Friday, October 31, 2014
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Building NATO’s “Weimar Triangle”

BERLIN – Some months ago, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen referred to Russia’s annexation of Crimea as a “wake-up call” for the West. Since then, Europeans and Americans have slowly but steadily tightened the economic screws on Russia.

But, in striking contrast to the overall cohesion displayed on the sanctions front, the West’s military response to Russia’s new assertiveness in its so-called “near abroad” has been uncoordinated and reluctant. As a recent report of the Defense Committee of the United Kingdom’s House of Commons argued, “NATO is currently not well-prepared for a Russian threat against a NATO Member State.” Given that this is a source of grave concern to NATO members close to Russia, the Allies must send an unequivocal message to Russian President Vladimir Putin when they meet in Wales next week: NATO territory is inviolable.

To be sure, as Rasmussen repeatedly emphasizes, every ally contributes to the reinforcement of collective defense in one way or another. But, while some allies have markedly stepped up their commitments by sending soldiers or additional fighter jets, others have limited themselves to offering only minor capabilities. Thus, the United States is bearing the main burden of reassuring NATO’s Central and Eastern European members.

Speaking in Warsaw earlier this year, President Barack Obama presented his European Reassurance Initiative, a $1 billion program aimed at supporting the defense of NATO allies close to the Russian border. While his announcement fell short of what many in Poland and the Baltic states had hoped for, Obama promised that these allies would have US “boots on the ground” – rotating units that would conduct regular exercises.

In other words, there is nothing particularly “European” about the initiative. It is not merely “led” by the US, but is essentially a US-only initiative without any Europeans, except for the host countries, participating. Although an American contribution remains indispensable for credible deterrence against Russian aggression, the absence of clear European commitments to put boots on the ground highlights the long-standing question of burden-sharing between the US and Europe. If Europeans cannot step up to this kind of challenge on their home turf, how can Americans expect them to become reliable partners for challenges elsewhere?

The upcoming NATO summit offers an opportunity to demonstrate Europe’s commitment to collective defense, to a stronger European defense posture, and to the transatlantic alliance. Instead of adding a few sparse cosmetic capabilities, NATO’s European members should at least match the US effort and provide an additional €1 billion ($1.3 billion) for reassurance measures. For perspective, this amount more or less equals what Germany alone has spent annually on its contribution to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in recent years.

The countries of the so-called Weimar Triangle – France, Germany, and Poland – are well suited to lead such an effort. The three big countries in the middle of Europe should thus staff a regional headquarters, which would serve as the basis for defense planning and exercises and support the rotating US troops.

Poland has long called for more allied troops on its territory and would be ready to provide the headquarters for such a European contribution. This would most likely mean upgrading the headquarters of the Multinational Corps Northeast in Szczecin, which could also host a French contingent, in addition to the Danish, German, and Polish forces that currently form the kernel of the Corps. Although this would not fulfill all Polish wishes, it would constitute an important step toward more equitable burden-sharing among NATO countries.

Though Germany, long accused of being a “bear hugger,” has recently become much tougher on Russia, German politicians continue to oppose new bases or permanent structures in Poland or the Baltic states for fear of adding fuel to the fire. Without its two important neighbors at its side, Germany is unlikely to take part in a mission involving the permanent deployment of rotating units.

German participation, however, would send a strong signal not only to the Kremlin, but also to its allies. This visible defense commitment would also allow Germany, sometimes suspected of seeking neutrality, to pursue new diplomatic engagements with Russia.

France, finally, has been a target of harsh criticism, owing to its determination to deliver two Mistral warships built for the Russian government. By making a significant contribution to European reassurance by participating in the enhanced NATO presence in Szczecin, it would demonstrate that it remains committed to the defense of its allies in the Russian neighborhood. It would also cement its perceived European leadership on defense issues and help to forge a larger coalition to provide additional support to the Weimar Triangle. Indeed, such a European force could be an important step toward a Europe de la défense, an idea that France has been committed to for a long time.

Most important, such a European initiative, which should be open to other countries as well, would clearly underline that Europe is ready to contribute its fair share to collective defense – a signal that the US would greet enthusiastically. Given a world in turmoil, with several serious crises in Europe’s neighborhood, this would be one of the few positive developments of 2014.

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  1. CommentedPhilippe Abeille

    Return of the Evil Empire
    by JASON HIRTHLER

    You have to hand it to them. The United States media machine is unequaled at producing and disseminating misinformation. It begins in the bowels of the State Department or White House or Pentagon and is filtered out through the government’s front organizations, otherwise known as Mainstream Media (MSM).

    In 2014 the U.S. has succeeded in demonizing Vladimir Putin and Russia, precipitating a New Cold War that may yet become a hot one. The evil empire is back. The White House has made proficient use of mass media propaganda to get the job done. First, they’ve controlled the narrative. This is critical for two reasons: one, because it permits the White House to sweep the February coup in Kiev into the dustbin of American memory, never to be seen again. Second, it has allowed it to swiftly assert its claim that Russia is a dangerously expansionist power on the edges of a serene and peace-loving Europe. In other words, the omission of one fact and commission of another.

    On the former front, by the State Department’s own concession, it spent some $5 billion in Ukraine, fomenting dissent under the standard guise of democracy promotion. The myriad NGOs beneath the nefarious cloud of the National Endowment for Democracy are little more than Trojan horses through which the State Department can launch subversive activities on foreign turf. We don’t know all the surely insidious details of the putsch, but there are suggestions that the violence was staged by and on behalf of the groups that now sit in power, including bickering neofascists that were foolishly handed the nation’s security portfolio.

    On the latter end, a frightful portrait of a revanchist Russia will be presented for public consumption. But consider the context before you consign Putin to the sordid annals of imperial tyrants. A belligerent superpower arrives on your doorstep by fostering a violent coup in a neighboring nation with the obvious intent of ensuring Kiev accepts an IMF deal rather than a better Russian one, and further that Ukraine become the newest and perhaps decisive outpost of NATO. Had you been in his shoes, would you have permitted an illegitimate, Western-infiltrated government to challenge the integrity of your Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol? Doubtful.

    Crimeans swiftly organized a secession vote—swiftly denounced as fraud by Western media (with some credence, it should be added). Given their Russian ethnic profile and quite credible fears of oppression from Kiev, whose nationalist bully boys were already posturing about eviscerating Russian citizens rights, Russia’s annexation of Crimea is certainly understandable to minds not saturated in Western propaganda.

    And yet the majority of the West, meaning the U.S. and Europe, seem content with this narrative of a recrudescent Russian empire with imperial designs on Europe. The White House has successfully characterized Russia as the Slavic aggressor while sweeping NATO’s undeniably hostile behavior beneath the rug of its false rectitude. Claims of the need to defend another nation’s “sovereignty” are always a bit rich coming from the White House. Yet the rhetoric of outrage streams forth from Washington, and it sometimes seems the principal qualification for a high-level appointment in an American administration is the capacity for a blithe hypocrisy that brooks no irony.

    This is no surprise. A sophisticated doctrinal system adept at manufacturing consent will succeed less by what it asserts than by what it leaves out. The facts omitted are always inconvenient ones. Among other missing pieces of the story currently being peddled by the MSM, is the issue of NATO’s raison d’être, which vanished with the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the dissolution of the USSR. No matter, it has swiftly refashioned its mandate into a rapid-reaction force ready to descend on flashpoints around the globe, like Serbia and Libya and Afghanistan. Despite promises to the contrary, it has essentially worked to bring all the former Warsaw Pact countries into its U.S.-dominated embrace. The goal is self-evident: put missiles on Russia’s doorstep, the better to alienate Moscow from Berlin and ensure that Washington isn’t left out in the cold by its rivals.

    If recent history weren’t sufficient to lay plain NATO’s blueprint of aggression, consider the behavior of its chief spokesman, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a frothing hawk who yesterday announced plans for a large and permanent military presence in Poland and the Baltics. Ready with prefabricated war motifs, Rasmussen said the plan was to deploy, “…what I would call a spearhead within [a] response force at very, very, high readiness.” He generously conceded that such a rapid response unit would require “supplies, equipment, preparation of infrastructure, bases, headquarters. The bottom line is you will in the future see a more visible NATO presence in the east.”

    Sounds like war footing. Sounds like chest-thumping, drum-beating posturing. Sounds like NATO baiting the Russia Bear. No doubt it hopes to lure Moscow into aggressive actions with which it can a) quickly smear Putin in the MSM, and b) use to rationalize a massive arsenal in eastern Europe.

    Note that Rasmussen’s pronouncement was no doubt timed to coincide with a tête-à-tête

    between Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Minsk, Belarus. What purpose exactly did the stillborn summit serve, given the bellicosity emanating from Brussels by one of Ukraine’s leading backers? One supposes the idea was to gain negotiating leverage, as if Russia hasn’t been observing NATO’s covetous moves for the last twenty years.

    In a domestic context, this scenario might be described as entrapment. The West seems intent on manufacturing a conflict, if not a war, where none existed. Peace, described as elusive in the press, could be achieved in a matter of days if the White House were so inclined. Instead, it prefers escalation. And sooner or later, Russia will move more visibly to defend the eastern rebellion, stepping squarely into the trap. In fact, it may already have.

    Yesterday NATO released U.S.-supplied satellite imagery supposedly showing Russian troops “establishing firing positions” inside eastern Ukraine, a claim instantly ridiculed by Moscow. Naturally, the imagery was obscure. Impossible to verify, but not hard to believe. Despite its own flood of propaganda, it would be credulous not to imagine the Russians supplying arms and tactical support to the so-called “pro-Russian insurgents” in the east. Nor would it be astonishing to see Russian troops cross the border. Again, the question arises: what would you do? Particularly given the Kiev-led brutality aimed at eastern “rebels”? Would you respond like Putin has, or rather more recklessly, perhaps like John F. Kennedy when he heard of Russian missiles in Cuba? Or imagine a pro-Russian Mexican government, installed by a Moscow coup, shelling pro-American citizens near the U.S. border. In imagining how Washington might respond, the words ‘restraint’ and ‘judicious’ don’t come readily to mind.

    Little if any coverage is given to another critical piece of real story, namely the obvious economic rivalry underlying the conflict. Ukraine is a major chip in the tussle for access to Black Sea resources, and for primacy in the provision of those resources to European homes. Likewise, the importance of channeling that access and supply through IMF-engineered loans, naturally denominated in dollars and central to the dollar’s now-threatened role as the world’s reserve currency.

    Next, the false historical narrative will be distanced from the White House through internationalist channels which, although they are fronts for American power, will be perceived by many as independent judgments that happen to agree with the American assessment. U.S.-controlled NATO, the U.S.-dominated United Nations, and the U.S.-submissive EU will convene to censure Russia, ignore Kiev crimes against its own population, and clamor for more sanctions and a provocative NATO build-up in eastern Europe. Short shrift has been given to the news that the BRICS nations—representing some 40 percent of the world’s population—have declined to join the West in its sanctions regime.

    But such history—distant or near—is trampled underfoot, beneath the crushing weight of MSM misinformation, thanks to which we can expect millions of Americans to dutifully wave their star-spangled totems as our ships and drones and battalions reluctantly set off to defend our freedoms once more.

    Jason Hirthler is a veteran of the communications industry. He lives and works in New York City and can be reached at jasonhirthler@gmail.com.

  2. CommentedJonathan Lam

    Gamesmith94134: Building NATO’s “Weimar Triangle”
    It was a mistake when Mr. Obama recreated the new START to the borderline of Russian and cut rubles’ value through the globalization; that the threat of hegemony and the Orange Revolution removing Ukrainian president gave him a ‘Wake-up call’ that stamped in the heart of Russians and Mr. Putin. Ironically, he recalled on the Nazis history and the Eastern Front; and Russians believed him and his call to the Baltic States to reunion in his New Russia and asked Kiev to consider the state hood of the South-East Ukraine. “If Europeans cannot step up to this kind of challenge on their home turf, how can Americans expect them to become reliable partners for challenges elsewhere?” Therefore, Weimar Triangle is a dangerous game not only it accelerates to rebuild Eastern Block and even prelude in the WWIII.
    I wish the writers would rethink the concept on containment; the challenge is whose boots are on the ground, and it concerns a large population by the regions. Perhaps, the writer should research on the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact signed in August 1939 and the history and consequence of the Winter War; and listen well to the Defense Committee of the United Kingdom’s House of Commons argued, “NATO is currently not well-prepared for a Russian threat against a NATO Member State.” Besides, EU may have another war front in Middle East. Besides, it is not an I-pad game or missiles plan given in the strategy; and it is no longer of containment as writers suggested; NATO is not ready for confrontational strategy and EU is deeply in trouble in contraction or depression that whatever you call it; and it requires a political resolution in EU, and not NATO.
    I would also suggest the strategy by Mr. Putin that his claim on the statehood in Ukraine means he would stay in South-east for five years like American took Iraq; if the statehood is not reckoned, and he must wait till EU contraction to take place. As some estimate the present EU economical inertia growth would cause EU the loss in value of $15 to $20 trillion or Euro drops to 1.85 to a dollar, or inflation goes to 12% if Euro sustain at present level. Then, I bet more of the 28 EU members will like Mr. Putin better or start their orange revolution in leaving EU. I would understand the frustration the writers must face and give alternatives to dissolve this problem; but this timetable is what Mr. Putin can weigh on.
    Did I overstate the situation of EU and underestimate the strength of NATO? Yes, I did; but unfathomable is always in my mind since I have to put my boots on.
    May the Buddha bless you?

  3. CommentedJohn Kornblum

    This of course is just another pipe dream there is no coherence in Europe on anything, except defense And there, the coherence is to do nothing. It would be better if Europe were to find a better relationship with US power, rather than continuously trying to dream up something which does not and cannot exist.

  4. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

    Messrs Tobias Bunde, Dominik P. Jankowski and Martin Michelot are advocating a "Weimar Triangle" for NATO, saying France, Germany and Poland "are well suited to lead such an effort" - to strenghten "Europe’s commitment to collective defense".
    Before they get carried away by this idea, they should take a closer look at this "German-Franco-Polish "Weimar Triangle" itself. A loose grouping launched in 1991 to foster relations and improve ties between the three countries, one had hoped that they could work together for a common European foreign and defence policy.
    While France and Germany have had more than 50 years of friendly relationship and cooperation, Poland was a newcomer. It joined the EU in 2004 and felt neglected by these two countries. France and Germany believed they had to show Europe the direction. And Warsaw realised that nothing worked in the EU without a consensus with Berlin and Paris.
    At times the relationship between their heads-of-state wasn't cordial. In 2006 the Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski snubbed Angela Merkel and Jacques Chirac by cancelling the summit, because he was compared to a potato in a satirical article in Germany.
    It's a riddle why the grouping was named the "Weimar Triangle". Nevertheless it had seldom taken centre stage in European politics. A decade ago dissent was widespread. Poland supported the Iraq War in 2003. It was accused by France and Germany, which stayed out of this war, of seeking a standing in the world by siding with the US over Iraq.
    Relations with France and Germany improved under Donald Tusk. During the Ukraine crisis, their foreign ministers made international headline as they travelled to Kiev and tried to get Yanukovych and opposition leaders to agree to a deal. Poland is one of the toughest member in the EU in demanding sanctions against Russia.
    In light of the reluctance of many NATO governments to increase military spending, it has raised questions about the Alliance's ability to "match the US effort and provide an additional €1 billion ($1.3 billion) for reassurance measures". The public mood across Europe doesn't allow NATO to be involved in large-scale operations. The budget may have no room to upgrade "the headquarters of the Multinational Corps Northeast in Szczecin, which could also host a French contingent, in addition to the Danish, German, and Polish forces that currently form the kernel of the Corps".

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