Monday, September 20, 2010

Pentagon pulls Europe's strings

One little known fact about Brussels is that it a sliver of the city has a US address. American staff working in NATO headquarters can send letters to mom and pop or take deliveries from on-line retailers like Amazon, paying the same postage and shipping fees as they would within their home country. Under the “Air Post Office” zip code applying to this mail, the Belgian capital is considered part of New York City.

This may seem trivial but it is symptomatic of how the Pentagon regards most of Europe as its puppet. Worse again, senior officials working for our governments promote the subservience as desirable. “What is the point of the Belgian army today?” Robert Cooper, one of the EU’s top politico-military strategists and a former adviser to Tony Blair, has written. “It is not to defend Belgium, since no one is going to attack it. Rather, it is to demonstrate a sufficient commitment to the ‘West’ that friends and allies, above all the USA, will be there if ever Belgium should need help.”

During their summit last week, the EU’s presidents and prime ministers tasked foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton with drawing up a blueprint for developing closer ties between the Union and NATO. No doubt, Ashton will do her best to present the military alliance as a benevolent one, intent on preventing nascent conflicts from escalating. Gamblers could not expect high odds on terms such as “we wish to exploit the synergies between the two organisations” appearing in her blueprint.

Yet no amount of turgid phrasing can mask how NATO and the EU have already become deeply enmeshed. Officially, six of the EU’s 27 countries are not full members of NATO: Austria, Finland, Sweden, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus. Stealthily, however, the entire Union is being drawn into the US-dominated alliance. Sweden and Finland both have troops serving under NATO in Afghanistan, eroding their pretence to be neutral. Cyprus is the only EU country to have so far remained outside NATO’s misnamed Partnership for Peace.

In the past, the “Partnership” has often proven to be a waiting room for NATO accession. There is one exception to this general trend: Russia. Despite joining the Partnership in 1994, Russia has seen its relations with NATO deteriorate over the past decade. A military doctrine approved by Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, in February identified NATO’s continuous expansion into eastern Europe as one of the “main external threats of war”.

Rather than trying to assuage the Kremlin, NATO is still provocatively stretching its tentacles into Russia’s immediate neighbourhood. Ukraine failed to have its bid to join the alliance accepted at the 2008 NATO summit, but has more recently been promised a compensation prize. Within the next five or six years, Ukraine is scheduled to be the first country outside the alliance admitted to its “response force”. This carries the real risk that Kiev will sign up for participation in a conflict that Moscow opposes.

Russia has every right to be concerned, too, by the content of the “strategic concept” that will be rubber-stamped when NATO leaders assemble in Lisbon in November. This policy document will be based on the findings of a recent report indicating that competition for oil and other energy sources will be an issue of critical importance for the alliance in the decades ahead.

Drafted under the guidance of former Shell chief executive Jeroen van der Veer, the report eerily echoes a warning contained in a Russian intelligence assessment from 2007. According to that assessment, a confrontation between Russia and other nations determined to exploit the Arctic’s resources is a distinct possibility. Russia has sounded a bellicose note itself lately; for the first time in 20 years, it has resumed air patrols in a region containing 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13% of undiscovered oil, if estimates by American geologists are accurate. Canada, one of several NATO members asserting a claim over the Arctic, has further ratcheted up the tension with Russia by conducting a series of “sovereignty exercises” in the Arctic.

It is no secret, of course, that the US has a seemingly insatiable lust for fossil fuels. Barack Obama may be trying to convince us that America is winding down its military operations in Iraq but major corporations have no intention of quitting the country’s oil-fields. The colonial conquest of Afghanistan, meanwhile, cannot be separated from a plan that the US has had since at least the 1990s to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan. In 2007, Richard Boucher, then the US assistant secretary of state, acknowledged that Washington hoped to source energy from a pipeline linking south and central Asia.

As if the spiralling costs of these wars were not high enough, the US – egged on by Israel – is preparing to attack Iran, home to about 10% of the world’s oil and gas reserves. A recent article by Michel Chossudovsky, economics professor with the University of Ottawa, contends that US wishes not only to control Iran’s energy supplies but also to challenge the influence of Russia and China in the Middle East. The reasons he cites appear far more credible than the official narrative from Washington about wishing to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.

By parroting American propaganda, its allies in NATO and the EU are trying to hoodwink the public into accepting another disastrous war.

•First published by New Europe (, 19-25 September 2010

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