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Sabre-Rattling With Russia

Photo by The U.S. Army | CC BY 2.0

“My assessment today, Senator, is that Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security.”

— General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“I would consider the principle threats to start with Russia.”

— General James Mattis, US Defense Secretary.

“The United States continues to have the highest military expenditure in the world. In 2017 the USA spent more on its military [$610 billion] than the next seven highest-spending countries combined. . . . at $66.3 billion, Russia’s military spending in 2017 was 20 per cent lower than in 2016.”

—   Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, World Report May 2018.

The Trump Administration is ramping up confrontation and rattling sabers all over the globe, from the South China Sea to the Baltic via the Persian Gulf.  The countries of the US-NATO military alliance have vastly increased their military spending and are boosting deployment of their forces in Europe in accordance with the policy of Enhanced Forward Presence — the positioning of strike aircraft, missile-armed ships and armored formations along the frontiers of Russia.

In March 2018 NATO’s Deputy Secretary General, the former US Under Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, spoke at Warsaw’s military airport and was effusive about the forward movement of US-NATO troops. She “wanted to say what an honor it was to visit the battlegroup that is deployed here in Poland today . . .”

It is hugely expensive to move and maintain military forces in foreign countries, and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) records that in 2016 “NATO’s collective military expenditure rose to $881 billion” while “European NATO members spent $254 billion in 2016 — over 3 times more than Russia.”

In January 2018 the US Department of Defence published its National Defence Strategy which stated that “the central challenge to US prosperity and security is re-emergence of long-term strategic competition” from Russia and China who are “revisionist powers” and a “growing threat” requiring a vast surge in US military expenditure.  The Pentagon’s Mission involves “restoring America’s competitive military advantage to deter Russia and China from challenging the United States, its allies or seeking to overturn the international order that has served so well since the end of World War II.”

That is the US-enforced “international order” that since 1945 has included its disastrous war in Vietnam, the invasion of Iraq that propelled the Middle East to its current state of chaos, a continuing, sixteen-year catastrophe in Afghanistan, and a savage blitz that reduced Libya to ungovernable chaos.  In all these ferocious forays by the self-appointed global gendarme there was colossal destruction and the deaths of uncountable numbers of innocent citizens.

And now the US has some 1.3 million people in its army, navy, air force and Marine Corps, with about 200,000 of them stationed in about 800 overseas military bases, in order to continue enforcement of “international order.”

The Nuclear Posture Review published on February 2, 2018, two weeks after the defense strategy paper, also makes it clear who the Pentagon considers to be its enemies, mentioning China 47 times, Iran 39 times and Russia 127 times, which makes nonsense of the claim by the State Department that “we do not want to consider Russia an adversary . . . This not a Russia-centric NPR.” Then on February 12 the Pentagon announced that “today President Donald Trump sent Congress a proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget request of $716 billion for national security, $686 billion of which is for the Department of Defense.” That’s about 70 billion dollars more than the previous year.

Trump’s “America First” policy has alienated longtime US allies and increased distrust by the many countries being confronted militarily (and economically — ask the Europeans). The irony about this drum-thumping slogan is the US claim that “It is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model, gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions,” because this is precisely what “America First” is all about : military domination and total ascendancy over the economies of the world.

The Western media’s reporting of President Putin’s speech to Russia’s Federal Assembly on March 1 was intriguing.  It concentrated almost entirely on Russian weapons’ developments, with the New York Times, for example, reporting that the President “used the speech to reassure Russians that the military buildup was taking place.”  The 1500 words of the NYT report were almost entirely devoted to Putin’s description of Russian weapons designed to deter US-NATO adventurism, and a mere 65 words covered the social improvement programs he described.

In outlining his priorities the President declared that “the main, key development factor is the well-being of the people and the prosperity of Russian families.  Let me remind you that in 2000, 42 million people lived below the poverty line, which amounted to nearly 30 percent – 29 percent of the population. In 2012, this indicator fell to 10 percent. Poverty has increased slightly against the backdrop of the economic crisis. Today, 20 million Russian nationals live in poverty. Of course, this is much fewer than the 42 million people in 2000, but it is still way too many.”

Russia wants to improve the lives of its citizens, and intends to do this, no matter the size of the US-NATO military buildup round its borders.  But it isn’t going to stand back and do nothing while the US-NATO military bloc expands and accelerates towards conflict. There has been a massive reduction in Russia’s defense budget, while the US and the rest of NATO are vastly increasing military expenditure, but it remains necessary for Russia to maintain its defense capabilities to counter the saber-rattling of the US-NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence.

As noted by the US Veterans Today, President Putin stated that “American submarines are on permanent alert off the Norwegian coast;  they are equipped with missiles that can reach Moscow in 17 minutes. But we dismantled all of our bases in Cuba a long time ago, even the non-strategic ones. And you would call us aggressive?”

Yes, they do, in spite of all the belligerence being displayed by US-NATO military deployments and maneuvers in eastern Europe.

For example, Exercise Siil 2018 was held in Estonia from May 2-13, 2018, involving over 15,000 troops from 10 NATO countries —  the UK, US, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland — and from the five supposedly neutral countries of Finland, Georgia, Ireland, Sweden and Ukraine.

Then on June 4 CNN reported that “A massive US-led military exercise involving 18,000 soldiers from 19 nations, primarily NATO members, kicked off Sunday [June 3] along the alliance’s eastern border. Saber Strike 18 will take place until June 15 in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The exercise will be conducted amid heightened tensions with Moscow, which views any NATO military activities along its border negatively, maintaining that it increases ‘mutual distrust’.”

That exercise couldn’t have been more fittingly named, because there is no doubt that all these US-NATO saber-rattling fandangos increase Russia’s “distrust” of the nations that move thousands of troops so close to its borders.  While Russia reduces its defense spending and tries to engage in trade with the world in order to better the living conditions of its citizens,  18,000 US-NATO troops have gathered to rattle sabers on its borders.

There could not be plainer signals that the Pentagon and its sub-branch in Brussels are escalating to conflict.

More articles by:

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

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