It is an all-too-familiar trope, but one Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, was not afraid of using when, in support of the establishment’s Remain campaign, he warned British voters that leaving the EU would endanger ‘peace and security’. The reasoning might be mythical – the EU is supposedly the glue that has bound hitherto conflicting nations together – but that doesn’t stop the likes of Stoltenberg and the EU’s leaders, from Hollande to Merkel, waxing disingenuously about how the EU promotes peace and stability.
But just how disingenuous this talk is has once again become clear over the past month. Because, as part of NATO, those same propagators of pacificism, of postwar never-again-ism, have been showing how committed they are to peace and stability by indulging in military posturing on the increasingly nebulous borders of the EU. Their target, as ever, is Russia; their effect, instability and discord.
NATO’s escalation of the conflict with Russia is rich in grisly irony. At the beginning of June, EU member states and NATO, these supposed forces of global order and stability, embarked on the largest movement of foreign allied troops in Poland since the Second World War. Described as a 10-day military training exercise, involving 31,000 soldiers, thousands of vehicles and assorted aircraft, it was also the first time since 1941 that German tanks had crossed the Polish border. This, apparently, is what promoting peace and stability looks like.
And this weekend, following a two-day summit in Warsaw, NATO and its partners upped the ante further. Citing ‘Russia’s aggressive actions [in Ukraine], including provocative military activities in the periphery of NATO territory’, and asserting, in euphemistically expansionist language, the need to ‘project… stability’, they agreed to deploy four battalions, numbering nearly 4,000 troops, in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – that is, right along Russia’s western borders. All of this follows America’s construction of a missile defence system in Romania, with a further one planned in Poland.
Of course, we know why the US and its European NATO allies think they’re justified in determinedly rattling their hi-tech rifles on Russian borders. They would like to believe Putin’s Russia is a clear and present danger. They would like to believe, at some level, that he is, as one commentator called him, a ‘hypernationalist, conspiratorial madman’, a man who dreams of Russia’s ‘imperial restoration’. They never put it in those terms, of course. They talk ostensibly of defence; of protecting NATO members and allies; of, as Stoltenberg put it, ‘an attack on one ally [being] considered an attack on the whole alliance’. But lurking in the NATO-ese is the same desperately anti-Russian prejudice, the same conviction that Russia, with Putin at the helm, poses a significant threat to the EU and the West in general. Putin is seemingly the Hitler of our times, and Russia, the Fourth Reich.