President Zelensky visits NATO in Dec 2021. President Zelensky visits NATO in Dec 2021. Photo: NATO - Flickr / cropped from original / shared under license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 linked below

The re-militarisation of the West comes with major costs, writes Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

On Thursday this week, Nato held a summit in Brussels, announcing major steps to bolster its forces in Eastern Europe and supply Ukraine with further military assistance against Russia.

The Western alliance decided to create four new battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia, which is set to bolster Nato’s troops by 40,000 in Eastern Europe.

This move is being coupled with an increase in military spending with an ambition for European states to spend 2 percent of national GDP, up from 1.3 percent in 2020.

Germany has already announced its military budget would more than double to €100 billion this year. Romania has said it will up its military budget from 2 percent to 2.5 percent of GDP.

The remilitarisation of Europe will have major implications for living standards across the continent, at a time when the costs of living are rising exponentially.

Fuel, food, and heating have already become more expensive, and we are yet to see the full effects of sanctions and the war itself.

According to the Resolution Foundation think tank, inflation in the UK could lead to a 4% drop in real household incomes in the coming year, which could be the biggest drop for almost half a century.

Military aid to Ukraine

The Nato summit this week has also upped the military ante. It reiterated that Nato has had a role in training and equipping the Ukrainian army since 2014, and underlined the recent steps in supplying and aiding it militarily.

New aid will include equipment to fight chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats. This comes after revelations that the so-called ‘Tiger Team’ in the US White House was war-gaming full-scale war with Russia.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who has had his term extended once again at the helm of the military organisation, also spoke in recent days about the Western alliance needing to strengthen its ‘deterrence and defence posture’.

The increased media pressure on Western leaders, like US President Joe Biden, to take a tougher stance on Russia is having an effect. Asked after the summit whether Nato would respond to Russian use of chemical weapons militarily, Biden refused to rule that option out.

Such moves are not designed to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine, but in fact, risk inflaming it. While Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s plea for more jets and tanks was rejected by the summit, there is no doubt that the West is ensuring that the Ukrainian army continues to inflict damage on Russian forces.

The stakes are therefore becoming higher all around. It cannot be excluded under the circumstances that the Russian army could resort to using weapons of mass destruction to decimate cities in order to gain sufficient military advantage to gain concessions from Ukraine, including military neutrality and territorial gains.

Whether that may lead to wider escalation of the war remains an open question, but the danger includes the possibility of nuclear weapons actually being used.

Regime change in Moscow

We are being taken to the brink of war in part because Nato sees an opportunity to inflict major blows on an inferior geopolitical competitor.

Although it is an imperialist nuclear power, Russia is much weaker than the West. The Russian economy in 2021 was the roughly same size as the combined economies of Belgium and the Netherlands. Its military spending amounts to less than a tenth of that of the US.

Nato hopes that economic sanctions and military setbacks may threaten Putin’s rule, thereby opening up the possibility of regime change in Moscow.

Regime change in Moscow would break up the current Moscow-Beijing axis in world politics, and aid the West in taking on China, which Washington and other Western capitals see as the real strategic competitor in the 21st century.

The West sees China as an economic superpower, but it still holds the upper hand militarily. Yet its ability to deploy military force has been hampered by its foreign policy failures in the last two decades.

Rebranding the West

It was just last year that US President Joseph Biden ended the longest war in American history and withdrew American troops from Afghanistan.

The Western failure in Afghanistan seemed to herald the end of an era. As Biden put it himself, withdrawal was ‘about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries.’

This era had started with Nato military interventions in the Balkans in the 1990s, but extended to overseeing the West’s occupation of Afghanistan since 2006, and intervening in Libya in 2011 against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

The record had gone from bad to worse, with the US-British invasion of Iraq in 2003 standing out for the chaos that it left in its wake in the country and the wider region.

Following the shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan last year in 2021, the era of Western projection of power abroad appeared to be deeply shaken, as Western politicians themselves appeared to doubt the ability of their states to reshape the world to suit their interests.

It is possible that Putin decided to launch his invasion of Ukraine because he sensed weakness in the West, and thought that the spectacular economic rise of Russia’s ally, China, would buttress his regime against the worst effects of Western sanctions.

There is no doubt that Russia’s aggression against its neighbour is contrary to international law, and that Russian territorial ambitions and wanton disregard for civilian life should be condemned.

But, even though it is too early to assess what the international fallout of this war will be, it is clear that Russia’s invasion has not gone according to plan, and has presented the Western alliance with an opportunity to morally refashion itself as the supposed bulwark against a barbarous enemy.

Zelensky’s recent statement that ‘freedom must be armed’ is aimed precisely at appealing to the New Cold War rhetoric emanating from the West. It is an example of the hypocritical and cynical politics that has brought us to the brink of nuclear war.

It is vital to oppose the Russian invasion of Ukraine and demand immediate Russian withdrawal before more blood is shed. But it is equally vital to recognise that Nato represents a threat to world peace and that ordinary people have nothing to gain from propping it up.

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Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica is a member of Marks21 in Serbia and a supporter of Counterfire. He is on the editorial board of LeftEast and teaches at the University of Glasgow.