Yesterday (24 March 2022), the heads of state of the thirty NATO members met at an extraordinary summit in Brussels to decide on the alliance’s next move in the increasingly dangerous standoff with Russia. Rather than moving to de-escalate a situation which is now accelerating towards a war between the Western alliance and Russia, the leaders predictably followed the United States’ lead and accepted the proposal of NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and bulk up the eastern flank with four additional multinational battlegroups. This will see a mobilisation of 6,000 troops in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia; creating a Maginot Line linking with a prior 40,000 strong mobilisation to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. The key term here, which NATO and the western media have studiously avoided using, is mobilisation — the NATO alliance has mobilised.
The mobilisation of troops to the frontline — what NATO really means by the ‘eastern flank’ — is a significant escalation and a necessary prerequisite for war. President Biden knows this, and this is what he wants. Joe Biden has always been a Hawk and he knows what he is doing by ramping up tensions with Russia. Back in August 2018, long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Branko Marcetic, writing for Jacobin laid out before the American people the president Biden would be:
Biden has also been a consistent supporter of expanding NATO into what Russia considers its sphere of influence, a key driver of today’s planet-threatening tensions with the country. Biden called the 1998 NATO induction of three eastern bloc countries — a major provocation of Russia — “the beginning of another fifty years of peace,” coming only four years after the Clinton administration had explicitly and falsely assured Russian president Boris Yeltsin that the US wasn’t seeking to broaden NATO’s membership.
In this, the Biden administration is merely developing the aggressive strategy the United States has been playing since the fall of the Berlin Wall; a steady encroachment into Russia’s traditional eastern European sphere of influence in violation of the 1990 NATO-Soviet agreement. It has always been understood that a move like this by the United States would trigger a war with Russia. This is what George Keenan, the man responsible for the US’ Cold War policy of containment, and Henry Kissinger warned in their day. Yet, this eastward advance of the NATO alliance into former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact territories has been coupled with a US policy of global encirclement [of Russia] which has begun to cause considerable concern in Beijing and New Delhi. And, of course, Ukraine is a crucial element of this grande stratégie. Since 1947 the US government and the CIA, having identified Ukraine as the soft underbelly of Russia, have been working on various plans to instrumentalise Ukraine as a weapon against Russia. Their hour, it would seem, has come around at last.
NATO mobilisation is the third clear escalation between the US and Russia in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Allied Command’s placement of Patriot SAM batteries in Slovakia put some teeth to the calls in the West for an air exclusion zone and this was met almost immediately with a display of Vladimir Putin’s resolve when Russian forces neutralised an arms depot near the Romanian border with a nuclear warhead-capable hypersonic missile; the first hint that Moscow was prepared to upgrade its response to a ‘tailored damage’ or tactical nuclear approach. The answer to this thinly veiled threat came yesterday with a colossal troop mobilisation along the border of Ukraine. How dangerous this situation has become, is plain for all to see.
What we have now is a sinister game of Trumps, with Russia and NATO taking turns besting the other’s threats. We are not used to this class of power play because the last time Europe experienced this kind of build up and escalation to war was 1914. Only, now the stakes are considerably higher — with both sides armed with a nuclear arsenal capable of global destruction. Sure, this resulting in a nuclear Armageddon sounds far-fetched, but the decision to go to war may not be a simple will we or won’t we issue. Most often in the past, especially when Great Powers have mobilised, war leaps like a spark from the periphery and sets off the whole tinderbox. In June 1914 this happened with the assassination of the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Sarajevo. This sideshow event was the beginning of a domino effect that resulted in the conflagration of the Great War (1914-18). There are dominos everywhere in the current situation. One wrong step, even by a minor actor in the drama, can launch us all into another global conflict.
Joe Biden has said he will not put boots on the ground in Ukraine, or send US warplanes into the country, or attempt to enforce a no-fly zone for fear that any one of these moves would put US or NATO forces into direct hostile contact with Russian forces. But this does not mean he doesn’t want to put boots on the ground. He knows he does not have the public support for a war with Russia, and a war the American public doesn’t want will be hard to win. What Biden needs is a cause de guerre — a convincing pretext for a war with Russia, something that will carry the US electorate with him. And it would appear to be the case that he has wittingly or unwittingly sent a message to Volodymyr Zelensky on this very point. Asked what his answer to a Russian chemical or biological attack would be, he said the United States would ‘respond in kind.’
Reading between the lines, he has just told the Kyiv regime how to drag the United States into the war. Russia has nothing to gain by deploying chemical or biological weapons. The Russians, albeit more slowly than they had anticipated, are winning or close to winning their stated objectives in this ‘special military operation.’ Zelensky, on the other hand, has everything to gain from a convincing false flag operation. Any reasonable suspicion that Russia was behind such a criminal attack would see the United States responding in kind — and this would be a direct military confrontation between the US and Russia. A cynic might be persuaded to imagine here that the White House has just given Kyiv tacit approval to help draw America into the war, and this is not beyond the realms of possibility.
Today, it certainly looks as if all the pieces are in play for a rapid slide into a vertical and horizontal escalation. We are hurtling to the brink and the pegs have been pulled, and all the while the western media is banging the drums of war. As in so many other conflicts, the state horse may have pulled the media cart so hard the cart is now pushing the horse. Nothing is good about this game. This larger conflict is by no means inevitable, but it is fairly likely. This is no longer a distant threat, but one that can go live in an instant.
Jason Michael McCann, M.Phil. (TCD) Conflict Studies The author holds a postgraduate degree in Race, Ethnicity and Conflict from the University of Dublin, Trinity College, and an academic fellowship in the study of conflict from the University of West Flanders. He has published on the history of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp and the murder of the Hungarian Jews in 1944.
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