Just when there seemed to be a glimmer of real change in US-Russian relations -- Russia giving in to the US on START and assuring the continuation of the Kyrgyz US airbase -- the logic of US empire reasserts itself with a slap in the Russian face. Even Poland, Russia's age-old nemesis, is trying to bury the hatchet, after the shocking aircrash near Katyn, a tragic, if farcical, repeat of the WWII massacre on Stalin's orders.
In another echo of that war -- Hitler's siege of Leningrad -- NATO cold-bloodedly chose Tallinn, Estonia, a stone's throw from St Petersburg, as the venue of its latest deliberations about expanding eastward and how best to convince the world and Russia in particular to comply with its ambitious plans to bring the world to heel.
The two-day NATO foreign ministers meeting on 22-23 April focussed on the military alliance's 21st century Strategic Concept and on the war in Afghanistan. Top on the agenda was putting paid to any notion that nuclear weapons might be removed from Europe; rather, they would be integrated into the Pentagon's pan-European interceptor missile programme in line with the US Department of Defence's new Nuclear Posture Review. Proclaimed NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen: "Missile defence is no replacement for an effective deterrent. But it can complement it. Because there are states, or other actors, who might not be rational enough to be deterred by our nuclear weapons. But they might be deterred by the realisation that their few missiles might not get through our defences."
Revealing his personal opinion that NATO must embrace the US missile defence system as its own, Fogh philosophised, "The missile threat to Europe is clear " which means, to my mind, that we need to take on Alliance missile defence as a NATO mission. In Lisbon, NATO nations will decide if missile defence for our European territory and population should become an Alliance mission. I make no secret that I think it should." These NATO meetings, once every three years, are now annual and even semi-annual events, often hosted by its new members: the Czech Republic in 2002, Romania in 2008, and now Estonia, with another one in Portugal in November to finalise the new Strategic Concept and formally embrace Reagan's Starwars fantasy as NATO's own.
Just to make sure Russia understands its role in NATO's plans for Russia's "near abroad", Fogh said, "We need a visible presence of NATO across the entire territory of our Alliance. And we see a perfect example here in this region. We have put in place arrangements to police the Baltic airspace. We also need to guard against new risks and threats to the security of our nations, such as energy cut-offs or cyber attacks." He might as well have come right out and told Russia: Watch out! Any disputes with your neighbours are now NATO's business.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said any reductions should be tied to a nuclear pullback by Russia. In other words, if Russia meekly joins NATO Estonia-fashion and gives up its nuclear weapons altogether, NATO might reconsider its nuclear presence in Europe, another slap in the Russian face and a violation of the gentleman's agreement between Reagan and Gorbachev for the withdrawal of all US and Soviet troops and nuclear weapons from Europe in the 1980s.
Currently there are from 200-400 US tactical nuclear weapons stored on air bases in Britain, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. All but Britain are non-nuclear states, and the storage of US nuclear weapons on their territories means the US not only broke its promise to Gorbachev, but that it is in violation of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Clinton's invitation last month for Russia to join in the proposed NATO missile defence (really just the new public face of the US system) was of course a ruse or a taunt (does humourless Hillary perhaps have a sense of humour after all?). Even if Russia took her up on this, the Pentagon's new Prompt Global Strike programme "is striving for fast-strike, first-strike conventional weapons military superiority that could render Russia's nuclear forces easy to neutralise, hence useless," according to analyst Rick Rozoff. Former head of the Russian Air Force General Anatoly Kornukov described the recent launching of the X-37B "mini shuttle" as further evidence of the US weaponisation of space. "Now the US will be able to deliver a strike in a short time without due resistance. Aggressors from space could turn Russia into something like Iraq or Yugoslavia."
Having no alternative, Russia reluctantly yielded to the US Starwars project by the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty 8 April. To mollify superhawks in the Senate, US Missile Defence Agency official Patrick O'Reilly immediately told a hearing of the House Armed Services subcommittee on defence appropriations: "The new START treaty actually reduces constraints on the development of the missile defence programme," unconcerned that he was making the Russians look like fools or even cowards.
But the boasting in Tallinn and Washington is not being met with silence. Russian officials have warned that START may come to a halt if US provocations against Russia continue. As the NATO meeting closed, in Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry official Andrei Nesterenko said with exasperation, "It is not clear to us why Patriot anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems are being deployed near the Russian border. Nor have we an answer to the question about what threats will be tackled in the drill which will be held very close to Russia's Kaliningrad region."
The other issue on the NATO agenda that just won't go away, no matter how many lives and bombs NATO throws at it, is of course Afghanistan. Setting the stage for a gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan, the meeting adopted a plan that sets conditions for removing troops from a lead role by the end of this year, proposing to transfer security to Afghan police if there is reconciliation with the Taliban and a durable civilian government in place. This would allow Obama to meet his deadline for starting to pull out American troops by July 2011.
The sole "rational" voice at the Tallinn talkfest, NATO chief civilian representative Mark Sedwill, did not give much succour to attendees: "To many Afghans, this is essentially us fighting our war for our reasons on their soil." He was no doubt thinking of the recent poll -- conducted by the US in US-occupied areas of Kandahar -- where 85 per cent said they viewed the Taliban as their brothers and want the occupation troops out immediately. The recent surges have brought only increased deaths on all sides -- soldiers, insurgents, civilians alike. Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded they be called off and threatened to join the Taliban himself.
Fogh pondered as to how to engage Russia on this issue "to the benefit of Europe's security and its political unity", even as Russia bends over backwards to accommodate the NATO war effort with its open skies policy and acceptance of the US base in Kyrgyzstan with nary a murmur of protest.
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