(In the Context of U.S. Hegemony)
A Paper by Fred Dallmayr, Co-Chairman of the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations”, presented at the 12th Rhodes Forum on September 27, 2014
This year we commemorate the beginning of World War I in 1914. The war was fought basically in Europe and devastated much of the European continent. Although announced as "the war to end all wars," World War I ended with a "peace to end all peace," thus paving the way to an even more disastrous war. After World War II, most Europeans (including political leaders) were looking for a prolonged period of peace. A European unification movement was started, with the intent to curb or eliminate national rivalries. However, at about the same time, the Cold War descended on the continent, dividing it into Western and Eastern Europe, separated by the Iron Curtain. One major symbol of the Iron Curtain was NATO.
It is not my purpose here to review the entire development of NATO. My only concern is with the role of NATO in solidifying the Cold War, making it in a way permanent, and in contributing to the danger of World War III. Just a few salient facts. NATO was established with the North Atlantic Treaty on April 4, 1949. Article 5 of the Treaty states that an armed attack against one of the member states would be considered an attack on all members, and all members would respond, if necessary, with armed force. It should be recalled that 1949 was roughly the start of the Cold War, a start which followed on the heels of the Berlin Airlift (June 1948 – May 1949).
The initial members were 12: ten from Europe plus the U.S and Canada from America. In 1952, Greece and Turkey joined NATO. With the unification of Germany in 1990, Germany (East and West) also became a part of NATO. The real expansion of NATO, however, occurred after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990/91—which is strange because, as a creature of the Cold War, NATO was basically directed against the Soviet Union which now had disappeared. With this collapse (and the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact in 1991) it would seem that NATO had lost its basic raison d'être (reason for existence). A military alliance without an enemy is an oddity, so one had to find one (and eventually found one in Putin's Russia). So, instead of basically redefining NATO or emulating the example of the Warsaw Pact, NATO leaders viewed the disappearance of the Soviet Union simply as an opportunity for expansion. Between 1997 and 1999, tree former Warsaw Pact countries—Hungary, Czech Republic, and Poland—joined NATO. The real windfall, however, came in 2004: three Baltic states and four East European countries (Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia) joined the military alliance. Finally, in 2009, two additional East European states were added: Croatia and Albania.
One would think that with these expansions NATO leaders were satisfied. But this was not the case. The missing piece was Ukraine (I leave out the case of Georgia). In fall of 2013, Carl Gershman (head of the National Endowment for Democracy) clearly spelled out the objective in the Washington Post: "Ukraine is the biggest prize." Needless to say, the steady expansion of NATO to the East was a cause of alarm for Russia. For against whom - if not Russia—was the expansion directed?? The alarm was increased by plans in Washington the establish a "missile defense shield" in Eastern Europe (whose defensiveness was questionable). Here it is proper to remember that, at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian leaders had sought assurances from the West that NATO would NOT try to expand to the borders of Russia - because this would rightly be seen by Russia as a threat or aggressive move. In May 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the elder President Bush had assured Gorbachov that he had "no intention of seeking unilateral advantage from the current process of change in East Germany and in other Warsaw Pact countries." In February 1990, Secretary of State James Baker stated that there would be "no extension of NATO forces one inch to the East," provided that Russia agreed that a united Germany would become a member of NATO. Gorbachov agreed in February to the German unification under these conditions. (In November 2009, the German journal Der Spiegel brought a piece titled "Did the West Break Its Promise to Moscow?") Let me add that Bush's promises had been seconded by such leading American policy makers as Zbigniev Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger.
In geopolitics, of course, promises (especially American promises) do not amount to much, and this can be seen clearly in the case of the Ukraine. There a tug of war has been going on at least since 1994. In that year, Ukraine joined the NATO Partnership for Peace program (a relatively low-key operation). In 1997, a joint NATO-Ukraine Commission was established (again on a low-key level). From that point on, the main issue became that of formalizing relations between Ukraine and NATO. Public opinion in Ukraine itself has tended to waver on this issue. Between 2002 and 2013, independent opinion polls showed that public support for NATO membership was quite low. A 2009 Gallup poll had this result: 40% saw NATO as a threat, 17% viewed NATO as a protection, with the rest undecided. By contrast, some government leaders in Kiev openly favored NATO membership. This was true of President Victor Yushchenko (2005-2010) and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (2007-2010). However President Victor Yanukovych (2010-2014) was strongly opposed to membership, preferring to keep Ukraine a "non-aligned state." In June 2010, a vote in the Ukrainian parliament excluded NATO membership from the country's national security strategy. Throughout his presidency, Yanukovich insisted that Ukraine should remain a "European, but non-aligned state" (which, if one looks at the geography, seems to be an eminently good judgment).
As we know, of course, everything changed quite dramatically in early 2014. In February 2014, an uprising occurred in Kiev on the "Maidan," an uprising that removed President Yanukovich by force from office and replaced him with a radically pro-Western government (with Prime Minister Arenyi Yatsenyuk, and later President Poroshenko). The revolt was basically a coup of a political faction in Western Ukraine, aided by Washington and also by local fascist groups (especially the "Right Sector") directed against not only Yanukovich but a large Russian-speaking (and pro-Russia) population in Eastern and Southern Ukraine. As I see it, what was troubling about the coup in Kiev are mainly three things: First, the blatant (and well documented) Western support for the forces on the Maidan, leading to an externally sponsored "regime change," similar to many such "regime changes" in other parts of the world. Secondly, the violence of the uprising and the violently factional character of the new Kiev regime, pitting the Western Ukraine against the East, and this with the help of same fascist groups and militias. And thirdly, the reckless military push of Kiev against the East, in full knowledge that this would trigger a Russian response—and even in the expectation and hope for a military Russian response, thus moving the Cold War in the direction of a possible World War III. So here are three reasons why the “World Public Forum,” in my view, opposes and has to oppose the Kiev policy: the externally supported regime change; the violence perpetrated during the coup; and lastly the reckless war-mongering.
We at WPF hope, of course, that the crisis in Ukraine will be peacefully resolved (a cease-fire has been started with the prospect of peaceful negotiations—a prospect which, however, has not dampened the Western taste for sanctions). But in the long run, the crisis can only be resolved if NATO membership is shelved or simply discarded. Even very recently, Henry Kissinger has spoken in favor of abandoning this membership drive. The question is whether, within the NATO leadership, some good sense will eventually prevail. In 2008, the mood there was still ambivalent. At a conference in Spain, the NATO Secretary General stated: "Do we have to choose between good relations with Russia and further enlargement of NATO? My answer is NO. We will not choose, we will not sacrifice one for the other. It would bring new dividing lines" (that is, a renewed Cold War). But by now, lines seem to have hardened; a choice seems to have been made, in the West, for NATO enlargement. At the time of the Maidan coup, the Kiev government still stated that it had no intention of making Ukraine a member of NATO. But a few months later (in August) Yatsenyuk decided to move parliament in the direction of NATO membership. And the new Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has asserted quite clearly that NATO membership is "on the table." He has also called for a NATO "rapid defense force" in Eastern Europe. On September 4, 2014, at the summit conference of NATO leaders in Wales, Rasmussen said: "Our support is concrete and tangible. We highly value Ukraine's contributions to our operations and the NATO Rapid Defense Force. Ukraine has stood by NATO. Now in these difficult times, NATO stands by Ukraine." He entirely forgot to mention that Ukraine is not (yet) a member of NATO and that, according to the NATO Treaty, the alliance only supports member states.
Moreover, what does "stand by" mean? Does it mean: NATO support for a military assault on and destruction of Russian-speaking populations in the East? Does it mean allowing Kiev to drag NATO and all of Europe into a military confrontation with Russia?? Why does “stand by” not mean insistence that all parties to the conflict (including especially the Kiev government) orient their policies resolutely in the direction of a peaceful settlement (perhaps through the adoption of a federal arrangement in the Ukraine)? The danger is palpable and enormous. The Defense Minister in Kiev has openly spoken of the likelihood of a large-scale war leading to the death of not thousands, but hundred thousands or millions of people. We in WPF need to denounce this recklessness, this war-mongering running amuck. Great wars can start almost by accident; they are sometimes unleashed by seemingly minor mistakes or miscalculations. If nothing else, the beginning of World War I should teach us that. We in WPF—and certainly I as Co-Chair—stand for caution, for calling a halt to playing with fire, before the entire world goes up in flames.