In Leningrad in January of 1990 (it didn’t become St. Petersburg again until late that year), Vladimir Putin was still in the KGB. Only the year before he had single-handedly, Gary Cooper style, faced down a mob at a Soviet consulate in East Germany as the Berlin Wall came down.
Unbeknownst to the vast majority of Americans, and deliberately ignored by so-called Russian experts, then president George H.W. Bush and his Secretary of State, the Mephistophelian James Baker, had promised Mikhail Gorbachev that if he allowed Germany to re-unify, the United States would not expand NATO beyond the unified German border.
Bush and Baker began breaking that promise, which Gorbi was foolish enough not to get in writing, by May of 1990. Thereafter the expansion of NATO, all the way to the Russian borders, became an infected thorn in the side of the rising political strongman Putin.
Though it sounds absurd now, I had been invited to Moscow and Leningrad just after the Wall came down to help Russians build a democracy and economy as communism was collapsing. The mission of my partners and I in California was to help “our former superpower enemy build an ecologically and ethically sound market.”
We know how that turned out. Both sides failed to seize the opportunity and rise to the challenge. Instead of combining the best with the best, as we had sought, America and Russia have fused the worst with the worst in Putin and Trump.
NATO was formed as a trans-Atlantic military alliance to contain the Soviet Union following World War II. Stalin had gobbled up Eastern Europe, and the USSR was an expansionistic, existential threat to Europe and America.
But when the Cold War ended NATO’s raison d’etre also ended. Yet the idiocy and hubris of ‘the sole remaining superpower’ mentality took hold, and NATO was enlarged into an even more powerful military alliance aligned against a prostrate Russia, expanding to include the Lilliputian Baltic States.
Looked at with even a minimum of Russian perspective, NATO now appeared to be an existential threat, and Putin methodically milked that fear as he rose to dictatorial power. The presidential manifestation of America’s moribundity, Donald Trump, clearly respects, if not idolizes authoritarians, and none more than Putin, whether the Russians have anything on him or not.
The contradictions inherent in NATO’s expansion after the end of the Cold War have now come home to roost. It should have been disbanded or reduced after the Cold War, not inflated to include even the puny Baltic States. Ukraine wanted in on the gravy train too, but Putin wasn’t going to have any of that.
The only time the mutual defense Article 5 was invoked in the 70-year history of NATO was after 9.11, which was a terrorist act, a crime against humanity, not an attack on the United States by another state. That led to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. How has that worked out?
As the Washington Post reported, “After a year of haranguing by President Trump, Western leaders had agreed to his administration’s long-sought priorities on defense spending and counterterrorism — and were prepared to let him take all the credit.”
But Trump began the day by insulting and attacking NATO members before the cameras at breakfast. Trump literally doubled down, saying NATO members should devote 4% of their GDP to defense spending, instead of the 2% they had agreed upon (the US, with the most massive military in the world by far, spends 3.5%).
That’s what tyrants do, and this is what appeasement looks like.
Trump’s contradictory demand that NATO members increase their defense spending while he coddles up to Putin is diabolical. Why should Europe spend more on arms against a Russian threat when Trump views Russia as simply “a competitor?”
In a global society, the utter waste of resources on preparing for conflict and war should be painfully apparent to everyone, even the experts. But squandering billions of dollars on increasingly sophisticated military technology isn’t even a blip on mainstream commentators radar. It’s a given.
The many who are searching for a strategy, or at least a goal in Trump’s pivots and prickiness are searching in vain. Man’s self-made evil doesn’t work that way. It works through conduits of contradiction to generate chaos, since its ultimate goal is complete control and destruction of the human spirit.
Trump isn’t the source of evil, but like all tyrant wannabes, the darkest forces in human consciousness are pulling his strings.
Chaos doesn’t have to lead only to breakdown, anarchy and darkness however. It can also, if people deeply question and ignite insight together, mean opportunity for a new direction, paradigm and order.
The post-World War II international order is history. World citizens urgently need to start thinking together and preparing a genuine global order, hopefully not from the ashes of the American-built-American-torn-down international order.