By Vijay Prashad
April 3, 2022 People’s Democracy
THE war in Ukraine is not a simple war. This is not a war merely between two neighbours about a border dispute, for instance. It is a complex war, a war not only between Russia and Ukraine but also a war that involves the United States and NATO (the Trojan Horse of the United States). The battlefield is Ukraine, but it is not only Ukraine. The battlefield, in fact, is all of Europe.
EUROPE AS A SUBORDINATE ALLY OF US
At the end of Second World War, the United States extended its military power through a series of collective security arrangements – the Rio Pact of 1947 to the Baghdad Pact of 1955. One of these was the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), formed in 1949. The point of NATO, from the very first, was to provide the United States military with the ability to expand its arm out of the territory of the United States. The United States built bases in Europe and the US armed forces trained alongside European militaries to create what would later be called ‘inter-operatability’ (or where other militaries would be trained to coordinate struggles with the US European Command, set up in 1952). The European attempt to build a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), such as in the Fouchet Plans of 1961 and 1962, was scuttled. The NATO command structure overwhelmed European independence from Washington.
When the USSR collapsed, the United States confirmed NATO’s permanence to ensure that Washington would have a way to manage Europe’s foreign policy. Europe attempted to develop its CFSP through the Maastricht Treaty (1993) and the Amsterdam Treaty (1997), but the US was able to side-line these attempts during the US-driven war to break-up Yugoslavia (1999). German ambitions were held in check and Europe’s policy was yoked to NATO headquarters. Using Article 5 of the NATO Charter, the United States was able to draw NATO into its Global War on Terror (2001), which include the war in Afghanistan. Fractiousness met the US insistence on attacking Iraq in 2003, which led to another attempt by France and Germany to develop an independent foreign policy; this time the instrument was the Lisbon Treaty (2007), which created the High Representative on CFSP, a role that took on importance as part of the US attempt to suffocate Iran in the nuclear negotiations.
Since 2006, the United States has pushed NATO to develop a global posture, which has drawn NATO countries into the US adventures to hem in both China and Russia from joint naval exercises in the Baltic Sea and the South China Sea. NATO’s recent documents – NATO 2030 (2021) and in the Strategic Concept (2022) – make it clear that Global NATO will be positioned to be allies in the US-imposed pressure campaign against ‘Russia and China’s challenges to the rules-based international order’. It is important to note that the idea of the ‘rules-based international order’ is simply the US-imposed interpretation of the world order, not the order based on the UN Charter (1945).
EUROPE TILTS TO EURASIA
From 1991, the former republics of the USSR, including Russia, and the eastern European states began a process to integrate with Europe. This included many of them seeking membership in the European trading system – including the European Union – and some of them joining NATO. Russia joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme in 1994, while seven eastern European states – including two that border Russia (Estonia and Latvia) – joined NATO in 2004. Moscow, during the presidencies of Boris Yeltsin (1991-1999) and Vladimir Putin (from 1999), did not object to these developments until the world financial crisis of 2006-07. It was assumed that central and eastern Europe, including Russia, would join the North Atlantic Project, with Russia even joining the G-7 (making it the G-8) in 1997.
During the world financial crisis, it became evident that integration into the European project would not be fully possible because of vulnerabilities in Europe. Inevitably, however, Europe began a process of linking itself to Russia and China. Through the US-imposed sanctions on Iran (deepened in December 2006) and the US-NATO war on Libya (2011) Europe lost two of its major sources of energy and began to depend increasingly on Russian natural gas and oil. By 2011, it became clear that Germany’s future natural gas supplies would have to come from the NordStream 2 pipeline that ran through the Baltic Sea. Furthermore, central and eastern Europe understood its future in the Chinese-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), with even large European Union partners Poland (2015) and Italy (2019) joining the BRI; seventeen central and eastern European countries have signed up to the BRI project.
The integration of Europe into Eurasia opened the door for its foreign policy independence. But this was not permitted. The entire Global NATO feint was part of the prevention of this development.
US ASSERTS ITSELF
Fearful of the great changes occurring in Eurasia, the United States drove a policy on both the commercial and diplomatic/military fronts. Commercially, the US tried to substitute European reliance upon Russian natural gas by promising to supply Europe with Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) from both the US suppliers and from the Gulf Arab states. Since LNG is far more expensive than piped gas, this was not a significant commercial deal. Challenges to Chinese advancements in high-tech, particularly in telecommunications, in robotics, and in green energy, could not be sustained by Silicon Valley firms. That is the reason why the US escalated its other instrument of force, namely the attempt to use the war on terror rhetoric to ban Chinese firms (due to claims of security and privacy considerations) and to use its diplomatic and military means to challenge the Russian sense of stability.
It was clear to European countries that there was no effective substitute for both Russian energy and Chinese investment. Banning 5G from Huawei and preventing NordStream 2 from certification would only hurt the European people. This was clear. But what was not so clear was that at this same time, the United States began to dismantle the architecture that held in place confidence that no country would begin a nuclear war. In 2002, the United States unilaterally abandoned the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty and in 2018-19, the United States unilaterally left the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. European countries played a key role in establishing the INF treaty in 1987 through the ‘nuclear freeze’ movement; but in 2018-19, the abandonment of the treaty was met with relative silence from the European people. At the same time, European countries – through NATO – began to join ‘freedom of navigation’ exercises in the Baltic Sea, the Arctic Sea, and in the South-China Sea – sending threatening messages to China and Russia. These moves effectively brought China and Russia very close together.
Russia indicated on several occasions that it saw what was being done and would defend its borders and its region with force. When the US intervened in Syria in 2012 and in Ukraine in 2014, these moves threatened Russia with loss of its two main warm water ports (in Latakia, Syria, and in Sebastopol, Crimea). That is the reason why Russia intervened to annex Crimea in 2014 and to intervene militarily in Syria in 2015. These indications suggested that Russia would use its military to protect what it sees as its national interests. The government of Ukraine shut down the North Crimean canal that brought the peninsula 85 per cent of its water, forcing Russia to supply the region with water over the Kerch Bridge built at enormous cost between 2016 and 2019. Russian talk of ‘security guarantees’ were not from Ukraine, or even from NATO, but from the United States. There was fear in Moscow that the US would place intermediate range nuclear missiles around Russia.
The contest over Europe – manifest now in the war on Ukraine – is decisive for our world today. US sanctions on Russia will certainly impact the Russian people, but they will have severe blowback effects on the world economy as food and fuel prices will rise higher and higher. No doubt that the Russian government violated international law by invading Ukraine. But this is not a war that is only about Russia and Ukraine. It is a war that is driven by the attempt by the fragile United States to maintain its position of primacy in the world. The war must end, as all wars do. Negotiations must be developed further, but not only between Russia and Ukraine. We need a serious discussion in the world about the instability driven by the US-imposed war on Eurasia.
-Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.