Kevin McKenna: We need to look beyond US and NATO propaganda on Ukraine

PERHAPS the most remarkable aspect of Britain’s membership of NATO is that the UK electorate have never been consulted on it. The mutual defence clause of the NATO treaty, Article 5, commits Britain to war if any one of an unspecified number of tripwires is activated in the turbid waters of European geo-politics. This has been in place since NATO was founded in 1949. Its aims were made unambiguously clear by its first secretary-general, Lord Ismay: “to keep the Russians out; the Americans in and the Germans down”. Quite.

Even in the years following the collapse of the old Soviet empire in 1991 – removing one of His Lordship’s main pillars of NATO – the British people were simply assumed to be content with belonging to this sprawling military pact. In the three decades that have elapsed since then, 18 countries have joined NATO, with three more (including Ukraine) currently in a due diligence process.

It’s from among the punters after all that Britain will draw the bulk of its armed personnel for any military engagement.

Article 5 signatories agree “that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all”. And that if such an attack occurs it will enjoin NATO countries to take “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force”.

You might reasonably have assumed that committing British troops to so many potential theatres of war would justify some form of national plebiscite: an in/out referendum, perhaps.

Instead, western leaders rely on a fog of profound ignorance enveloping any debate about the matter. That, and the western power-houses’ deployment of anti-Russian propaganda, its favoured fall-back strategy to quieten any dissent at the back.

NATO’S apologists point to the fact that Article 5 has only been triggered once: in 2001, following the 9/11 attacks and that this was entirely appropriate … once you strip out the Halliburton opportunism; the mythical weapons of mass destruction; the decades of baiting Islam and the 20 years of regional chaos that sparked several more wars.

Underpinning it all is an assumption of moral primacy: that NATO is on the side of the angels and Russia is leading the satanic hordes.

The other great justification of NATO’s moral hegemony is that – by and large – peace has reigned supreme in Europe and the US in the 73 years since its founding (apart from that little local trouble in the Balkans). Well; perhaps … it’s just that the western moral guardians have made a habit of staging their wars elsewhere. After all, there’s a lucrative global weapons and re-construction sector to think about. There needs to be action somewhere.

Yesterday, Jens Stoltenberg, the current NATO secretary-general, held the line that NATO’s accumulating presence in the Ukraine/Russia border region was essentially a benign one, and that it was Vladimir Putin’s attitude that was unconscionable.

“The paradox,” he said “is that Putin went into Ukraine in 2014 because he didn’t like to have NATO close to their borders. The more aggressive they are, the more NATO they’ll get at their borders with an increased presence in the eastern part of the NATO alliance.” So, there we have it: President Putin wasn’t entitled to regard the encroaching presence of a massive military alliance with an historic anti-Russian agenda as aggressive.

Grown-up diplomacy sometimes requires you to walk a few miles in the shoes of the other side. The slurry of propaganda which has built around heightening tensions in Ukraine travels on the assumption that President Putin is a monomaniacal tyrant obsessed with restoring the territories of the old Soviet empire. This may be a reasonable analysis, but it requires us also to overlook several inconvenient truths.

It asks us not to look too closely at our own dirty laundry as one of the world’s main exploiters of the global trade in sales of weapons to repressive regimes. Pre-Covid, the Government’s own figures revealed that in 2019 the UK sold £1.3bn worth of weapons to more than half of those 48 regimes described as “not free” by US monitoring institutions.

It also requires us to discard reasonable Russian feelings of insecurity after its old empire fell 30 years ago. It’s one thing to watch all your former territories begin to disappear, but something else again to see them – one by one – joining a military alliance expressly set up to keep you out. And besides; the concept of ‘keeping Russia out’ kind of loses its moral authority when, for the last 30 years, you’ve been marching right up to its borders.

And it beseeches us not to look too closely at the overseas records of Russia and the US. Writing in the Washington Post, Katrina van den Heuvel said that the US has “about 800 military bases outside the United States,” whereas “Russia’s only military bases outside the former Soviet Union are in Syria”.

The journalist’s observations are in the same vein as those of Arno J Meyer, a professor of history at Princeton, in an essay that followed the 9/11 attacks. “Since 1947 America has been the chief and pioneering perpetrator of ‘pre-emptive’ state terror, exclusively in the Third World and therefore widely dissembled.” He added that Washington had resorted to political assassinations, surrogate death squads and “freedom fighters” like Osama Bin Laden.

“It masterminded the killing of Lumumba an Allende,” he said “and it unsuccessfully tried to put to death Castro, Khadafi and Saddam Hussein and vetoed all efforts to rein in not only Israel’s violation of international agreements and US resolutions but also its practice of pre-emptive state terror.”

Perhaps it might be wise to heed the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky who has played down the threat of war and rebuked the western powers for jeopardising his country’s economy by heightening tensions in the region. Mr Zelensky said on Saturday that the “destabilisation of the situation inside the country” was his chief concern.

It would also be wise to ignore anything that the SNP’s Westminster NATO fetishists might have to say about the crisis. For them, it’s less about geo-politics than about securing a tidy sinecure when their unremarkable political careers are over.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.

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