Nato Military Forces Photo: Paul Peterson Nato Military Forces Photo: Paul Peterson

A US army study, ‘Is the Next Global Conflict Imminent?’, suggests NATO expansion is the key driver of tension with Russia

Fired up by anti-Russian hype, many commentators seem to have forgotten the need to question basic facts about the Skripal incident, let alone to probe the official account of the crisis between Russia and the West. They might do well to read a recently published US army study ominously titled ‘Is the Next Global Conflict Imminent?’.

The report shows that US military experts understand perfectly that it is Western foreign policy that is the main driver of tension and confrontation with Russia. 

The document, produced by the US army’s Culture, Regional Expertise and Language Management Office (CRELMO) last year, warns about the depth of the crisis in Russia’s relations with the West:

Relations between the West and Russia have deteriorated to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War, eroding geopolitical stability and damaging trade and economic relations between major global and regional powers.

Producing Paranoia

The study details the history of a Western foreign policy that since World War Two was focused more than anything on attempts to contain, and if possible destroy, Soviet and then Russian power.

It explains that this history, combined with current US and NATO policy, has created deep anxiety in Russian ruling circles. The US ‘global precision strike capability’ along with its increasing tendency to mount rapid military operations in the Middle East and elsewhere has made Russia ‘paranoid about a surprise attack from NATO or the US’. As the report says, ‘when viewed from the Russian standpoint, these fears are understandable’. In particular, it argues that NATO’s continued eastward expansion has pushed Russia into a corner:

Considering that NATO was created to counter the expansion of the Soviet Union, it is not surprising that the Kremlin views expansion as a threat. Every time a former Soviet state is incorporated into NATO, the buffer shrinks. Without that physical buffer, Western military forces move closer to Moscow, eliminating the Kremlin’s ability to trade space for time.

These elementary insights, disastrously absent from most of the current discussion of relations with Russia, lead to recommendations at moments in the report for constructive engagement and the development of shared understanding.

Dethroning Putin?

Mostly however, the document concentrates on further actions that could be useful in destabilising and undermining Russian power. In places it goes as far as suggesting regime change. Russians, the document observes:

…may soon feel the pressure of the domestic downturn. They will become increasingly vulnerable as the ruble weakens and the purchasing power at home erodes. Are the west and the US poised to take advantage of this or will we miss another opportunity?

And later:

The US and the West need to determine what they want Russia to look like, how they want it to behave and if they care if Vladimir Putin is president.

Politics & Pipelines

The report is open too about the underlying reasons for the increased Western expansionism in Eastern Europe and central Asia which is creating such a sense of threat in the Kremlin. It explains that from the 1990’s onwards “vast reserves of oil and natural gas in and around the Caspian Sea were the primary source of the US’s initial interest in the region”. This interest led to sharp competition over pipelines. In a section of the report called ‘Pipeline Politics and its Regional and Global Implications’, the report stresses the importance of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, the first in the region to bypass Russian territory. 

The pipeline which helped ensure Western control of huge gas and oil reserves dictated a policy of strengthening ‘the political and economic independence of the countries of the region from possible resurgent Russian ambitions’. 

The fact that the region is awash with resources has generated a new ‘Great Game with global and regional powers such as the US, China and Russia vying for influence in the area’.

As one of the editors of the report, Dr Ibrahimov explains, NATO expansion and increasing hostility towards Russia from the West has pushed Russia into building relationships with other regional and global powers, including China.

Estranged from the West over NATO expansionism, and especially because of the situation in the Ukraine, which led to the Western sanctions, Russia seeks closer economic and political rapprochement with China…Russia is currently seeking to create security and economic organisations that could be used to rival the existing structures such as NATO and the World Bank.

This combination of military threat and great power manoeuvring has created the most dangerous geopolitical standoff in a generation. Not really the moment then for the kind of posturing and point-scoring we have seen from Theresa May, the Tories and elements of the Labour right in the last few days.

Thanks to Nafeez Ahmed for unearthing this document.

Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.