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Rather than flapping my arms and screeching “Useful idiot!” at the television screen, I thought I’d try to explain (to the best of my knowledge) what NATO does, why, and where — I suspect — some of Trump’s anti-NATO sentiment must be coming from.
This brief history of NATO does a good job of explaining how NATO came into existence. The first paragraph is key:
It is often said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded in response to the threat posed by the Soviet Union. This is only partially true. In fact, the Alliance’s creation was part of a broader effort to serve three purposes: deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent, and encouraging European political integration.
I’m thinking that NATO’s been around so long that many Americans have forgotten that Europe’s the way it is now by design. By American design. We’re now entering an age when most of the generation that would remember this directly is dead. Perhaps that’s why ideas that would have been shouted down instantly by our grandparents — from communism to isolationism — are getting a hearing again now:
The aftermath of World War II saw much of Europe devastated in a way that is now difficult to envision.
I think that’s true. I think most people do now think of Europe as a bunch of pretty cities, and don’t immediately think of this:
Approximately 36.5 million Europeans had died in the conflict, 19 million of them civilians. Refugee camps and rationing dominated daily life. In some areas, infant mortality rates were one in four. Millions of orphans wandered the burnt-out shells of former metropolises. In the German city of Hamburg alone, half a million people were homeless.
The enormity of the destruction transferred the responsibility for preserving Western civilization to the United States. This was our strategy for rebuiliding it:
Aid provided through the US-funded Marshall Plan and other means fostered a degree of economic stabilisation. European states still needed confidence in their security, however, before they would begin talking and trading with each other. Military cooperation, and the security it would bring, would have to develop in parallel with economic and political progress.
With this in mind, several Western European democracies came together to implement various projects for greater military cooperation and collective defence, including the creation of the Western Union in 1948, later to become the Western European Union in 1954. In the end, it was determined that only a truly transatlantic security agreement could deter Soviet aggression while simultaneously preventing the revival of European militarism and laying the groundwork for political integration.
Americans who resent Europeans for being reluctant to militarize and for placing so much importance on political integration should remember that this is the world we created. We insisted upon this. Europe had no choice. It’s very strange for Americans suddenly to view the United States’ greatest military and foreign policy achievement as a failure. It was the United States’ plan for Europe to focus on economic growth rather than maintaining large conventional armies:
During this time, NATO adopted the strategic doctrine of “Massive Retaliation” – if the Soviet Union attacked, NATO would respond with nuclear weapons. The intended effect of this doctrine was to deter either side from risk-taking since any attack, however small, could have led to a full nuclear exchange. Simultaneously, “Massive Retaliation” allowed Alliance members to focus their energies on economic growth rather than on maintaining large conventional armies.
Some Americans now seem sympathetic to the argument that since the fall of the Berlin Wall, NATO has been obsolete. But NATO’s function was never solely to deter the Soviet Union, and a great deal of strategic thought — and historic memory — led American policymakers to think it should continue to be the basis for Europe’s postwar security architecture:
The fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 seemed to proclaim a new era of open markets, democracy and peace, and Allies reacted with incredulous joy as emboldened demonstrators overthrew Eastern European Communist governments. But there were also frightening uncertainties. Would a united Germany be neutral? What would become of nuclear weapons in former Soviet republics? Would nationalism once again curse European politics? For NATO, the question was existential: was there any further need for the Atlantic Alliance?
NATO endured because while the Soviet Union was no more, the Alliance’s two other original if unspoken mandates still held: to deter the rise of militant nationalism and to provide the foundation of collective security that would encourage democratization and political integration in Europe
The Soviet Union is no more, but the other imperatives remain. What’s more, we’re still stuck with a very aggressive Russia — one that views the West as its enemy, whether or not the feeling is mutual.
I think, or hope, that most conservatives know that the Soviet Union backed Western movements such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Putin’s Russia, unfortunately, targets American conservatives in a similar way. For example:
Knowing that evidence would implicate Russia in the shoot-down of the Malaysian Airlines MH17 plane, the Russian disinformation apparatus went into action early in the crisis, putting out the story that the plane was travelling almost the same route that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s jet had travelled before. In short, the accusation was that Ukraine downed the plane, thinking Putin was on it. Hence, it was an assassination attempt.
This bizarre piece of disinformation surfaced on RT (Russia Today), the Moscow-funded English-language propaganda network known to critics as KGB-TV. It was linked to by the popular Drudge Report, used by many conservatives as their homepage, and then picked up by the Alex Jones’ Infowars.com site, a reliable outlet for pro-Russian propaganda.
Drudge posted the item, “RT: Putin’s plane might have been target,” apparently to suggest that there was honest confusion over whether the Russians had shot down the plane.
It’s worth reading that article in full. This article, too, provides ample documentation of this effort.
Russian information warfare is remarkably sophisticated. They’ve been doing this since the era of spetspropaganda, which was first taught as a subject at the Russian Military Institute of Foreign Languages in 1942. It was removed from the curriculum in 1990s — but reinstated in 2000. In recent years, the disinformation assault on the media in Europe and the US is just as intense as it was at the height of the Cold War. And it seems to me that it’s been nightmarishly successful: We now have many Americans who think pulling out of NATO would be a good idea. It’s an idea very much like unilateral nuclear disarmament.
It’s taken a long time, but NATO’s beginning to realize just how vulnerable the alliance is to Russian efforts to undermine it through information warfare:
WOJCIECH JAKÓBIK: Is Russia increasing its information warfare activity against NATO?
PETER B. DORAN: We are witnessing the emergence of something new. Information warfare is creating a new kind of battle space. It is an emerging front similar to cyberwarfare. The bad news is that Russia has very sophisticated disinformation techniques; and they are winning.
How can you measure that?
It is now common to see the tropes of Russian disinformation and propaganda in the public discourse of the Western analytical community. That weakens the quality of the policy debate in the expert community. Often, experts do not even realise that they might be channeling an idea that originated from a node of Russian disinformation. Those ideas crop up in the strangest places.
I fully agree with Doran. (They’re cropping up, for example, in the Republican frontrunner’s ideas about foreign policy.)
Does Russia want us to focus on terrorist attacks and the migration wave?
The Russian government is very cynical when it talks about fighting terrorism. When this occurs, Russian officials are reading from an old playbook from the post-September 11th era. Recall that Russia was a partner with the United States in the war on terror back in the early 2000s. But that was a different time. That was before Russia invaded its neighbors and illegally annexed the territory of another European country. Moscow wants the West to focus on terrorism so that it can distract from the fact that Russia has stolen part of Ukraine’s territory. The West should not be distracted, nor forget.
Indeed. Terrorist attacks and the migration wave are serious things. This year, for the first time, Russia declined to attend the nuclear security summit. Russia effectively declared that it is no longer willing to cooperate with international efforts to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism.
The EU has at long last set up a counter-disinformation unit. Its efforts are pretty pathetic compared to what Russia’s been doing, but it’s still worth having a look. If you read the weekly disinformation review, you’ll have a better sense of which stories making it into the US media come directly from the Kremlin.
I find it pretty painful to see how many do. I don’t know what can be done about it, but I’d like to hear the candidates asked how they’d approach the problem.