Instead of Deescalation, NATO Chooses Expansion While Declaring China a Threat
By Amy Goodman & Nermeen Shaikh (*) – Democracy Now!
The United States announced at a NATO summit in Madrid plans to build a permanent military base in Poland, as it formally invited Sweden and Finland to join the military alliance after they applied for membership in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We look at the impact of prolonged U.S. military presence in Europe and the overemphasis on Russia or China as enemies to the West at a time when threats to Western liberal democracy seem to be primarily internal. The Quincy Institute’s Anatol Lieven also discusses possibilities for a peace settlement to end the war in Ukraine. “It’s quite impossible now for Russia to win a total victory in Ukraine, but it does also look very unlikely that Ukraine will be able to win a total military victory over Russia,” says Lieven. “We’re going to end up with some sort of compromise.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: The NATO military alliance has wrapped up a major summit in Madrid. On Wednesday, President Biden announced plans to greatly expand the U.S. military presence in Europe, including building a permanent headquarters for the U.S. 5th Army Corps in Poland, while also deploying more troops to Romania and the Baltic region. Biden said this is part of a broader NATO expansion, in part as a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: And together, our allies, we’re going to make sure that NATO is ready to meet threats from all directions across every domain — land, air and the sea.
AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, NATO formally invited Finland and Sweden to join the military alliance, after Turkey dropped its objection to the move. This comes as the Biden administration has publicly announced it would support the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.
Once Finland and Sweden join NATO, it will more than double the border between NATO countries and Russia. Current members of NATO share a 750-mile border with Russia. Finland alone has an 830-mile border with Russia.
On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned against NATO deploying troops or weapons to the two countries.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] There’s nothing that might concern us in terms of Finland and Sweden becoming NATO members. If they want to, please go ahead. But they should clearly understand that they didn’t face any threats before this. Now, if NATO troops and infrastructure are deployed, we will be compelled to respond in kind.
AMY GOODMAN: This all comes as NATO has described China for the first time as a, quote, “systemic challenge to Euro-Atlantic security,” unquote. NATO, which stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is increasingly focusing on China. The military alliance took the unprecedented step of inviting the leaders of Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand to attend the NATO summit in Madrid.
For more, we turn to Anatol Lieven, senior fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, author Ukraine and Russia. His latest piece in The Nation is headlined “A Peace Settlement in Ukraine.”
Anatol, thanks for joining us again. If you can start off by talking about all these developments? As we’re broadcasting, President Biden is actually holding a news conference in Madrid, but the increased troop presence in Europe, Poland establishing a permanent base, Finland and Sweden coming in to the alliance, and inviting South Korea and Japan, New Zealand and Australia to — not into NATO, but to this meeting, so they can start to talk more about what NATO is considering a threat: China.
ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, that’s a lot to cover. I suppose one thing to note is that, as your report said, I think, today Russia announced that it was withdrawing from Snake Island in the Black Sea on the coast of Ukraine, which it has been occupied since the beginning of the war. And Russia said, of course, it was doing this as a gesture of conciliation, but the general analysis is that Russia was withdrawing from Snake Island because it was simply suffering too many casualties and losses of ships to hold it.
Now, you know, I think what that does indicate pretty clearly is that on top of the way that Russia was defeated by Ukrainian forces with Western weaponry outside Kyiv, has been fought not quite to a standstill, but almost, in eastern Ukraine, you know, Russia is not the — nearly the military great power that the Russians obviously thought it was, but that it was also portrayed as in the West. And, in fact, a former NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has acknowledged this. So you see there is a certain dissonance between Russia’s actual military strength and performance and NATO’s response, because, you know, to be blunt, if Russia takes weeks and weeks to capture one small town in the Donbas, the thought of it invading Poland or Romania, it’s not actually serious in military terms.
And as far as Finland and Sweden is concerned, well, you know, one understands perfectly why they have been so alarmed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but it is also true that Russia has not threatened either of them militarily since the end of the Cold War. So I suppose that’s one thing to point to.
I mean, as far as China is concerned, there are, I suppose, two points to raise. The first is that to have set out on a focus on the Chinese threat, while at the same time being deeply embroiled in acute tension with Russia and backing the other side in a war with Russia, you know, does not look like wise strategy for NATO. You know, there should have been some attempt to ratchet down tensions with one or the other.
I suppose the other obvious point to make is, as you said, I mean, NATO stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. You know, the members of NATO are all on or close to the North Atlantic. The United States is there because it is an Atlantic power. To the best of my knowledge, China is not present in the Atlantic Ocean. And it does raise the question both of whether NATO should — whether NATO’s charter in fact allows it to deal with China as a threat, or whether you should have a quite different organization for that, but also, of course, whether China is actually a threat to the North Atlantic countries or such — as such, or whether it is only in fact a threat to American primacy in the Far East, which is a very different question.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: I mean, Anatol, when this announcement was made by NATO to include China, they said that China represents — threatens NATO’s, quote, “interests, security and values.” And together with making this statement including China, they also for the first time invited countries from East Asia, as well as Australia and New Zealand — Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Could you explain why you think they did that now and what this implies for the long-term goals of NATO?
ANATOL LIEVEN: There are two reasons. I mean, one is that, obviously, as China becomes more and more powerful, economically stronger and stronger, it does raise understandable anxieties in the democratic countries of the West. That, however, is not the same as a security threat to Europe.
And the other — and as far as values are concerned, well, you know, I was listening to the program. I have to say it really seems to me that the obvious threats to Western liberal democracy are internal. You know, they are about all the things that we know about: socioeconomic inequality, demographic change driving internal extremism and cultural anxieties. And China actually has nothing to do with any of this. You know, to some degree, it is actually a distraction. And remember, I mean, you know, the whole point of NATO in the end is to defend Western liberal democracy. Now, by looking militarily at China, even to a degree by — not by supporting Ukraine, you understand — that’s absolutely right — but by building up this idea of Russia as a massive threat to the West, is NATO really concentrating on the most important dangers to liberal democracy, I wonder.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And as far as — to turn now to what the situation in Ukraine is, your recent piece for The Nation is headlined “A Peace Settlement in Ukraine.” If you could elaborate the argument that you make there, and, in particular, the point that you make regarding the status of the Donbas and Crimea and why that must, in any peace settlement, be left for future negotiations?
ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, the thing is that the first Russian demand, a treaty of neutrality, has actually, in principle, been accepted by President Zelensky. You know, it’s there on the Ukrainian presidential website. The point being, as Zelensky has said, that before the Russian invasion, he went to NATO countries and asked for a guarantee of NATO membership within a reasonable space of time, five years, and they all said, “No, no, no, sorry, you’re not going to get in.” So, you know, fairly enough, Zelensky said, “OK, then, why not a treaty of neutrality?”
Now, of course, the Ukrainians have asked for some very, very firm guarantees of Ukrainian security as part of a treaty of neutrality. Those, however, I think we won’t go into detail about now, but they are negotiable. You know, we can think of some good ways of addressing that.
The territorial issues are much more complicated, because there are basically incompatible positions there: the Ukrainian insistance on full sovereignty over all Ukrainian territory as it existed when Ukraine became independent in 1991 and the Russian claim of sovereignty over Crimea and recognition of independence of the Donbas separatist republics. And then there is the issue — you know, I’m sorry, it gets horribly complicated, but these issues always are. There’s the point that Russia has recognized the independence of the Donbas republics on the whole administrative territory of the Donbas but actually still has not occupied that whole territory. You know, half of it is still in Ukrainian hands. So it’s going to be very hard to negotiate.
However, the Ukrainians have said that if Russia will withdraw from all the new territory it has occupied since the invasion began, Ukraine is prepared to essentially shelve the previous territorial issues for future negotiation — at least that’s what Ukraine said previously, but there have been wildly different statements coming out of the Ukrainian government. It’s clear that there are — well, firstly, that there are deep divisions within the Ukrainian government and elites. And secondly, of course, once again, I mean, very, very understandably, as the war has progressed, as the destruction by Russia has got worse and worse, as there are these revelations of Russian atrocities, so, naturally, the Ukrainians have been more — become more and more embittered, and more and more of them have decided that they have to fight through to total victory.
But I think, you know, we also have to recognize that viewed from outside — I mean, I’ve said that I think it’s quite impossible now for Russia to win a total victory in Ukraine, but it does also look very unlikely that Ukraine will be able to win a total military victory over Russia. So, in the end, one way or the other, we’re going to end up with some sort of compromise.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Anatol, if you can comment on the G7 reaching an agreement around a price cap on Russian oil exports, and the backfiring of the sanctions? The New York Times writes, “Despite the sanctions, Russia’s revenues from oil sales have been on the rise, a function of soaring fuel prices, while consumers around the world have faced mounting pain at the gasoline pump.”
ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, two things about that. The first is that, you know, Western governments should have thought about this before the war, this threat, a very, very obvious one, and done much more to try to avert the war by seeking, well, for example, the treaty of neutrality which Ukraine has now offered, because, I mean, you know, obviously — I mean, not just oil and gas, but food, as well. It was perfectly obvious that massive sanctions against Russia would have this effect on global energy and food prices. So, you know, that’s the first thing.
The second thing is that, look, we don’t know, but there are already obvious splits behind the scenes between — both between European governments but also between some European governments and America, on the approach to the war in Ukraine and a peace settlement. And, I mean, European officials I’ve talked to in private have said that, you know, going into the autumn, if Germany is facing a winter of a widespread contraction of German industry as a result of lack of energy, if European governments are going into a winter with energy shortages, with radically higher energy prices, if there are by then either serious threats of global recession or if we’re already in a global recession, then, of course, I think you are likely to see much more pressure for a — some attempt at a compromise peace, or at least an agreed ceasefire in Ukraine. And what I tried to do in my essay for The Nation was to suggest to Western policymakers some of the contours — in my view, the only viable contours — of what such a peace settlement could look like.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And do you think, Anatol, finally, that the signs at the moment, I mean, the fact in this — the fact of NATO expansion, the presence now of U.S. troops — increasing presence of U.S. troops in Europe, in symbolic terms the ascension of Finland and Sweden, and NATO saying yesterday — Jens Stoltenberg saying that allies are prepared for the long haul on Ukraine, this, together with the fact that as far as, if one takes Russia’s word for it, if this was all about NATO, things are going not quite as they had planned, what indication is there, given both these things, that anyone, either party, would be interested in beginning negotiations anytime in the near future?
ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, I mean, you’re absolutely right, of course. And look, I mean, I’m not naive about the chances. But I think, you know, when you said that things have not exactly gone to plan as far as Russia is concerned, that is quite an understatement. You know, this has been a disaster for Russia, of course. And it’s been a disaster militarily. I mean, remember that Russia has actually failed to achieve almost all its key military objectives in Ukraine. It’s failed. It’s been fought to a standstill. And to go on and on like this is going to cost enormous Russian casualties and not necessarily gain any more significant ground. So, that, in principle, creates an incentive to seek an agreement. And, of course, the Ukrainians are also suffering terribly.
And I think it’s also worth remembering that Ukraine now does have a genuine chance, for the first time, of future membership of the European Union. And that is — I mean, that is really the mark of Ukraine joining the West, much more than NATO, you know, if Ukraine can join the European Union. But it can’t do so as long as it’s in this war with the Ukrainian economy being shot to pieces by the Russians. So there is also, of course, an incentive for the Ukrainian side to try to reach an agreement. But, look, I’m not saying that this is easy.
As far as Stoltenberg is concerned, I mean, look, remember, Stoltenberg represents the NATO bureaucracy. He doesn’t head a government. He’s not elected. He doesn’t have to care about energy prices, unemployment, inflation, any of these things. He actually doesn’t even have to care about starvation in Africa or the Middle East as a result of food shortages because of the war. So, you know, the people who are ultimately going to make the decisions are the elected politicians, who do have to care about these things.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Anatol Lieven, for joining us, senior fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. We’ll link to your piece in The Nation headlined “A Peace Settlement in Ukraine.”
(*) Amy Goodman is the host and executive producer of Democracy Now!, a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program airing on more than 1,100 public television and radio stations worldwide. Time Magazine named Democracy Now! its “Pick of the Podcasts,” along with NBC’s “Meet the Press.” — Nermeen Shaikh is a broadcast news producer and weekly co-host at Democracy Now! in New York City. She worked in research and non-governmental organizations before joining Democracy Now! She has an masters of philosophy from Cambridge University and is the author of The Present as History: Critical Perspectives on Global Power (Columbia University Press).