The NATO defense chiefs’ meeting on February 14-15 was mainly devoted to sharing the defense burden and other issues routinely discussed at any event. As usual, there were turgid speeches with opaque meanings to leave one guessing what’s really behind those nice words. The alliance, however, did make two far reaching decisions providing us with a clue to its plans for the near future.
Ministers said yes to the creation of military Schengen to ease the movement of forces across the Old Continent. NATO is to do away with the cumbersome and lingering bureaucratic procedures hindering transportation of troops and hardware through territories of member states. One of the solutions is a standardized form used by European allies and partner states for granting permission for movements. Germany has offered to host the command center to implement the concept of a free transit zone in view of its vast experience in providing logistical support.
It’s not red tape only. One thing leads to another. The military Schengen will inevitably result in additional expenditure to adapt civilian infrastructure to military needs, upgrading roads, tunnels and bridges to enable hardware movement and heavy aircraft landings.
The decision has been taken amid burgeoning preparations which will boost military infrastructure near Russia’s borders. The fact that, by signing the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, the bloc pledged not to deploy “substantial” ground forces on a permanent basis close to Russia appears to have been ignored and forgotten. With the document no longer valid, the bilateral military relationship will be deprived of any legal basis.
To augment the forces in East Europe, the Black Sea, the Baltics and the Scandinavian Peninsula the bloc needs new logistic hubs. Unobstructed large-scale transport movements become top priority for implementation of the war plans, such as concentrating combat-ready stocks for a full US brigade in Poland. So, the alliance is clearing the obstacles that would otherwise hinder its ability to rapidly boost forward presence and concentrate forces for an attack.
The ministers announced another important decision using euphemisms to obfuscate the essence. NATO agreed to launch an assist and train mission in Iraq, “establishing specialist military academies and schools.” According to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (see featured image), the alliance’s priorities “in the South” include improving “the ability to react to future crises in the region, including with enhanced planning and exercise.” So it’s not a pure training mission but rather a commitment to join the US campaign aimed at rolling back Iran’s influence. The US has cut its forces in Iraq, moving them to Afghanistan, where the situation is getting worse, so NATO is right there to fill the gap under the pretext of training and increased military aid. With a military presence, which goes hand in hand with training missions, the alliance is on its way to preventing Iraq from falling into Iran’s orbit and also to reducing Russia’s influence in that country. Iraq is too important to be anything but pro-Western.
NATO is also lending the US a helping hand in Syria, the country viewed by Washington as a battlefield in the campaign to roll back Iran. French President Macron has just threatened to strike Syria if the information about the use of chemical weapons by its government is confirmed. The US has made it clear that it has no plans to leave or even reduce its presence in Syria after the defeat of the Islamic State. It will stay indefinitely. The purpose is to counter the threat from Iran. America has quietly launched a nation-building process in the Syrian territories under its control.
The ministers’ meeting of the multinational organization has expressed its readiness to dance to the US tune, confirming its commitment to raising defense expenditure up to 2% of GDP, spurring military build-up in Europe including the creation of two more commands, and joining the US in its anti-Iran campaign in an attempt to remake the world in its own image. So, we have the same old song and dance with the alliance remaining in full saber-rattling mode.
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Featured image of Jens Stoltenberg courtesy of NATO