The NATO people assigned with the task of thinking up operational codenames seem to have had a Freudian slip over Operation Anakonda. The NATO war exercises underway in Poland are the biggest since the end of the Cold War a quarter of a century ago. The name, by chance perhaps, also refers to the world’s largest species of snake – a lumbering reptile that can reach up to 8 meters in length and prone to lurking in swamps.
The more one considers the biology of the anaconda – the snake, that is – the more the name seems fitting for the latest NATO maneuvers in Eastern Europe. It is said that the reptile is at risk from its natural habitats in South America being destroyed. The same could be said for the US-led military alliance if its European “habitats” were to dry up from these countries becoming tired of the constant war games and bellicose rhetoric that have heightened tensions with their Russian neighbors to the East.
With an out-sized girth of 30 cm and weighing up to 200 kg, the giant snake is known to prey on fish, birds, tapirs, crocodiles and even jaguars from crushing its victims by coiling itself in knots. The snake – and this seems particularly apposite – is also known to practice cannibalism by devouring its own species when its normal prey is in short supply.
Appropriately enough, NATO’s Operation Anakonda was writhing with logistical problems on its opening days this week. The mobilization of 31,000 troops and over 3,000 vehicles from 24 countries – all on Polish territory – ran into confusion over gaining access to roads, bridges and railways. There were also unforeseen legal problems for the transit of non-NATO and non-EU troops from Ukraine, Georgia, Macedonia, Kosovo and Sweden participating in the exercises. Such are the consequences when a lumbering giant’s anatomy exceeds its brain power.
But here is a more serious point about how the giant NATO beast is in danger from itself. As recently reported in the Financial Times, NATO European members are now allocating much more of their national budgets to military spending after years of decline. And at a time when their fragile economies and increasingly disgruntled societies can ill afford it.
This turnaround has been driven by the United States. A major foreign policy theme of the Obama administration has been cajoling European allies to increase spending commitments to the NATO alliance. The US accounts for some 70 per cent of the total military spend by the 28-member organization. What had caused deep alarm in Washington is that many of the European states were systematically cutting back on military budgets.
Earlier this year, President Obama chided European allies for being “free riders” on American military power. This theme has been taken up by Republican presidential contender Donald Trump who has also rebuked European nations to take on more responsibility in military defenses.
Of course, the false assumption here is that America is acting as a benevolent protector of Europe, spending way too much beyond the call of duty to “defend the free world”. Inordinate US spending on military is not out of chivalry, and much more to do with propping up of its own military-industrial complex – the cornerstone to the entire American economy. NATO is the vehicle for this American juggernaut of publicly subsidized corporate capitalism.
Equally important, the NATO alliance since its foundation in 1949 also provides Washington with a geopolitical license for hegemony over European allies; and especially with regard to preventing strategic economic and political integration between Russia and the rest of Europe.
The problem for Washington is that NATO has become an unsustainably expensive vehicle to maintain. In particular, since the global financial crisis of 2008, when as the Financial Times reported, many European members of the military alliance began slashing their defense budgets.
During the 1980s, European NATO members were spending over 3 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on military budgets. That figure slumped to around 1 per cent since 2008 for key NATO countries like Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. The global financial crisis was part of it, but so too was the end of the Cold War a factor. Why should such high rates of military spending be maintained in an era when the Soviet Union no longer existed?
This would explain why the US began rehabilitating the Cold War animosity towards Russia as an alleged security threat to Europe. The raising of tensions and deterioration in relations with Russia has played directly into Washington’s agenda of mobilizing its European allies to pump up military spending.
At the last NATO summit two years ago in Wales, the US harangued its European allies to commit 2 per cent of GDP to military spending.
The relentless US-led narrative of alleged Russian aggression towards Europe, accompanied by ever-increasing NATO war exercises in Europe, appears to have had the desired corrective effect. Ahead of the forthcoming NATO summit in Warsaw next month, it is reported that years of military budget declines among European members have been dramatically turned around.
“Defence spending by NATO’s Europe states up as uncertainty rises”, reports the Financial Times.
The “uncertainty” being the alleged threat to Europe from Russia, as Washington and the dutiful Western mainstream media have continually amplified over the past five years, since the US suddenly reneged on its “reset” policy towards Russia.
The FT quotes NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg as saying: “The forecast for 2016, based on figures from allied nations, indicates that 2016 will be the first year with increased defense spending among European allies for the first time in many, many years”.
One of the most remarkable upturns is Germany. The country is now increasing its military budget for the first time after a 25-year decline.
Other big military spenders are the Baltic states and Poland. The Financial Times reports: “The Baltic states which border Russia have made the biggest changes. Latvia’s budget will rise nearly 60 per cent this year. Lithuania will see a 35 per cent increase and Estonia 9 per cent. Poland, Eastern Europe’s main military power, is also raising defense expenditure 9 per cent”.
Thus at a time of general economic austerity and record high unemployment, European countries are nevertheless finding the resources to boost financial allocations to the NATO alliance. Just as the American leader has been exhorting its allies to do.
The Financial Times even admits:
“The rise in European budgets has come as a surprise to many inside NATO in spite of the commitment made in Wales [two years ago]. Many did not expect expenditure to grow at a time of economic travails and political instability in Europe”.
Militarism is such a vital engine of American capitalism, dependent as it is on a $600-billion-a-year military-industrial complex. NATO and the military spending of European members are also a vital conduit for American militarism, and hence its general economy. NATO is also an essential geopolitical cover for American hegemony. Therefore, with the erstwhile decline of NATO and European commitments, as a result of the end of the Cold War in 1991, that development represented a structural threat to American capitalism. All the more since US capitalism has arguably entered into historical stagnation.
The corrective, from the US point of view, was to ramp up militarism through its NATO network of European allies. And for that ruse to take effect then the Russian menace had to necessarily be resurrected. The irony is that it is not Russian President Vladimir Putin who is trying to resurrect the Soviet Union, as the American media claims, but rather it is Washington that is reviving the specter of Russian enemy in order to salvage its own decline. A further irony is that it is not Europeans who are “free riders” on American chivalry, but rather it is a dysfunctional, decrepit US economy that is a parasitical, free rider on renewed European military spending.
And, of course, the narrative of Russian threat only gains a veneer of credibility from massive war maneuvers like the current Anakonda military drills in Poland. Without these provocative war drills, allegedly for “defense”, the demonization of Russia would shrivel up into the fallacy that it is.
However, at a time of immense economic fragility among European governments and their 500 million citizens, the question is: can the continent really afford a giant slithering beast like NATO? Just like its namesake lumbering snake, there is a real danger of it crushing its own as it coils on itself from not having any real prey to feed off.
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