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A costly show of force: Chasing ghosts or securing Europe's future?

Jan Oberg

NATO flag. /CFP
NATO flag. /CFP

NATO flag. /CFP

Editor's note: Jan Oberg, a special commentator for CGTN, is the director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Over the last 70 years, we have heard here in Europe that "the Russians are coming." Before the Cold War ended in 1991, they did come to Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968) and Afghanistan (1979). But they came to neither any neutral European country – Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Yugoslavia or Austria – nor to any NATO member.

NATO's militarist predictions have proven consistently wrong over seven decades.

The Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (set up in the early 1970s with 57 members) constructively developed a series of confidence-building measures and dialogue principles.

Under Willy Brandt's visionary leadership, Germany initiated the "Ostpolitik" and rapprochement. Like with the former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme's Commission (1982), there was a clear understanding that Eastern and Western Europe must continuously talk with each other, inform each other about exercises, build confidence, and create security with and not against each other. What a difference in intellectualism and maturity from today's leaders and the new "Iron Curtain."

The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact fell apart in 1990-91, and all important NATO leaders are documented to have promised Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand "one inch" if only he accepted that East Germany could unite with NATO member West Germany.

Before the Russia-Ukraine conflict led by the disputes between NATO and Russia, Russia's military expenditure was about 6 percent of NATO's. Neither then nor today is it a threat to any NATO country, but NATO can't live without enemies.

Since the end of the Cold War, NATO broke all promises, did not listen to Russian security concerns and expanded NATO instead of developing an all-European peace and security architecture. Ukraine – where some NATO members had worked for about 30 years to prepare it for NATO membership – and very much against Moscow's security concerns – became a specific performance of NATO's hubris.

So the alliance that has promised its tax payers' stability, security and peace – NATO's mantra no matter what it does – is now the main (but not only) creator of the most dangerous situation in Europe since 1945. Making it a NATO member was a show of force that could just as well have been avoided, but it also served as an attempt to contain and humiliate Russia.

It is in this perspective one must see that NATO now holds its largest military exercise in decades, Steadfast Defender, involving 90,000 troops from all NATO members and candidate-member Sweden, from January 24 to May 31. Why this tremendous waste of taxpayers' money? Why this huge waste of energy and destructive impact on the environment? Why this militarist attitude amid a Europe in deep structural, political and economic crisis; and increasing dysfunction of societal services and infrastructure?

People attend a parade against NATO in Paris, France, July 8, 2023. /Xinhua
People attend a parade against NATO in Paris, France, July 8, 2023. /Xinhua

People attend a parade against NATO in Paris, France, July 8, 2023. /Xinhua

The answer can be found on NATO's homepage: "Steadfast Defender 2024 will demonstrate our ability to deploy forces rapidly from North America and other parts of the alliance to reinforce the defense of Europe. It will be a clear demonstration of our transatlantic unity and strength and our determination to continue to do all that is necessary to protect each other, our values and the rules-based international order."

First, it is about "ourselves" – unity, capabilities, strength, determination and values. After the self-fulfilling prophecy and the fiasco of turning Ukraine into a NATO proxy fighting Russia on behalf of the alliance, the exercise is about saber-rattling.

So sure is the alliance of its fake fearology – based on the assertion that "the Russians are coming" that it does not even have to mention Russia in the official text. The exercise, rather, aims to demonstrate military unity on top of political fragmentation and show – or pretend – that NATO's citizens get security and peace for their money now that they fear war.

It does not seem to occur to the NATO-based Military-Industrial-Media-Academic Complex (MIMAC) elites, or priesthood, that they are fighting ghosts that will not come this year either. To anyone with a clear and rational analysis, Russia has more than enough on its hands.

It was more than 30 years ago that NATO should have dissolved because its "raison d'etre" (reason for being) disappeared – the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact dissolved. Its way of projecting offensive instead of defensive deterrence combined with never-ending nuclear and conventional arms proliferation based on invented threats is outdated.

The alliance desperately needs to boost its crisis-ridden low self-confidence by pretending that the U.S. will come to rescue Europe when "the Russians are coming." However, the U.S. is now neglecting Ukraine to focus on the Middle East, Gaza and China.

Holding such absurd exercises is a way to signal to their own citizens that "we see a threat" and "we protect you," despite the fact that the enemy is invented. That's how to squeeze money out of the taxpayers if there were no threats. The anti-intellectual approach is indicated also in the bizarre idea that military expenditures shall be tied to NATO members' economic performance – 2 percent of the GDP.

Rational intelligence would make military budgets proportionate to the threats that each individual member country faces. But this does not apply to NATO! Here the idea is that – irrespective of threat analysis – 2 percent is needed. Did any country ever think of treating their healthcare or culture expenditure the same way?

In summary, if you want peace, prepare for peace. Prepare for war and you get enemies – and funding to feed the MIMAC leeching off civil society. Human and common security – genuine peace – is of no relevance to the military steadfast pretender of such illusional peace. But eventually, steadfast pretenders will militarize themselves to death thanks to their addiction to weapons instead of intelligent diplomacy, civilian conflict resolution, common global security and genuine peace-making.

The Global South must now learn from and take concrete steps to avoid falling into the trap of self-destructive militarism that the Occident has fallen into. They must not fall into a belligerent vicious cycle but re-invent peace and outline a new global peace system with genuine common security free of nukes, armament proliferation and wars.

Fortunately, that is possible.     

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.)

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