By William Pfaff
Large and firmly implanted bureaucratic organizations are almost impossible to kill, even when they have no reason to continue to exist, as NATO has not since the Soviet Union, communism and the Warsaw Pact all collapsed. There is no equivalent to driving a stake into the heart of a bureaucracy, whose impulse to live is inextinguishable. Hence the persisting efforts to force the beast onto a new course where some good can come from its uncheckable energy.
Its existence also is a temptation to Washington to do foolish things. First the decision was to expand NATO, despite the assurances that had been given to Moscow by the George H.W. Bush administration. This perpetuated the organization’s spirit, if not its function, as an institution hostile to Russia, which was not the effect that intelligent people in the West should have wanted.
However, it actually did not displease many in the Baltic states and Central and Eastern Europe who had spent the years since the beginning of World War II under brutal Russian repression and were not in a forgiving mood. Yet forgiveness—as an act of will and intelligence, not a sentiment—is essential to a future that will be different. Thus Poland’s traumatic but essential consignment of the Katyn murders to the past, now officially accomplished.
The Poles and the Baltic states had the most to forgive. NATO membership for them was a sign of their security. That proved reassuring. Nonetheless there survived in some circles in the United States a will not only to see communism ended but also to see Russia crushed. The George W. Bush administration had no liking for the new Russia, and the bullying of Russia to which Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were given was gratuitous and dangerous to all concerned. (Ask Mikhail Saakashvili, the president of Georgia, who took assurances of eventual NATO membership and American support too seriously.)
It was one thing to bring the Warsaw Pact states into NATO. It was something else to try to dismember what had been Czarist Russia by bringing Ukraine and Georgia into NATO—both efforts that failed.
The missile system that was to be installed in Poland and Czechoslovakia was deliberate provocation—a system to protect the United States and Western Europe from superpower Iran! The Russians interpreted it as plausibly part of a nuclear first-strike system.
Thus NATO first was kept as an implicitly anti-Russian alliance.
But its long accumulations of weapons and systems and staffs were, as a practical matter, being wasted. So it was decided that NATO had to accompany the United States in its new “long war.” The slogan was: “Out of area or out of business!”
NATO was commandeered for Afghanistan, and its more vulnerable ex-Warsaw Pact members were urged to take out extra security insurance with the United States by sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, pointless as this proved to be. Britain led the way, since it invented this form of insurance policy in 1945, after exhausting itself by winning the Battle of Britain and the Battle of El Alamain, thereby preventing World War II from being lost in 1942.
In Brussels, however, there is sign of new thought. The secretary general of NATO, Anders Rasmussen, at a NATO dinner last week informally brought up the possibility of recasting the missile defense program in collaboration with Russia—a controversial notion that has the advantage of testing the strength of Washington’s claim that America and Western Europe are endangered by Iran and by nuclear terrorists by offering Russia a chance to buy into defense against it, at the same time removing from the missile system the perceived threat to Russia.
Think of the money that could be saved by abandoning the anti-missile system! There also are a substantial number of expensive American tactical nuclear weapons stored at West European airbases that the governments of five NATO states would like removed. Now that no one expects a Russian nuclear blitzkrieg attack on Europe, they serve no purpose. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. would never unilaterally remove its nuclear weapons from Europe so long as Russia has nuclear weapons in Europe.
Like it or not, all of Russia west of the Ural Mountains, where Europe traditionally has been held to stop and Asia begin, is permanently in Europe. One must suppose that the secretary of state was addressing a message to European allies that American weapons will be on their soil until total nuclear disarmament prevails in Russia, which seems an unlikely prospect so long as total nuclear disarmament does not prevail in the United States.
This is a childish and rather unpleasant position, since Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium (so long as it survives its recurrent suicidal impulses) and Luxembourg are serious and sovereign, rather than subordinate, nations, and the United States, if it wishes itself to be taken seriously, would do well to treat them as such.
Visit William Pfaff’s website at www.williampfaff.com.
© 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.