WikiLeaks cables published on December 7 reveal the extent to which the key issue of U.S. grand strategy - Washington’s attitude to Russia and to NATO's role in Eastern Europe - remains tainted by the mendacity and geopolitical short-sightedness of the Bush era.
Some documents concern the decision, made by NATO’s Military Committee less than a year ago, “to expand the NATO Contingency Plan for Poland, Eagle Guardian, to include the defense and reinforcement of the Baltic States.” Others indicate that the Administration has told Poland that a proposed missile shield system, ostensibly meant to defend against potential rocket attacks from Iran, could be adapted to stop “missiles coming from elsewhere”—i.e. Russia—thus disproving numerous official statements to the contrary. In addition, senior U.S. officials have discussed a range of possible American military deployments in Poland in response to the demands from Warsaw for some U.S. “boots on the ground.”
CONTINGENCY PLANS—At the end of 2009, Paul Teesalu, the director of the Estonian foreign ministry security department, and Sven Sakkov, Estonia’s defense ministry senior official, were thrilled when NATO agreed to expand the plan of Poland’s defense to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Teesalu called it “an early Christmas present” and agreed that all details should be conducted out of the public eye.
A month later (January 26, 2010) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton informed U.S. diplomatic posts in NATO countries that the expansion of Eagle Guardian was “a step toward the possible expansion of NATO’s other existing country-specific contingency plans into regional plans… the first step in a multi-stage process to develop a complete set of appropriate contingency plans for the full range of possible threats—both regional and functional—as soon as possible.” They were advised that such planning should not be discussed publicly, however, as
[a] public discussion of contingency planning would also likely lead to an unnecessary increase in NATO-Russia tensions, something we should try to avoid as we work to improve practical cooperation in areas of common NATO-Russia interest. We hope that we can count on your support in keeping discussions on NATO contingency planning out of the public domain.
The plans amount to U.S.-NATO preparations for a fully-fledged war with Russia, including immediate deployment of nine American, British, German and Polish divisions in case of a Russian incursion into the former Soviet Baltic republics. The plans also specify Baltic ports through which naval assault units would disembark, and US and British warships securing them. It should be noted that the documents do not reflect any debate on the strategic implications of such deployments.
MISSILE SHIELD—The decision by the Bush administration to deploy missile interceptors for the proposed anti-ballistic missile defence system in Poland had caused a crisis in U.S.-Russian relations. The Poles had indicated that they did not feel threatened by Iran but continued to regard Russia as a threat, asked “a series of hypothetical questions on the adaptive nature of the system vis-a-vis the changing threat.” Brigadier-General John Hesterman of the joint staff replied that “sea-borne platforms could provide surge capability against threats from an unforeseen direction, land-based sites could be upgraded with more interceptors if the scale of the threat were increased, and radars could be reoriented.” In November last year, Alexander Vershbow, the assistant defence secretary for international security, offered the Poles to host a land-based Standard Missile-3 System (SM3).
U.S. DEPLOYMENT IN POLAND—Polish officials insist to Americans that Russia, not Iran, poses the greater threat to Poland. “How long will it take you to realize that nothing will change with Iran and Russia?” a senior Polish official asked three visiting U.S. Senators in May 2009. “The Polish prime minister’s chief of staff, the president’s deputy national security advisor, and the speaker of the Polish parliament expressed unanimous support for a large US military footprint in Poland,” the Embassy reported; “Most important for Poland is US involvement in Polish security, through physical presence of American forces in Poland,” because the Poles “still have [their] doubts” about NATO’s readiness to honor its Article 5 commitment to Poland. Six months later, Vershbow replied with the offer of a package including
1) a quarterly rotation of F-16s, and the establishment of a small permanent support detachment, which would focus on enhancing Polish fighter capabilities [...]; 2) quarterly C-130 rotations from Ramstein [USAF base in Germany], also with a small permanent support detachment in Poland with the goal of increasing Polish readiness and ability to support own and NATO operations; 3) the relocation of a US naval special warfare unit from Stuttgart to Gdansk or Gdynia.
Explaining to visiting U.S. Senators why the U.S. needs to be more involved in defense of Polish territory, Polish parliament speaker Komorowski counted among Russian threats to Poland the fact that they were “acting against Poland’s interests in Ukraine.” Most important for Poland, he went on, is “U.S. involvement in Polish security, through physical presence of American forces in Poland, NATO facilities in Poland, fulfilling the commitment to provide Patriot missiles, and greater U.S.-Polish cooperation.”
To appreciate the geopolitical implications of these cables it is necessary to imagine the reaction in this country (1) if China were to sign a military pact with Cuba and Venezuela guaranteeing to defend them; (2) if it made plans for an immediate deployment of nine divisions in case of an American attack; (3) if it agreed to station troups and weapons systems in both; and (4) if it accepted as legitimate claims by Hugo Chavez that a reasons for some additional Chinese muscle on the ground was that the U.S. was “acting against Venezuelan interests in Mexico.”
The true significance of the above cables for the security of the United States is that Russian missiles will remain targeted on American cities, “reset” or no “reset.” While this may be of no consequence to the denizens of Warsaw, Riga or Vilnius, it should focus the minds in New York, Chicago, or Omaha. By extending its protectorate in Eastern Europe the United States has acted irrationally because this country’s own security has been diminished. There has never been any geopolitical logic in extending NATO beyond the Oder, let alone pushing it to the suburbs of St. Petersburg. The only rational reason for a country to enter into an alliance is to enhance its security. By expanding NATO Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have done the opposite.
The cables also indicate that former Soviet satellites have a vested interest and an even more acute psychological need to treat Russia as the enemy. They all proclaim their undying devotion to the ideological assumptions of the new NATO—individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, und so weiter—but their real agenda is twofold: to have an American security guarantee against Russia—“boots on the ground” included—and to strengthen their own position vis-à-vis those neighbors (above all Russians, of course) with whom they have an ongoing or potential dispute in places like Ukraine.
The cables prove what Western NATO apologists have denied for over a decade: that extending NATO into Eastern Europe is a threat to Russia, and that it recreates the division of the continent that was supposed to be lifted two decades ago. Their fears of Russia may be based on some real experiences of many years ago. Instead of pandering to their insecurity, the United States should have encouraged them to follow, in relation to Russia, the Franco-German model of overcoming ancient grievances as developed by de Gaulle and Adenauer.
The cables indicate that the Poles and their Baltic neighbors are always insisting on additional assurances that Article V of the NATO Charter—an attack on one is an attack on all—will be honored come what may, and that the Poles also demand American GIs on their soil as a tripwire. There is no logic, no moral or pragmatic reason for the United States blithely to agree to enhance its protective cover over its weak yet resentful clients, right in Russia’s geopolitical backyard, in an area that had never been deemed vital to this country’s interests.
The cables show that the United States is serious about risking a thermonuclear war for the sake of, say, Estonia’s border with Russia, which is pure madness; or else that it would eventually renege on its promises—like Britain and France did in Munich—which is fatal for a great power’s global standing. The new strategic doctrine for the Alliance, adopted in Lisbon last month, came up with a whole range of eccentric, unbelievable and even funny reasons for NATO’s ongoing “mission.” The core problem remains unanswered: what is the political rationale for the continued existence of a colossal military structure, when the threat it was created to contain no longer exists? NATO’s Cold War area of hostility has all but disappeared, but its self-awarded areas of activity and authority are still proliferating.
The cables reveal the extent to which the key issue of grand strategy, NATO’s attitude to Russia, remains unresolved. “NATO poses no threat to Russia,” we were told in Lisbon, with which it seeks “a true strategic partnership.” Even before the WikiLeaks cable became known Russia’s ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin offered an apt reply: “The NATO gamekeepers invite the Russian bear to go hunting rabbits together. The bear doesn’t understand: why do they have bear-hunting rifles?”
In the final analysis the cables show that NATO is not only devoid of a coherent mission and strategic purpose, but also dangerous. Between 1949 and 1991 it was successful in providing collective security of limited geographic scope against a potentially hostile totalitarian power. In subsequent years it was reduced to a tool for the attainment of misguided American strategic objectives outside its original area. Its ongoing quest for a new mission has the potential to make NATO irrelevant, or—as the cables indicate—to make it even more dangerous and destabilizing than it proved to be during the attack on Serbia in 1999. Either way, in terms of realist grand strategy, NATO is detrimental to the American interest and should be abolished.