NATO Is An Albatross

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Empires over-expand, over-reach and fail. Their ineptitude is gargantuan because their organization is an umbrella over diffuse and contradictory interests and forces. Those at the top don’t know what goes on beneath them, cannot obtain good information, can’t control those below them, can’t formulate clear goals, can’t measure whether they are attaining those goals, are subject to biased advice, act on their own biases, and govern with the weaknesses and limitations endemic to all human beings.

The relations between the U.S. government and NATO are a case in point. Just as the colonial and imperial projects of past empires typically cost more than their gains, proving to be albatrosses, so is keeping NATO alive when it should have been killed in 1989.

For the U.S., NATO involves many costs now and many obligations that can prove to be costly in the future, with the burdens falling upon Americans. Eastern Europe, specifically Serbia and Poland, was the locus of frictions that brought about two world wars in which the Americans should not have been involved. Ukraine now is a potential third such locus. NATO is building it up as such a flash point, but the presence of other eastern European nations in NATO all also involve U.S. commitments.

Everyone knows that NATO cannot commit forces in a significant way without U.S. participation and approval. Still, NATO’s every statement, threat and action about Ukraine create uncertainty about U.S. intentions until the U.S. clarifies its position. NATO, while not fully independent, still has the capability of influencing the situation and its members. This creates another level of uncertainty, when the tail wags the dog.

There now exists a dangerous set of relations in which a U.S. general, supposedly under the command of the U.S. president, is under the command of an unelected NATO body. He speaks out on his own about a dangerous situation that could create a major war and confrontation between the U.S. and Russia. He is asked to make and does make military plans that could involve U.S. forces. The Russians then have to act without knowing precisely what the U.S. intends or how important NATO’s actions are. It must clarify this by communicating with the U.S., and that always creates its own uncertainty.

Obama already has ruled out war over Ukraine. So we have an insubordinate general working for another organization (NATO) that pretends to be a government, and he makes statements that defy what his Commander-in-Chief has already said. We can only hope that Obama means what he says and does not turn 180 degrees as other presidents in similar circumstances have been known to do, such as Woodrow Wilson.

NATO’s threats enhance the odds of a Russian incursion into Ukraine because of its implication that Ukraine is or should be in NATO. However, such an invasion and war are really not in Russia’s interest. A fourth generation war fought by Ukrainians against Russia would cost Russia dearly as would the onus and consequences of invading Ukraine.

Either the U.S. prefers to play the game of power politics in this dual way through a NATO proxy or it has unintentionally created a setup involving NATO that has created a loose cannon. The leaders of the U.S. government themselves don’t know. They don’t know the whole of the costs of having NATO around and they don’t know how to liquidate it at this point. No matter what, the interests of the Europeans involved and the interests of NATO itself come into play. Those interests are not those of the U.S. government, as Obama’s no-war statement has made clear; and they are certainly not those of most Americans who cannot find Ukraine on a map.

The very idea of mobilizing U.S. troops or any forces to defend Ukraine is absurd because the only way to back up this action is to be prepared to engage in a major war in Ukraine. The costs would be enormous. The implementation of it would be hugely costly and quite possibly militarily ineffective. Ukraine and Ukrainians would be destroyed. It would mean conventional war with Russia that could escalate to nuclear war. It would have large unpredictable consequences. All of this is inconceivable. How absurd is it to fight Russia over a land that Russia is not attacking when such a war was avoided for decades of the Cold War? How does that benefit Americans? But there is absolutely no reason for such a war. Why not? Mainly because Russia has floated a number of proposals that involve resolving the status of Ukraine. Furthermore, Ukraine’s position as a state is far from clear. What exactly would be defended and why? There is ample scope to settle Ukraine’s political status peacefully.

12:03 pm on April 10, 2014