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NATO's 30 years of conflict and provocations

By Jan Oberg, Benyamin Poghosyan, Xiang Haoyu | China Daily | Updated: 2023-07-10 08:06

Editor's note: Japan and NATO have conducted frequent interactions recently, and deepened their relations. Japan has been helping this extraterritorial military bloc to further extend its tentacles to the Asia-Pacific, thus increasing the risk of division and confrontation in the region. Three experts share their views on the issue with China Daily.


NATO's summit will be held in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 11-12. Exactly 26 years ago — on July 8-9, 1997-NATO at its summit in Madrid approved the "Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation", in other words, a permanent NATO-Russia forum was signed by then Russian president Boris Yeltsin and then United States president Bill Clinton in Paris on May 27, 1997.

M.E. Sarotte's brilliant 550-page analysis, Not One Inch. America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate, can be read as an illustration of how the US, and thereby NATO, has been acting as the big-brother and manipulating against Russia. The fact is, for the US, Russia was never meant to become an equal partner, as irrespective of the Russian concerns taken into account, the US and NATO always intended to promote their own interests in what was, and remains, a very asymmetrical relationship.

While Yeltsin promoted the "founding act" as a boost for Russia, Clinton saw it as a sugar-coated pill for Russia to swallow NATO's expansion.

NATO has not learned any lesson from the past

What we know about the upcoming Vilnius Summit so far offers no indication that NATO has learned any lessons or would rethink its policy in light of Russia's heightened concerns over the past more than a quarter of a century, not to speak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Sarotte takes the reader through all the documentation to show that then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was indeed given promises that NATO would not expand even "one inch" if it acknowledged a unified Germany as a full NATO member. It was not written into a treaty, but the "cascading" documentation, especially in the National Security Archive at George Washington University, is overwhelming nonetheless.

Sarotte explains the entire process of NATO's expansion policy at the time and concludes on page 261: "Although the US President did not say so explicitly, 'not once inch' was gaining a new meaning: not one inch was off-limits to the alliance."

Consider these statements on NATO's 2023 Vilnius Summit page: "NATO currently faces the most dangerous and unpredictable security environment since the Cold War. How will the Alliance continue to protect its one billion citizens and every inch of Allied territory?... NATO Leaders will meet to address the most pressing challenges for the Alliance, further strengthen NATO's deterrence and defence and bring Ukraine closer to the Alliance."

Transatlantic alliance lacks moral, intellectual integrity

Yet NATO does not have the moral or intellectual integrity to ask itself the most important question: Why?

The statement, "bring Ukraine closer to the Alliance", that is, making Ukraine a full NATO member, and the three decades of NATO in Ukraine ignore the fact that in all opinion polls before the Russia-Ukraine conflict broke out, only a tiny minority of Ukrainians was in favor of NATO membership. On the other hand, almost 70 percent of Ukrainians were in favor of holding a referendum to decide Ukraine's future relations with Russia, NATO and the European Union. But neither NATO nor Ukrainian leaders showed any respect for the Ukrainian people's opinions.

One is reminded of a former NATO secretary-general's reckless answer to a recent question about how he thought Russia would react to his proposal to deploy some NATO troops on Ukrainian territory: "I don't care!"

Or, take for instance, the US secretary of defense's statement that the aim of the US and NATO is to weaken Russia militarily and economically so it never becomes "a problem" again — or NATO's desperate attempts to contain China, which the transatlantic alliance sees as a challenge only because Chinese values and interests are different from those of NATO.

This brings us to another trend, which is never highlighted in Western mainstream media: NATO's daily violation of its own 1949 treaty provisions and its global expansion.

As for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which few bother to read, it is, for all practical purposes, a copy of the UN Charter to which Article 5 on mutual defense among its European members has been added. It is distinctly defensive in nature. But the aggressive and provocative, not at all "defensive", alliance has been violating the very treaty it is based on since 1999 when it committed the first violation by conducting out-of-area operations in what was then Yugoslavia. Those actions were incidentally based on lies that a genocide was taking place in Kosovo and former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic was, in Clinton's words, Europe's new Hitler.

But what will happen when NATO has no more European states to add to its members' list — the only raison d'etre of NATO today? Then it will invent a new category — partners — that is not in the NATO treaty, something which it has already done. NATO today has 31 members, as Sweden is not mentioned in NATO's Vilnius Summit page, but 39 partner states. NATO also plans to open an office in Tokyo which, along with AUKUS, it intends to use to continue meddling in cross-Taiwan Strait relations and contain China.

What we are seeing is rampant militarism that "doesn't care" about the other side or about the consequences of its own provocative policies which are devoid of empathy, prudence and statesmanship.

There are enough reasons to see militarism as the glue that binds NATO and EU countries, although that may not last long.

Making oneself strong in one aspect while losing out on all other power dimensions — diplomacy, economy, legality, creativity, vision and culture — is a recipe for disaster. NATO no longer argues or analyses; it postulates and judges everybody except itself.

Sordid role of media and research organizations

It's highly disturbing that NATO's increasing militarism is not opposed but largely tacitly accepted as the "new normal" by the media and in research, with the latter basically financed by NATO governments. Apart from a tiny group of critical NATO scholars, the vitally important discourse on war and peace — in an attempt to promote democracy — has been silenced and peace studies scrapped, mainstreamed or turned into "security" studies.

If NATO "wins" this game after being largely responsible for "the most dangerous and unpredictable security environment since the Cold War", the rest of the world will likely be pushed toward an eschatological moment.

Peace workers and researchers ought to have more to say than it has hitherto.


The author is director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, Sweden.
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