Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday, 20 June 2021

 America needs NATO allies who share its renewed dedication to maintaining an orderly world





President Biden addresses the media during a NATO summit in Brussels on June 14. (Olivier Hoslet/AP)
Opinion by George F. Will
June 18 at 8:00 pm Taiwan Time
In 1995, when Serbians chained some U.N. personnel in Bosnia to military targets as human shields, the U.S. secretary of state was mystified. Warren Christopher said: “It’s really not part of any reasonable struggle that might be going on there.” Anesthetized by their belief that peaceful reasonableness is natural among nations, statesmen from civilized nations often adjust slowly, if at all, to contrary evidence, which is always abundant.
In 2008, Vladimir Putin sent forces into the South Ossetia region of Georgia to support Russian separatists. When Georgian forces counterattacked, Putin launched (Robert Kagan later reported) a “full-blown invasion, with tens of thousands of troops, fighter aircraft and elements of the Black Sea Fleet all pre-positioned.” NATO, undiscouraged, in 2010 issued a cheerful 40-page “Strategic Concept” that said NATO-Russia cooperation “contributes to creating a common space of peace.” NATO, wanting “a true strategic partnership,” would “act accordingly” and “with the expectation of reciprocity” from Putin’s Russia. NATO would seek a “constructive partnership based on mutual confidence, transparency and predictability.”
In the subsequent 11 years, Russia’s behavior has become predictable. It has invaded Donbas before annexing Crimea, thereby partially dismembering Europe’s geographically largest nation, Ukraine, which Russia still menaces with military deployments. It has prolonged the slaughter in Syria by intervening in its civil war. It has assassinated, or attempted to assassinate, Putin’s domestic enemies in Russia and abroad.
Last month, the authoritarian Belarusian regime of Alexander Lukashenko pioneered a new form of air piracy, sending military aircraft to force a commercial airliner to land in Belarus, where a passenger, a dissident Belarusian journalist, was arrested. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it is “very difficult to believe that this kind of action could have been taken without at least the acquiescence of the authorities in Moscow.” Brian Whitmore of the Atlantic Council notes that “the Russian and Belarusian air defense systems are deeply integrated, as are their militaries and security services.” Putin’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Belarus’s action was “reasonable.”
Russia continues “hybrid warfare.” For example, the Financial Times reports on a Montreal-based website that calls itself an independent research organization, but actually is, the U.S. State Department says, “deeply enmeshed in Russia’s broader disinformation and propaganda ecosystem.” One of the website’s May headlines said: “Covid-19 Vaccines Lead to New Infections and Mortality: The Evidence is Overwhelming.” This is biological warfare at one remove.
So, at this week’s one-day summit, NATO unlimbered its heavy parchment artillery. It labeled Russia’s actions a “threat.” Evidently, however, Russia is not sufficiently threatening to require stopping the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will deepen Europe’s, and especially Germany’s, dependence on Russian energy. Of the 30 NATO members who subscribed to the banal “threat” label, it is probable that only the United States, Britain and five smaller nations will in 2022 spend the 2 percent of their gross domestic product on their militaries that is the minimal target that NATO adopted seven years ago to be reached by 2024.
When NATO was assembled in 1949, it was all about Europe. Its first secretary general, Lord Hastings Ismay, famously said it was created to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” Today, the memory of the Soviet Union that nurtured Putin haunts and motivates him; he calls its death “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” President Biden has wisely reversed his predecessor’s order reducing U.S. forces in Germany. But although that nation has Europe’s largest economy, in 2022 it probably will, as usual, fall at least 25 percent short of NATO’s defense spending target.
NATO’s 2010 “Strategic Concept” contained not a word about China. At this week’s summit, however, NATO said China now poses “challenges.” That is a remarkably anodyne characterization of activities that include:
Shredding commitments regarding Hong Kong’s autonomy and suffocating liberty in one of the world’s great cities. Escalating incursions by Chinese military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. (Tuesday marked the largest yet — 28 planes, including four nuclear-capable bombers.) Militarizing, contrary to public assurances, artificial islands in the South China Sea, through which up to a third of global seaborne commerce passes. And inflicting what the United States has formally identified as genocide on the Uyghurs, more than 1 million of whom are in concentration camps, enduring forced labor and worse.
One purpose of Biden’s trip to Europe was to reassure allies that the United States is ready to resume its responsibilities regarding the maintenance of an orderly world. Now, some comparable reassurances from allies would be timely.

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