The NATO summit is meeting in Brussels and claims to be dealing with threats from Russia and China. But who is really threatening whom? And why does NATO still exist? Col. Lawrence Wilkerson and Yves Engler join Paul Jay on theAnalysis.news
Hi, I’m Paul Jay. Welcome to theAnalysis.news, please don’t forget the donate button, subscribe button, the share button, all the buttons, and we’ll be back pretty soon with Yves Engler and Larry Wilkerson to talk about the upcoming NATO conference, NATO summit.
The NATO summit is a meeting June 14th in Brussels where leaders from all the member countries are expected to attend, including President Biden, who will try to, quote, “assert America’s leadership at the head of the table”, as he has described it. By the set on June 7th at a meeting with the NATO secretary-general in Washington, that he considers Article 5 of the NATO treaty to be, quote, “a sacred commitment. Article 5 commits each member state to consider an armed attack against one member state in Europe or North America, to be an armed attack against them all”.
The NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, said that, quote, “We face a wide range of different security challenges and no ally can face them alone, including Russia, China, and terrorism”. NATO has 30 members. In 1949 there were 12 founding members of the alliance: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom, and the United States. The other member countries are Greece and Turkey that joined in 1952. Germany in 55′, Spain in 82′. Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland in 1999. Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia 2004. Albania and Croatia 2009. Montenegro 2017, and North Macedonia in 2020.
NATO is primarily a military alliance, which was founded in 49′ to support, supposedly counter a threat from the Soviet Union. There’s little to no evidence that there ever really was a threat of Soviet troops marching West, and there’s a great deal of evidence that the Soviets were mostly in a defensive posture. It’s all moot now anyway, since there’s no longer a Soviet Union.
Is there a credible threat of Russia marching West or even into some of its neighboring countries? Even Henry Kissinger said the Crimea annexation does not point to a larger strategy of using military means to grab territory. Well, if so, then what’s the point of NATO at all?
Now, joining me to discuss the bigger question of why a NATO? And some of the specific issues facing this summit in Belgium is Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson. He’s the former chief of staff to Colin Powell, Joint Chiefs, and the State Department, and Yves Engler. He’s a Montreal-based author and activist. He’s published 11 books, including his latest ‘House of Mirrors: Justin Trudeau’s Foreign Policy’. Thank you both for joining me.
Larry, let’s start with the bigger question, and then we’ll get into some of the more specific issues, but is there a point to NATO? What’s its rationale for existence now?
Let me correct one thing you said because it violates all the policy I learned for 40 some odd years. It’s not just a military alliance, it’s a political alliance, too. I think that’s one reason why it has endured so long.
That’s why I used the word primarily.
I left myself some wiggle room there, but go on.
Yeah, I would probably say now it’s primarily a political alliance, but I think my original thoughts about it when Powell and I were discussing this, when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs and then later when he was secretary of state and the situation had been exacerbated majorly in regards to what I’m going to say, that the expansion we have achieved has made it a non-viable alliance. By that, I simply mean, I think there are very few Americans who are going to say when someone says on honor Article 5 for many of these new entrants. What and where? You mean I’m going to risk nuclear war over … Where did you say again? Show me on a map. So once you’ve done that, once you’ve pushed it to and beyond the limits of its viability, I think it’s very questionable whether it’s a valid military alliance, certainly, and even a political alliance.
When I say that about the political alliance, I remember vividly the arguments we had, the debates we had, and the pressures on us. For example, during what was then called the Bombing in Kosovo or the Bombing in Serbia, when we were trying to keep that element of the former Yugoslavia in some kind of Western camp, and we couldn’t get anyone in NATO politically, and that was important or ultimately militarily to support what we wanted to do. They didn’t want to take on Milošević. They didn’t want anything to do with that mess. That had been pretty much the way they dealt with the whole Balkans imbroglio for some time. But we had to go to Blair and we had to go to Clinton and Wes Clark, then the supreme allied commander in Europe and the NATO guy, in addition to being the commander of the US European Command, of course, had to bifurcate, if you will, his interests between Blair on the one hand, Clinton, on the other hand, and it wound up costing Wes Clark his job – because he talked Blair into getting Clinton to back ground troops. Were they necessary? Long story. It was an untenable situation, really, and it only worked out to the extent that the Russians didn’t land major forces there, as they threatened to do, and so forth. But it’s gotten past that now. I don’t know how you would ever get an agreement unless it was a Russian invasion, ground invasion, into the midst of Norway or Poland even or wherever. I don’t think Putin is stupid enough to do that, nor do I think any future Russian leader would be stupid enough to do that. They can win so many other ways as Putin is proving every day now.
So I’m wondering where it’s going? That’s my big question. Now, what is the purpose of NATO now, other than a talking shop, and a place where we can talk about selling our arms? I saw today in The New York Times, I think, that we have the top five arms merchants in the world and we dominate the top 12 or something like that. I don’t doubt that for a minute.
Yves same question, what …? I guess there’s two ways to frame this question to you. Why does the Canadian government seems to continue to be so committed to NATO, and then what do you think they should be doing?
Well, I think the Canadian government is committed to NATO because it’s been a tool to bring the European colonial power under a US-led geopolitical umbrella. That’s the beginning of NATO and for the late 40s’ and 50s’ of bringing the decolonizing world, bringing sort of the US as the main player in the decolonizing world. And right at the time, Canadian officials, American officials, justified sending troops to Korea in the Korean War on the grounds of NATO, which is, of course, Korea is about as far from the North Atlantic region as anywhere in the world.
So it was never a defensive alliance. It was propped up by European colonialism in Africa and Asia. Canada delivered huge amounts of weapons to the European powers as they were suppressing independence in Algeria and elsewhere. Canada was right of the US, Canada, Britain, that began the alliance, and that’s basically continued on until today. We have another war in Afghanistan. It was forty thousand Canadian troops in Afghanistan, as part of NATO mission, the bombing of Libya in 2011, Canadian military training in Iraq, mission in Latvia. This and now, increasingly NATO is focused on China – as this whole shift towards, pivot towards China ramps up. NATO is starting to talk about how they’re going to focus more and more on China. So from the Canadian government’s perspective, they see themselves as close to the heart of the US-led empire, from the standpoint of the Canadian military, NATO is a justification for spending more on the military. Same thing for the arms companies. So there’s … this is why not.
This is a tool to put pressure on Canada, increase military spending, which the military likes, which arms companies like. It’s a tool of domination. It may play some role in checking China’s rise. The Canadian government’s been committed to a US-led empire, for at least, since the end of World War Two, and NATO has been the sort of central tool or a central tool in that process.
Clearly, the main focus of NATO’s rhetoric is against Russia, and then they talk about the rise of China. Although, I was kind of a little surprised by some of this. I went back and I read a couple of speeches by this current secretary-general of NATO, Stoltenberg, and he actually, in one of his major speeches, only mentioned the issue of Taiwan once, and not in the kind of framing that you’re hearing from … whether it was Trump or the Biden administration. And then also made a big point of saying China’s going to be the largest economy in the world soon. We have to trade with it, and China is not an adversary, were his words. Whereas Russia is considered an adversary, and that seems to be the focus.
Larry, where do you take us. Is there, first of all, somewhat of a difference between the NATO position on China than the Americans? Does that reflect some differences between Europe and the United States? And where is this Russian aggression they’re so concerned about? I mean, other than they point to Crimea and eastern Ukraine. But, you know, based on any real threat level, that’s not enough to justify that type of significant movement of troops towards Ukraine NATO troops.
Let me say first that I want to go back to one thing that Yves said. I want to reinforce what he said. The Korean War, if you go back and look at it really closely, was Dean Acheson’s instrument for sending money to NATO to Europe. We starved the Korean theater of operations because most of the money went to NATO. It was the threat of the Soviet Union on the Korean Peninsula, that Dean Acheson, very cleverly used to get the Congress convinced that the money ought to go to Europe that he wanted all along.
With regard to the situation right now, and Russia, and China, and Jens Stoltenberg, he’s a very interesting individual to look at. He’s a product of our carefully crafting the future secretary-general of NATO. If you look at how he rose to that position, every point along the way of significance, we helped him get and we pushed him into. That’s the way we do things in the empire. We don’t always win with the head of the IAEA or the head of the OPCW or the head of whatever international organization. But that’s the way we do things, and NATO very principally that way.
I think what you’re seeing, though, and I’ve talked with, as I said, Norwegians, Finns, Swedes, Poles, and others in the last year, is a genuine fear on their part, particularly the Scandinavian countries, of the Russians. They watched what happened in the Eastern part of Ukraine, what happened in Crimea. And there, they are, their people are concerned.
In fact, conscription has been reintroduced, and it’s interesting how they did it. If you’re a conscript, you only have to defend Norway. If you’re a volunteer, you have to go fight in these other wars. So it’s very clever the way they differentiate it, even within their own domestic environment, what they really are worried about, and what they’re worried about is Russia. I have to give the Finns, and others like that some credit for worry-poles. Russia has a history of doing things that aren’t necessarily favorable to their state of it.
So there is a genuine fear there that doesn’t exist with regard to China. And what I find with regard to China is a willingness to do business and to take Chinese money, or whatever might be coming down the pike. So anyway, I think there is a different approach to the two different near-peer powers, as my Pentagon pals call them. I don’t think China is even a near-peer power anymore. I think China is every bit the power in East Asia. It’s replaced the United States in that regard. We can contest it all day long, but they are the power there now that has to be reckoned with. They’re increasingly the power in a global sense, particularly economically. And they know that, and they’re very Sun Tzuian about this. They don’t want war. They just want to keep rolling with their base road initiative, both the maritime and now the Silk Road, the Silk Polar Road, or the Polar Base Road. They have a road for everywhere, in other words, and it’s all economic. The Europeans appreciate that I think, and they understand the power that China wields economically. So I don’t think you’re going to really sell them, although they’ll go along with it in order to keep, some level of equanimity with the United States as much as you are on Russia.
Your last point, you’re right, too, about Russia. Russia is not going to roll into any place. Now, Russia put 80, 000 troops on the Ukraine border. And as Mike Sweeney pointed out in his very fine article, had we challenged Russia on that border, they’d had beat the crap out of us. Then the question would have been – because they’re operating on interior lines, so significantly so we couldn’t even begin to beat them tactically in a situation like that – the question becomes, then what will we do? Will we back up and say we’re the greater power. We’ve got time. We’ll bury them eventually. Let’s keep going and let’s do what we have to do. No! We’ll probably go nuclear. So, Mike’s point is that we’re going to lose that first battle badly. They’re going to be 10,000 casualties, probably most of them KIA, in the first 24 hours. Same thing with Taiwan. So these are two scenarios, that militarily right now are being considered rather dire scenarios. And frankly, the all-volunteer force doesn’t know what to do with it.
It’s so dangerous because the NATO troops, quoting the secretary-general, they’ve moved four combat battle groups, to what he calls the eastern borders of NATO, he doesn’t say specifically where they are. Now you’ve got Heritage Foundation, which is this neo-conservative group, that’s been very influential in US foreign policy, and they’re calling for at these NATO meetings, they want to see a Black Sea strategy. When you look at the Black Sea, it’s a tinderbox. If they want to start some kind of confrontation with Russia in the Black Sea, what are they talking about when they talk about a Black Sea strategy?
Well, they want the war. I’m convinced that some of these people, heritage included, want the war. They’re convinced, as Mike points out in his article, at least indirectly, that we’re going to win it. As you’re saying, it’s absolute nonsense. The Black Sea in many ways is a even worse operating on interior lines versus on exterior lines, than is the Donbas in the Ukraine region. This is crazy. Yeah. Would we win ultimately? I don’t know. Is having a nuclear exchange, strategically speaking, a win? I don’t think so. But that’s the kind of nonsense that’s going on, is what as I said, I think there are some people in the Pentagon who have some brains who are really worried about this. They know we have not the force to deal with this on a sustained basis, and yet we’re threatening to deal with it on a sustained basis.
Indeed, at one point when Bill Burns weighed in – Bill Burns weighed in with that famous cable back from Moscow when he was our ambassador there, and God bless him for bringing adult leadership to the Biden administration, right now. He said … I think that subject line said ‘nyet’ still means ‘nyet’ in Russian. Because Putin had said, you do that and I’ll bloody your nose badly, and it could do the same thing in the Black Sea. Would we win ultimately, even if it stayed conventional? Yes, probably. And he knows that. But he would take advantage of that bloody nose, and he is a chess master at taking advantage of US mistakes.
I don’t know if American nuclear war strategy has changed, but Daniel Ellsberg says that at least it used to be, if an American battalion and a Soviet battalion ever fought with each other, it would automatically trigger an American first nuclear strike to take out, essentially, all the major cities of Russia. They would do it knowing that the counterattack would take out, at the very least in those days, all the major cities of Europe. I mean, the insanity of all of this. And Yves, Canada, the Canadian government, they don’t even … they don’t talk about any of this. They just go along with this, as if it makes some kind of sense.
Well, I mean, Canada’s got five hundred plus troops leading a thousand troops in Latvia and they’re a tripwire, right? They’re there for … If there’s enough of them there, that if the Russians came in, they would obviously be defeated by the Russians, but that would lead to a full scale … the NATO would be forced to go to full-scale war with Russia, which is an insane strategy. It goes completely … the agreement of NATO not going one inch East as part of the removal of Russian troops from Eastern Europe. It goes completely against that.
Talk a bit about that. That’s a critical piece of the history a lot of people don’t know.
Well, it was an agreement between Gorbachev and, I guess, Reagan around ending the Soviets, Russia’s troops in Germany, and throughout Eastern Europe as part of the end of the Cold War. And that was … I guess it was never written down in a formalized agreement, but it was communicated clearly between the US and Russian leaders. NATO has just completely ignored that, to the point where there are now NATO members on the border of Russia. There are now North American troops on the border of Russia. Just setting up a situation that’s right for, as you mentioned, nuclear war or some terrible conflict. Canadian officials don’t care.
I mean, one of the things that’s being discussed in recent days is bringing the Ukraine into NATO. Prime Minister Trudeau had had a call with Zelensky, the Ukrainian leader, yesterday or the day before, basically getting Canadian commitment for the agreement to bring Ukraine into NATO. Right now, we know there’s a dispute in the East of the Ukraine. The claim is that Russia is occupying part of the Ukraine. So if Russia … if Ukraine was to come into NATO, does that make Article 5 operable immediately? And then all of NATO needs to go to war with Russia? I mean, that’s not clear, but that’s the kind of situation. And Canadian officials don’t care.
I mean, unlike Norway and some of the Eastern European countries, I mean, from a Canadian military arms companies, I mean, there’s not much downside. I mean, we’re not likely to get hit. If there is some sort of conflict, the chance of Canadians being killed early on is not that high. So it’s perceived as far away. We can use Ukraine to try to weaken Russia and well, it’s just Ukrainians and or other people in that region that are going to be the immediate victims. So I think that’s the sort of calculation of Canadian officials.
Crazy! Larry, how much of this is driven essentially, really by what domestic politics, that you get this saber-rattle and look all huff and puff on both sides, not just the American and west side, but the same thing goes for Putin, satisfying the nationalist fervor in Russia. And two, and maybe this is the most important thing, continuing this rationale of enormous arms purchases, and NATO helps keep all these countries within at least the Western arms market and mostly the American arms market, but they can’t be serious about actually fighting? They know what a shitstorm that leads to.
I hope you’re right. The history of warfare, especially major warfare in the last 200 years or so, doesn’t support that logic. Let me go back to something Yves said. I think one of the greatest travesties of US foreign policy in the last 25-30 years, and that’s a lot of things, including the invasion of Iraq, was the violation of Jim Bakker and Eduard Shevardnadze, and ultimately Reagan and Herbert Walker Bush, and Gorbachev’s promise that NATO would not go one step further East if Germany were allowed to reunify and remain in NATO.
The fact that it wasn’t written down is bull. That’s diplomacy. Your word is supposed to mean something. And clearly, Bill Clinton, thought people’s word, didn’t mean anything, because I lay it at his feet majorly. Certainly, Herbert Walker started it. Whether he did it to complicate Clinton’s first term or not is anybody’s guess, but, Clinton was majorly responsible for what happened. I was there when Saakashvili and the rest of them, Powell’s replacements started the Partnership for Peace program and the plan for NATO membership, and we began all the arms sales and so forth and bringing them up to speed and all that.
That said that as a sort of a backdrop, as Yves said, for this whole thing, the whole alliance today and the idea that we’re going to fight Russia with it or ultimately we’re going to fight China with it, is just I mean, it’s utter balderdash. And yet, to answer your question, you see the political authorities in this country on both sides of the political aisle pushing this agenda. And you see Europeans and I would say Canadians and others who are of that ilk going along with it and buying it, and it’s going to lead us all down a road that I think we’re going to regret having gotten on in the first place, shortly.
I’ll ask this to Larry again because I think this is more your turf. Am I mistaken, but the way I read it, is that just as in the days of the Soviet Union, the Russians are really primarily in a defensive posture. When they get all these threats, and you get four combat battalions moved up, and you get so much rhetoric threatening war, and potential military use, and NATO expansionism and such. I mean, what does Putin do? What’s Putin’s choice other than to move thousands of troops, not just in terms of the reality of the defense of it, but just to satisfy his domestic political forces, that he’s standing up and not being intimidated by the West. But you sure wouldn’t get any of that from the way American media and or Canadian media, maybe you come in on this afterward, you know, MSNBCs and CNNs and frankly, all of them, including Fox, it’s all the same narrative. Russia is the aggressor. They keep using this word, Russian aggression, Russian aggression. I don’t see many places other than a few small outlets like us who seem to push back against them.
To that point, if I were in Putin’s shoes, and I’m not saying I condone him as a leader or even as a person, if I were in his shoes though, I’d be doing the same thing he’s doing. If you read Russian military doctrine since about 2012, and you particularly follow as the Finns, and the Norwegians, and Swedes to an extent have done rather religiously, their field maneuvers and so forth, you see clearly in the written doctrine and in the maneuvers, that what they fear most is what they call, we say, orange forces or red forces or whatever, you know, in our war planning and so forth, the public aspects of it. Well, they name this entity that is NATO, clearly.
They also demonstrate that they really fear, the one thing they really fear conventionally from us is our incredible advantage and precision-guided munitions. After all, what did they see in the Iraq war? What did they see in Afghanistan, in the beginning at least? PGMS. So their counter for that is small yield nuclear weapons, what we used to call tactical nuclear weapons.
When you read that in their public doctrine, then you realize that they say publicly, that they will respond to a NATO incursion into the CSTO, with a nuclear strike at the head and the center of that incursion. You understand how serious they are and you understand that what they said is true. They are very worried about that. We think, oh, that’s nonsense. NATO would never attack the CSTO countries. NATO would never do that. We’re not an aggressive alliance. That is not the way the other side looks at it. It’s that simple. And consult history and you’ll see that it was that simple and lots of other contest in the past, too.
So Putin is operating, in my view, within his purview, exclusively within his purview, since we did what we did with Ukraine. My president went to Tbilsi, said Georgia would be a member of NATO. What happened right after that? I’d be doing the same thing Putin is doing – militarily and otherwise, and he’s operating at a significant disadvantage when you understand that Russia is really right now just a capital with a gas station, you know, they really don’t have an economy. Their population is receding. They have less people than Pakistan. They have longevity problems, life, longevity problems. Bang! It’s going down. They have a real problem. Putin has problems now. He has used his opposition to the Great Satan. They don’t call it that in Russian, but it might be an applicable term for them. He’s used his opposition to us, and to NATO in order to maintain political power, to a certain extent, too. It’s falling apart for him right now, and I’m waiting to see what’s going to happen. Are the oligarchs going to say we need a new oligarch, and elevate someone and take him out? He’s got an incredible apparatus around him. So that would be very difficult to do, but I wouldn’t put it past the possible. He uses that. He uses opposition to us.
When you look at Mother Russia and you look at the 11 time zones of Russia, and you look at that huge country in history, you understand that they don’t like being replaced by the United States and they don’t like the idea that the Soviet Union fell to the United States. I’d be doing everything I could to undermine us, in every way that I think he is – to include what the GRU is doing on a daily basis, in my own home state, Virginia.
Yves, do you find, is the Canadian media any better on this question of who is the aggressor here and is there really such a threat? And two, I know you’ve been part of a campaign calling for Canada to get out of NATO. Do you get any attention in the media?
Well, there are Canadian troops in Latvia, there are Canadian troops in Ukraine, there are small numbers of Canadian troops in Romania. I think in Poland in recent years, Canadian naval vessels in the Black Sea. But it’s, of course, that’s Russia, that’s the aggressive country. That’s how the Canadian media presents it, and there is very little pushback.
Even the NDP, the Social Democratic Left Party, a few weeks ago, one of their representatives was calling on Canada to support Ukraine, joining NATO. So they’ve been strong proponents of aggressive posture on Russia’s border. The anti-war movement in this country has called for Canada out of NATO, there’s a sort of long-standing position of the NDP for a couple of decades, was Canada out of NATO, but that ended in the, somewhat ironically, in the end of the 1980s’, just as the Cold War was ending. But in recent months there has been some campaigning against Canada-NATO. We had a breakthrough. The Toronto Star did a debate on ‘Should Canada leave NATO’, the biggest newspaper in the country, and that was in part driven by some of the activism that’s going on. But no, it’s unfortunately, it’s a marginal position that’s held by antiwar activists. I wouldn’t say it’s a marginal position. I think there’s actually a lot of people that are sympathetic to the idea, but it gets very little play in the dominant media or in an official Canadian politics, despite if there was ever a justification for NATO, certainly three decades after the end of the Cold War, it should have passed, but there is not a lot of appetite – because so much of the economic and political establishment are committed to NATO, and so the debates around the edges.
I can’t imagine Canada taking that kind of position. Unless the United States decided to give up on NATO, Canada would never be so independent to do such a thing. Not the least of which how important the American market is to the Canadian arms manufacturers, and they could certainly lose that market. As I think we said earlier, there’s only one thing that matters for Canadian policy, and that’s exports. I don’t think there is Canadian foreign policy, despite all the human rights rhetoric, it’s about anything but exports. Larry, a last word on what you think should be American policy towards NATO.
Let me just pick up on one thing that Yves hinted at and you explicitly said. Suppose the Russians or the Chinese or both in tandem sent a carrier strike group, or a cruiser strike group, or an amphibious ready force, whatever like we maintain all the time, off Corpus Christi, Texas, and we sallied forth from Corpus Christi and our media, and our leaders said ‘They’re a threat to us! They’re a threat to us! We’re going to take them on’. Don’t you think everybody would support the fact that we were doing that? Whether it was right or wrong is inconsequential.
What is Russia doing in the Black Sea? What are they doing in Ukraine? This is one way and it’s stupid. It’s idiotic, and yet this is the way we do things. This is the way we do foreign and security policy today. We don’t reason anything. We just go on instinct. We go on impulse. It’s like the old story of the French leader, you know, who’s suddenly interrupted by the people shouting in the plaza below, and he goes to the window and someone asks him, ‘What are you doing?’, he says, ‘I’m listening to the people so I can follow them’. That’s kind of the way we do things in this country now. It’s utterly ridiculous. And NATO is becoming a symptom of, if not a manifestation of that idiocy.
All right, thanks both of you for joining me.
Thanks for having me
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