, the price had climbed to a billion Euros “against a background of Nato pledges to reduce its command structure, agencies and national HQs by 30 per cent in response to savage defence cuts in most of its 28 member states.”  According to NATO the final bill was supposed to be 750 million Euros for completion in 2015, but as had to be eventually admitted by NATO, “the project now has a clear way forward to completion in 2016” — with a 30 per cent increase in the price.

But that officially-stated price was not what it seemed, because, as revealed by Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, “member states had already been sceptical when the consortium won the contract for €460 million [emphasis added] in 2010 . . .  [Nato Chief] Anders Fogh Rasmussen is aware of the problem but hasn’t seen fit yet to inform the public about it . . . At a meeting of NATO’s Deputies Committee on December 19 [2013], Rasmussen’s staff asked that the issue be dealt with ‘confidentially’.”

That shabby deceitfulness couldn’t prevent Spiegel from disclosing that the cost had risen to 1.3 billion Euros, “almost three times the €460 million contract awarded in 2010 to replace NATO’s Cold War-era headquarters with a soaring glass-and-steel structure to house some 4,000 staff.”  This vastly expensive palace has eight wings which converge “in a glass-covered central hall . . .  to ‘symbolise the allies coming together, while glass walls are supposed to represent Nato’s transparency’.”

The designer of this glass castle rhapsodised that “the wing-like profiles of the buildings reinforces [sic] the ideas of consensus, fluidity and aspirations towards peace . . .”  But peace doesn’t seem to be what NATO is intent on achieving, any more than it seems to welcome transparency in glass walls or anything else, because a  leaked cable from Germany’s ambassador explained that a meeting of NATO representatives “pointed to the disastrous effect on the image of the alliance if construction were to stop [emphasis added] and if NATO appeared to be incapable of punctually completing a construction project.”

How transparent.  And how prophetic.

Although NATO’s deceit about its incompetence in building its new headquarters is veiled in secrecy, its ambition to expand in territory and military muscle-flexing is open for all to see, and has been for twenty years.

After the Warsaw Pact disbanded in March 1991, NATO, although deprived of any reason to continue in existence, managed to keep going, and in 1999 added Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to its 16 members. As the BBC noted, these countries became “the first former Soviet bloc states to join Nato, taking the alliance’s borders some 400 miles towards Russia.”

With good reason Moscow wondered what on earth the US-NATO military alliance might be planning.

The New York Times recorded that the 1999 expansion was “opening a new path for the military alliance” and expressed delight that the ceremony took place in the town of Independence, Missouri, where “the emotional Secretary of State Madeleine K Albright watched the three foreign ministers sign the documents of accession, signed them herself, then held them aloft like victory trophies.” Ms Albright was born Marie Korbelová in Prague and “made no secret today of her joy as her homeland and the two other nations joined the alliance.”

It was the emotional Madeleine Albright who appeared on the US television programme Sixty Minutes on May 12, 1996 and was asked to comment on Washington’s economic sanctions that were savaging Iraq.  The interviewer, Lesley Stahl, said that as a result of the punishment  “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima.  [90,000 people were killed at Hiroshima. Probably about 20,000 were children.] And, you know, is the price worth it?”

Albright replied that “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.”  (The YouTube recording is nauseating.) Then she was given the US Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2012. You couldn’t make it up.

In spite of facing no threat whatever from any country in the world,  NATO continued to expand around Russia’s borders, inviting Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia to join in 2002, which they did two years later.

As President Putin observed in an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera “we are not expanding anywhere; it is NATO infrastructure, including military infrastructure, that is moving towards our borders. Is this a manifestation of our aggression?”

Then NATO took wider and more aggressive action in August 2003 when it took “control of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan, its first major operation outside Europe.”  Predictably, the war in Afghanistan plunged from crisis to calamity after US-NATO countries agreed in 2005 “to expand the alliance’s role,” including “deployment of thousands more troops in the south.” The result was disaster.

Last December NATO (but not the US) ceased offensive operations in Afghanistan, having sacrificed the lives of over 3,500 soldiers of whom some 2,300 were American.  One might imagine that this humiliating defeat might have resulted in a pause for reflection about NATO’s role, purpose and effectiveness, but its new Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, is proving as energetically expansive as his predecessor, which is why he was chosen for the job.  NATO’s appalling blitz of Libya in 2011, which reduced the country to its present catastrophic chaos, has failed to modify his intriguing belief that “from Afghanistan to Morocco, and many places in between, NATO is helping other countries to defend themselves.”  He may have forgotten that Libya is one of the “places in between.”

On 23 October Stoltenberg expressed delight about Obama’s change of policy about keeping troops in Afghanistan,  expressing “appreciation for President Barack Obama’s announcement that the United States will maintain its current troop levels in Afghanistan through 2016, and will retain a substantial presence beyond 2016.  This important decision paves the way for a sustained presence by NATO Allies and partners in Afghanistan.”

If Stoltenberg had said that he welcomed Obama’s decision because it would result in a better life for the citizens of Afghanistan (which, alas, it will not), then his stance could be understood and applauded.  But Stoltenberg welcomed the decision only because it would enable NATO to carry on its expensive expansion. That’s the way that military-associated  bureaucrats think about the world.  They’ve never risked their lives for any cause — any more than did the evil child-killer Albright — but they’re really happy to engage in exciting martial adventures in which the lives of thousands of soldiers can be placed at risk.

Jens Stoltenberg is the embodiment, the essence —  the ultimate epitome — of the sleek, well-manicured, desk-bound, happy non-combat warrior. His peaceful and lucrative career in politics was marked by early anti-Americanism, during the Vietnam War, but over the years the chameleon changed from being an anti-American protester to eventually embracing his present anti-Russian complexion.  When he was made head of NATO, President Putin considered him to be a “serious, responsible person”  but warned with prescience that “we’ll see how our relations develop with him in his new position.”  Both responsibility and relations collapsed.

A few days before his declaration of happiness about NATO’s “sustained presence” in Afghanistan Stoltenberg boasted that “we have doubled the size of the NATO Response Force, making it more ready and more capable, and established a high readiness Joint Task Force, able to move within a matter of days. We have increased our presence in the east, with more planes in the air, more ships at sea and more boots on the ground. We have established six new headquarters in our eastern Allies, with two more on the way.”  He told NATO  countries that “the time has come to invest more in defence.”

NATO’s threat to Russia is direct and aggressively confrontational.  And it’s going to cost member nations a great deal of money.  But Mr Stoltenberg is no stranger to expense.  As NATO announced : “While Mr Stoltenberg was Prime Minister, Norway’s defence spending increased steadily with the result that Norway is today one of the Allies with the highest per capita defence expenditure.”

Now he has committed Europe’s financially struggling NATO nations, including almost-bankrupt Greece and Spain, to “continue to fund the Afghan national army and security forces” which cost about 12 billion dollars a year.

The huge cost of NATO’s recent and current military manoeuvres in nations circling Russia has not been revealed, presumably because it is as secret as the escalating price of the new NATO headquarters.

Unfortunately it is improbable that Mr Stoltenberg will try to encourage economic prudence or support any attempts to reduce tension with Russia.  The Obama-Stoltenberg NATO military alliance has won the battle to expand its presence and its budget. The sword-brandishing will continue — and the cost of the glitzy glass palace will go through the roof.

A shorter version of this piece appeared in Strategic Culture Foundation on October 27.

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Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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