Last Wednesday, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) announced that it would formally join the fight against Daesh (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, a move that diplomats have labeled as symbolic. Indeed, the move is somewhat redundant, as all 28 NATO allies are already members of the anti-Daesh coalition. According to NATO Secretary-General Jen Stoltenberg, the “symbolic” gesture is intended to send “a strong and clear message of unity in the fight against terrorism and especially in light of the terrorist attacks in Manchester.”
NATO’s decision to join came at the urging of UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who urged NATO to join the coalition during last week’s NATO summit in the wake of the deadly Manchester terrorist bombing. “Our unity in responding to common threats is our most potent weapon. We must redouble our resolve to meet the threats to our shared security, whether from terrorism or Russia,” May stated.
May’s plea apparently swayed France and Germany, who agreed to endorse the move after previously expressing concerns that NATO’s formal addition to the coalition could lead to a confrontation with Russia in Syria.
While some governments have noted the redundancy of NATO’s formal bid to join the anti-Daesh coalition, May’s statement – along with France and Germany’s previously stated concerns – highlight what may well be the true motive behind this “symbolic” gesture. Indeed, NATO was formed in 1949 as an expressly anti-Russian alliance. Given that the Cold War is now in its second renaissance, this impulse has hardly gone away.
In 1990, then-Secretary of State James Baker promised the Soviet Union that in exchange for Soviet cooperation on German reunification, NATO would not expand “one inch” towards Russia’s eastern border. But in the years since, NATO has instead expanded relentlessly and aggressively, particularly during NATO’s re-mapping of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and since the 2014 Ukrainian coup.
In recent years, the Ukrainian coup – in which Western governments deposed Ukraine’s democratically elected government – saw “Russian aggression” become the new rallying cry around NATO’s militarization of Europe’s eastern border, just as it was when NATO was formed in the late 1940s.
As a formal part of the anti-Daesh coalition, NATO – as France and Germany once feared – will become more than capable of waging a covert war against the Syrian government and Russians within Syria, all in the name of “fighting terrorism.” As former British Foreign Secretary Lord David Owen warned last year, if NATO becomes “embroiled as an alliance in fighting on the ground in Syria,[…] there is a real danger of a military spillover” into a much larger war, sure to involve Russia. Now that NATO has formally announced its involvement, a wider war seems much more likely – a war that NATO is all too eager to fight.
NATO’s troop movements in recent years make this clear, as they reveal a tendency on the part of the Western-dominated military organization to pounce on any excuse for further militarizing the border between Europe and Russia. The NATO response to the alleged and still unfounded claims of Russian interference in last year’s U.S. presidential election prove this point.
Before the election results were even announced, NATO announced it would send 300,000 troops on “high alert” to Russia’s border, adding that they would be ready for deployment within two months. NATO’s reasoning was that Russia had been “much more active in many different ways.”
Russia, who had largely ignored NATO’s encirclement of its borders up until this point, was forced to retaliate, deploying nuclear missiles to Kaliningrad, its exclave between Lithuania and Poland. The U.S. subsequently announced its deployment of 4,000 of its own troops, along with 2,000 military vehicles, to the Russian border beginning this past January. This deployment breached the Russia-NATO Founding Act of 1997 in which NATO pledged not to seek “additional permanent stationing of substantial ground combat forces” in nations bordering Russia “in the current and foreseeable security environment.”
However, for NATO and its allied nations, the “security environment” has clearly changed. With May now pushing for greater foreign military intervention in Syria, NATO’s involvement assures that the conflict will grow to include Russia if the UK and its allies do eventually invade Syria.
Feature photo | Donald Trump, right, speaks to British Prime Minister Theresa May during a meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, May 25, 2017. Matt Dunham | AP