You say pro-NATO, I say pro-peace

First published on RT Op-Edge, and also Consortium News.

During the seemingly endless US election, a few months ago Donald Trump said at a convention that NATO is not a gift that America can keep giving.  In his stated view – at the time –  the other member states should be expected to make a greater financial contribution (the USA currently contributes 70% of NATO’s budget) and if not they could not expect automatic protection in the face of an attack.

On 13th November in the UK’s Observer newspaper, the Secretary General of NATO, former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, wrote a think piece in response and acknowledged the need for more widespread contributions, while crying up the historic importance and future need for NATO by citing growing Russian “assertiveness” (diplo-speak for aggression) and the threat from international terrorism.

I was invited onto RT to analyse this and am here expanding on some of the points I made in an always-all-too-brief interview.

Stoltenberg was right to acknowledge Trump’s concerns about the contributions to NATO.  But I think that he was also addressing another and already-serving president somewhat closer to home – head of the European Commission and totemic Eurocrat, Jean-Claude Juncker – who for a while now has been plotting an integrated EU army and who ramped up the rhetoric last week after Trump’s victory. The head of NATO is naturally not going to be too happy that the EU is poaching on his territory.

It was also reported in The Observer that France and Germany are planning to announce the acceleration towards a EU army over the coming weeks. So much for European-wide consensus. It would appear that Juncker also sees this as a bargaining position in future Brexit negotiations, if Britain ever does get around to triggering Article 50.  Any EU army would need the UK’s contribution – not just the armed forces, which are the second largest in the EU, but also continued close cooperation with the intelligence agencies.

After all, if both the UK post-Brexit and the USA after the ascension of Trump become increasingly isolationist and isolated, it would be natural for the two countries to pivot towards each other to the increasing exclusion of Europe. The UK/US “special relationship” has always been heavily predicated on the uniquely close working relationship of their spies, and the EU will fear being left further out in the cold.

So, if Juncker carries on regardless with his vanity EU army project and Britain agrees to contribute post-Brexit, there may be other sweet deals on offer to the UK during the Brexit negotiations. At least, that seems to be the position Juncker seems to be oiling his way towards.

But the fundamental question has to be asked: why, now, do we need either a New Model EU army or the cavalier NATO?  Stoltenberg tried to address this in his article:

“In the last few years we have seen a dramatic deterioration of our security, with a more assertive Russia and turmoil across north Africa and the Middle East. Nato allies have responded together. We have implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the cold war. [….] This is deterrence, not aggression. […] Nato also continues to play a crucial role in the fight against terrorism. Every Nato ally is part of the US-led coalition against Islamic State…”

Let us unpick these comments.

Firstly, is Russia indeed becoming more of a military threat, or is this just so much diplomatic grandstanding? After all, is it Russia or NATO that has been more, umm, assertive over the last 27 years?

In answer I refer you back to an article I wrote two years ago after the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Referencing the work of former senior CIA officer and fellow Sam Adams Associate, Ray McGovern, it made clear that a deal was made between the Soviet Union of the time and the US and that, in return for the withdrawal of 260,000 Soviet troops from the GDR and the reunification of Germany, NATO would not move one inch further east than the German border.

Well, today we can see the result of these negotiations – another twelve countries, most in Eastern Europe and right up to the Russian border, have been assimilated into NATO. Recently within most of these border countries large-scale military exercises have been provocatively and publicly staged, plus missile “defence ” systems have been planted in the fertile paranoiac soil of an increasingly aggressive and nationalistic Poland.

Yes, Russia has in retaliation been conducting its own border exercises. The leadership has to be seen to be doing something, otherwise it will appear weak and not protecting its own people. That might be “assertive”, but it’s certainly not “aggressive”.

Nor let us forget the fact that in 2008 NATO was warm towards the idea of Ukraine and Georgia joining, provided they could meet a few conditions. This would be taking Western forces directly into Russia’s back yard. It would be encircling Russia’s border with the rest of Europe with a new “Iron Curtain”.  And I have to say that *is* an aggressively political move at the very least.

How did this play out? Well, first stop for the campaign of Russian demonisation was Georgia, under Western neo-con puppet president Mikhail Saakashvili , invading a small and ethnically Russian segment of Georgia, South Ossetia.   Russia responded by protecting the population, and then was excoriated across the Western world as conducting an unprovoked invasion of Georgia. This myth has long been exposed factually, but it is the hysterical headlines of the time that residually stick in most people’s minds.

Similarly in Ukraine. In 2014 a coup against the elected head of state, Viktor Yanukovych, apparently partly orchestrated by the USA as we know from intercepted calls between the Assistant US Secretary of State for Europe, Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.

Interestingly, it was Yanukovych who blocked Ukraine’s accession to NATO in after his election in 2010, perhaps an additional motivation for the 2014 coup.

All this laid bare the fact that the US had pumped $5 billion in to subvert the Ukrainian state over the preceding few years and that, in the face of European opposition to it, the US thought “fuck the EU”. And yet still the EU acquiesced to US-led sanctions against Russia that have hit the EU economy hard.

And the USA accused Russia of meddling in their democratic processes this year? Pot and kettle springs to mind.

Add to this a probably NATO-approved strike on a Russian jet involved in the Syrian conflict earlier this year by NATO member Turkey (at the time one of the closest trading partners of Russia and which, temporarily, caused bilateral damage that has since been repaired) and the military wing of Western interests is not exactly coming up smelling of roses.

But perhaps NATO was just being “assertive”.

So to Stoltenberg’s second point of justification for NATO: the success that it has had combating the threat of international terrorism.

Where can I start with this? Since NATO invoked Article 5 (when one state is attacked, all must respond) in the wake of the 9/11 attacks against America, western countries have been dragged into war after illegal war across the Middle East, central Asia and North Africa.

Let us examine the roll-call of successes: Afghanistan (now back in the hands of the Taliban warlords and supplying ever more heroin to the illegal drug trade that goes some way to funding terrorist groups, including ISIS); Iraq, now a basket case and the cradle of ISIS; Libya ditto plus the drugs; Yemeni communities being vaporised with “precision” bombs by US proxy Saudi Arabia: and Syria of course.

So the NATO Secretary General’s second justification of the organisation’s continued existence is not exactly what one would call compelling. But I suppose he had to try, when Juncker’s threatened folie de grandeur that is the EU army is even less inspiring.

So, back to President-elect Donald Trump.  What will he do, faced with this mess of competing western military/security interests and Euro-bureaucrat careerists? Perhaps his US isolationist position is not so mad, bad and dangerous to know as the wailings of the western liberal press would have us believe?

American “exceptionalism” and NATO interventionism have not exactly benefited much of the world since the end of the Cold War. Perhaps the time has indeed come for an American Commander-in-Chief who can cut deals, cut through the sabre-rattling rhetoric and, even unintentionally, make a significant contribution to world peace.

Stranger things have happened.  After all, outgoing President Obama won the Nobel Prize for Peace a mere eight months after his inauguration….

Donald Trump and implications for NATO

President-elect of the USA, Donald Trump, said during his campaign that other NATO members should pay a fair contribution and not rely on the USA to always bail them out.

On 13th November the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, defended his organisation in UK newspaper The Observer.

Here is a short interview I gave to RT on these developments:

Donald Trump and NATO from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Russia – once again Public Enemy No 1

The last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, said at the celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall last weekend that we are facing a new Cold War. What are the geopolitical realities behind this statement?

First published on RT Op-Edge.

Last weekend I was invited onto RT to do an interview about the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, particularly focusing on the speech delivered by the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, during his visit to Berlin.

I would like to expand on some of the topics I mentioned – how to encapsulate an alternative geopolitical perspective different from the Western orthodoxy in under four minutes? A task even Monty Python would find challenging!

The first issue was Gorbachev’s comments about a new Cold War. I would agree, and this is being fabricated by the USA, as that country always needs an Emmanuel Goldstein figure to justify its military-industrial complex that is bankrupting the country and brutalising the world, while enriching the US oligarchs to the detriment of civil society everywhere.

The first front line in this new Cold War is the internet. In the 1990s the USA had a golden opportunity – in fact a perfect storm of opportunities. It was the last superpower left standing in a newly unipolar world, history had officially ended and capitalism had triumphed. The Soviet Union had disintegrated and the newly shorn Russia was tottering, its vast national wealth being assiduously asset-stripped by the globalised neocon elite.

Plus, the new world wide web was exponentially growing and the key pioneers were predominantly American companies. After an initially panicked phase of playing catch-up in the 1990s, western spy agencies saw the potential for total mastery of the internet, creating a surveillance panopticon that the KGB or the Stasi could only have fantasised about. With thanks to Edward Snowden, we are now beginning to get glimpses of the full horror of the surveillance under which we all now live.

But it is not all down to the NSA.  Building on the old Echelon model, which was so nearly overthrown in Europe back in July 2001, the NSA has suborned, bought and prostituted other western intelligence agencies across Europe to do its bidding.  Germany, at the nexus of east and west Europe, remains a front line in this battle, with the BND possibly working unconstitutionally to do the NSA’s bidding, even apparently to the detriment of its own national interest. The politicians (some) and hacktivists (many) are fighting back.

But it is the geographical boundaries that have shifted most significantly since the fall of the Wall.  Here I need to credit former senior CIA officer, presidential advisor and current peace activist Ray McGovern, for all the useful information he provided during his various talks and interviews across Europe a couple of months ago.

Ray, a fluent Russian speaker, worked as a Soviet expert for much of his career in the CIA. As such he was privy to the behind-the-scenes negotiating that occurred after the fall of the Wall.  When this happened the USA pushed for German reunification but was worried about the 260,000 Soviet troops stationed in the former GDR. They cut a deal with Gorbachev, stating that NATO would not move “one inch” further than Germany after reunification. This the Soviets accepted, and withdrew their troops.

NATO_Expansion_2Well, we all know what has happened since. NATO has expanded east at an amazing rate, now encompassing a further 12 eastern European countries including the Baltic States and Poland, which the US has used as a base for an increasing number of “defensive” missile systems. In 2008 NATO also issued a declaration that Georgia and Ukraine would be welcome to join, taking the front line up to the borders of Russia. Coincidentally, both these countries in recent years have been portrayed as the victims of “Russian expansionism”

In 2008 Georgia invaded the disputed ethnic Russian region of South Ossetia. Russia moved to protect the people and gave the Georgian military a bloody nose. Anyone remember that? At the time it was portrayed across the Western media as Russian aggression, but the facts have emerged since to disprove this version of events.

Similarly, this year we have seen a violent coup overthrow democratically-elected President Yanukovych of Ukraine when he was inclined to stay within the Russian sphere of influence rather than ally the country more closely to the EU under the asset-stripping austerity measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund. Victoria Nuland, the US Assistant Secretary of State responsible for Europe, was heard to discuss the US had over previous years pumped $5 billion into Ukraine to subvert it, that the newly installed Prime Minister would be “their man”, and “fuck the EU”.

And yet still Russia is blamed for aggression. I am not an apologist for Russia, but the facts speak for themselves even if they are not widely reported in the Western mainstream media.

But why on earth would the US be meddling in Ukraine? Would an expansion of NATO be sufficient excuse in America’s self-interested eyes?  Probably not.

Which leads me on to a very interesting article by Eric Zuesse. The argument of his well-researched and referenced report is that it all comes down to energy supplies once again.  When does it not?

The USA has some unsavoury allies in the Middle East, including theocratic dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  Their vast energy reserves are not only essential to the USA, but also the trading of these reserves in the petrodollar monopoly is vital to propping up the bankrupt US economy.

Russia, at the moment, is the primary energy supplier to the EU – the world’s largest market. Iran, a Russian client, wanted to build a pipeline via Syria with President Assad’s approval, to exploit this vast market.  However, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the USA apparently have other plans involving a pipeline from Qatar via Syria to Europe.

Hence the urgent need to overthrow Assad and put a Sunni puppet government in place, more palatable to those pulling the strings. Qatar’s preferred candidate of choice would be more moderate, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi, on the other hand, would have no compunction about installing a hard-line fundamentalist regime in place – up to and including ISIS. And thus the murder, mayhem and human suffering erupting across the region now. This is an appalling real life example of the horrors inherent in Brzezinski’s psychopathic “grand chessboard“.

It is widely accepted truism today, over a decade after the “war on terror” began, that all the wars in the Middle East were launched to protect America’s oil and energy interests. Less well known is the country’s desperate scramble to protect the petrodollar monopoly. If that fails, the dollar will no longer remain the world’s reserve currency and the USA is financially screwed.

If you look at all the recent wars, invasions, and “humanitarian interventions” that have resulted in collapsed countries and anarchy across whole regions, it is clear that beyond oil and gas the key issue is money: pre-2003 Iraq tried to trade what oil it could in euros not dollars and Saddam Hussein was deposed; despite being welcomed briefly back into the international fold, once Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi began to talk about establishing an African gold dinar currency, backed by Libya’s oil wealth to challenge the petrodollar, he too was toppled; Assad wanted to facilitate energy pipelines to Europe for Russia and Iran, and he was attacked; even Iran tried to trade its energy reserves in euros, and lo and behold it was almost invaded in 2008; and finally Russia itself trades some of its energy in rubles.

As people say, always follow the money.

So, in my view, this is the current geopolitical situation. Russia is now strong enough, with its domination of Europe’s energy supply, its backing of Middle Eastern countries that want to break away from the US sphere of influence, and its trade deals and establishment of an independent global investment development bank with other BRICS countries, that it can challenge the US hegemony.

However, threaten the petrodollar monopoly and thereby the very financial solvency of the United States of America and you are suddenly Public Enemy No 1.

As I said, I am by no means an apologist for Russia – I tell it like I see it. To western sensibilities, Russia has some serious domestic issues to address: human rights abuses during the brutal Chechen war; its suspected involvement in the death by polonium-210 poisoning of KGB defector Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006; its overly-punitive drug laws; and human rights abuses against dissidents, the LGBT community, and journalists. Yet the West has merely mouthed platitudinous objections to all these issues.

So why now is Russia being internationally excoriated and penalised for actions for which it is not responsible?  Over the last few years it has looked statesmanlike compared to the US and its vassal states: it was not involved with the Libya fiasco, it has given safe haven to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and it halted the rush to yet another disastrous western war in Syria.

Nor, to my western European sensibilities, are America and its acolytes too pristine either, with their mass surveillance, presidentially-approved kill lists, illegal wars, kidnapping, torture and drone bombings. Not to mention their domestic addiction to gun ownership and the death penalty, but that’s another story….

Yet the US media-enabled propaganda machines justify all of the above and demonise another country, creating yet another fresh bogeyman to justify yet more “defence” spending.

The Russian bear is being baited, increasingly surrounded by yapping curs. I thought this sport had been made illegal hundreds of years ago, at least in Europe – but obviously not in the dirty realm of international politics.  It is a marvel the bear has not lashed out more in the face of such provocation.

There was a chance for peace when the Wall came down 25 years ago. If the US had upheld its side of the gentlemen’s agreement about not expanding NATO, if the neocon predators had not pounced on Russia, and if closer integration could have been achieved with Europe, the future could have been rosy.

Unfortunately, I have to agree with Gorbachev – we are indeed facing a new Cold War, and this time it is of America’s making. But Europe will bear the brunt, through trade sanctions, energy shortages and even, potentially, war. It is time we Europeans broke away from our American vassalage and looked to our own future.