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NATO and the Russian Opening: Who Laughs Last?

Author bio: 
Richard Cottrell

The Alliance for Peace and Progress has finally marched into a landscape that might have been dreamt up by Salvadore Dali matched by a script more bizarre than James Joyce's Ulysses. Every ten years NATO's war chiefs gather somewhere relaxing to cook up the 'road map' for the next ten. This year it was Lisbon's turn, offering a temporary distraction from the huge incoming typhoon that threats to blow away the entire Portuguese economy. Some distraction too. NATO declared war. But not, however, on anybody in particular.

This not-war will require the erection of a powerful anti-missile screen surrounding every country in Europe (and North America too, but that's just an upgrade, comparable to an annual service and oil change for the car). It will not, NATO solemnly intoned, be pointed at anyone in particular. Certainly not the Russkies, who may well join in for the sheer fun of it. One can but imagine Russian diplomats splitting their sides over the voddies, having pulled off the biggest confidence trick since Reagan's Star Wars fantasy.

As for the Iranians, there's unlikely to be a mass ballistic capacity from that direction before the Second Coming.

From Lisbon With Love? You bet. There's a popular new word doing the rounds in Moscow, which is 'engagement.' The old confrontation strategy is a busted gasket these days. Think fox inside the hen run. On the face of it NATO's game is a partly portable strategy, let's ring fence everything so if some kind of threat does show up, we're ready for it, and partly extension of US hegemony in every field beyond military to embrace cyber strategy, fiscal and sole economic global power.

The Russians' game is a seat at the feast. They've already squeezed into a cut-price bargain-basement spot in Afghanistan. They're getting brownie points for cooling the courtship with Iran. They're cutting down the rhetoric right around the globe. What could be more amusing from the Russian perspective than turning around the tables in the old Star Wars chessboard? Moscow has noticed something very important there – which might well be described as the classic Russian Opening.

For all the hot air gushing from Lisbon, America's European allies are slashing defence budgets, to the huge chagrin of Pentagonia. The German decision to end the draft has gone down very badly in Washington. The Brits are wobbling over their nukes. The appetite for endless war in Afghanistan in ebbing everywhere. The idea of stepping up to the plate in the Pakistani hell-hole, still less Yemen, some weird place which most Europeans can't find, pace George Bush Jnr, on the map. Taking the sum of the parts as the whole, this is all good news for the Russian military budget.

Of course it was never meant to be like this. The subliminal message from Lisbon was America's smouldering resentment that the Soviet Union imploded for dreary economic reasons (as the CIA always insisted it would, incidentally) rather than a sound military whacking, let the trumpets sound, victory march and so forth, or at the very least, an official surrender.

NATO has been kept on emergency life support ever since. Hence the out-of-theatre capers like the Balkans and Afghanistan – and by implication Iraq, a shadow NATO op from the very start, as indeed was the First Gulf War. Hence too the extension of global pacts which resurrect vanished NATO look-alikes of the past such as SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organisation) and CENTO (Central Treaty Organisation, which good memories might recall was actually headquartered by the merest co-incidence in none other than Baghdad).

Sneaking into NATO, so to speak, may well be not the only Russian game. For many years I have sworn Russia will try something similar with the European Union, which to Russian eyes is already far too big for its boots. I witness my prediction steadily maturing. Thus the happy day will dawn when an application arrives in Brussels to join the EU Second Division, the largely unknown European Economic Area (EEA) which gives the present gaggle of current EU outliers (Switzerland, Norway, titchy Liechtenstein, renowned for its splendid dentures industry and Euro-sheltered money laundering) many of the pleasures of full membership without the tiresome political baggage.

The idea of extending the EU's territorial influence across the Siberian wilderness to fabled Vladivostok would tickle quite a few palates in Brussels – and Washington – I can tell you. It would solve in the short term many of the problems posed by Russia's 'Near Abroad' (especially the turbulent Ukraine and Belarus, 'Europe's Last Dictatorship', allowing of course for the EU itself). Such a vastly swollen landscape virtually touching the US at the Bering Straits fits exactly with the world view of Herman 'Van Who?' Van Rompuy, a full paid-up Bilderberger who is the first full-time president of the EU Council of Ministers.

Shortly after he was installed in January this year (having passed muster with a specially convened conclave of Bilderberg a week earlier) the strange bird-like Van Rompuy, an obscure Belgian ex-premier (one of many holders of that same office in a totally broken state held in reserve to parachute into top Eurocratic jobs) pronounced that the EU was the foundation stone of world government. Now, looking at potential Russian entryism into NATO and maybe not so far down the line (I would hazard less than five years) and the institutions of the EU, we are beginning to get a grip on the revolutionary shift in attitudes in the Kremlin.
Encircle or be encircled.

George Frost Kennan thought up the so-called policy of 'containment' of the Soviet Union while on station as a US diplomat in Moscow after WW2. The Cold War was its logistical extension, NATO its offspring. As we have seen, the alliance has busied itself as an emerging globalising military super-power, handicapped solely by the lack of real enemies on the old stomping grounds. So, it's back to the Kennanist policy of containment, which chiefly means China. And patently the troika composed of Russia, the United States and Europe, represented by the EU, share an equal interest in restraining Chinese power, expressed as military, industrial, cyber, fiscal and economic.

One method to control Chinese aggrandisement and expansionism is of course to reign in control of that great lubricator, oil, at a time when even the most conservative commentators appear convinced the long-foretold dark vale of Peak Oil has at last been reached. In these circumstances the loosely-grouped West can only view anything remotely like a New Chinese Century with considerable misgivings.

That's what the missile shield is about. That's why Russia is coming in from the cold and why the current players are shifting their bottoms around to offer the Kremlin a seat close to the hearth. That's why no specific enemy is nominated. That's why the Europeans out in force in Lisbon see the missile shield as a cheap deterrent, rather than bloody entrapment in miserable scraps based on 19th century warmaking without end. For there is really no way in which China can hope to roll out anything on a comparable scale in the foreseeable future.

Should China find herself truly surrounded – contained, outgunned if you like – from the Russian arctic to the warm waters of the Mediterranean – what a glorious prospect that would present to the arch globalisers.

Perhaps the spectre of the incomparable Freddie Mercury hovered over the proceedings in Lisbon. Perhaps too NATO should adopt as its anthem the following words, to be sung in glorious chorus, like the Red Flag of yore, at the close of all important summits to ensure the sanctity of the mission remains undimmed.

We are the champions my friend
And we'll keep on fighting 'til the end
We are the champions, we are the champions
No time for losers 'cos we are the champions of the world

Richard Cottrell, former European Union MP, is the author of Fighting Dirty: How NATO, Neo Nazis and the Mafia fought a Secret War in Europe, a forthcoming attraction from Progressive Press.