About the author:
Einar Tangen, Senior Fellow, Taihe Institute; Founder and Chairman, China Cities Bluebook Consulting
After more than 30 years of American exceptionalism, domestic divisions, failed foreign policy adventures, massive military spending, and record-breaking deficits, the United States is intent on shifting part of the cost, if not decision making, of the “Policeman of the World” role to NATO. What does this mean over the short- and intermediate-term for the U.S., NATO, and the world?
The fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, brought the Cold War era to a close, but rather than ushering into a period of peace and tranquility, for the United States, it birthed an uninterrupted series of conflicts and wars. Countries and areas in Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, Sudan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Maghreb, Gulf of Aden, Pakistan, Indian Ocean, Libya, Uganda, Syria, Yemen, Iran, and now Ukraine, became battlegrounds, some only once, others on multiple occasions. The lack of success of these actions, politically and economically, can be measured in the divisions and insecurity of the world today.
Through each of these misadventures, there was the certainty of American exceptionalism, the belief that the United States is superior to other nations because of its exceptional history, that it has a unique mission to transform the world, and that any damage done to innocent individuals, peoples, or nations is justified collateral damage for the greater good of maintaining global order and preventing another world war. So, no apologies have been made to the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, or to any of the other countries or peoples, whose lives and futures have been lost because in the Washington mindset, they were regrettable, but acceptable, losses.
Today, America lives in a “post-fact,” “post-hypocritical” world, when the US government invokes the need for “international standards” and the “rule of law” while refusing to acknowledge either the International Criminal Court it helped create, or the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that it seeks to enforce against others but refuses to sign (the larger irony being, the treaty was a global response to America’s desire to enlarge its maritime borders), or when the U.S. unilaterally repudiates international treaties like the Kyoto and Paris Climate accords and the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and then makes claims about the desire to uphold the international “rules-based order” while invading countries, engaging in human rights abuses, and accusing others of doing what it has done, and continues to do so. In the end, it becomes a hypocritical sham to many countries and people who see America as not a principled country that leads by example, but as an empire that preaches values it does not practice.
The social, economic, and political divides in America have manifested themselves in polarized views about guns, racial violence, abortion, voter suppression, increasing economic disparity, Trump, consistent leadership failures at home and abroad, and the very cohesion of the country.
After the Uvalde Texas shooting massacre, it is hard for people to believe that the police will protect them or their children.
The drumbeat of young black men like Jayland Walker, who was shot 46 times by police officers, the lopsided incarceration of black men at a ratio of 5 to 1, and the open fear and hatred towards immigrants of color add to distrust in the police and society when it comes to the color of one’s skin.
The politicization of the Supreme Court based on odd “Originalist” legal theories, promoted by conservative ideologues has resulted in voter suppression of minorities and the loss of women’s right to control their own bodies.
Economic disparities continue to worsen, as of 2022, the top 10% controls 69% of the wealth, while the bottom 50% has only 2.8%.
Trump’s bold-faced lies about winning the election continue to be believed by the majority of Republicans. And while the Jan. 6 Congressional hearings are taking a toll, he is still favored as the 2024 Republican presidential candidate by 49% of Republicans.
Trump, as an elected leader, points to an even deeper issue related to the continuing failure of American leadership in domestic and international matters due to arrogance and a lack of preparation. Then the devastating economic consequences, which saw a 19.2% contraction of the US economy from the 4th quarter of 2019 to the 2nd quarter of 2020, marking the worst recession in US history. The poorly planned stimulus program that followed missed the mark for many and instead contributed to America’s current inflation problems, and the Federal Reserve leadership, which believes you can solve food and energy shortages with fiscal and monetary policies, are devastating the poor and lower middle classes.
Internationally, despite repeated assertions that Russia would go into Ukraine, Biden’s administration made no apparent preparations, once again, showing a naivete or calculated disregard for the consequences to the EU and the world, involving a conflict the U.S. set in motion; a repeat of its performances in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the other wars and conflicts mentioned above.
Finally, the unprecedented attack on the Capitol, being replayed in the House of Representatives as we speak, is a poignant reminder of how easily so many discontented Americans can be carried away by a wave of lies into being part of an insurrection.
Massive military spending and US deficits
The result of these endless wars and conflicts, external and internal, has been a financial disaster for all Americans, except the military-industrial complex. Spending on the armed forces and conflicts between 1989 and 2022 totaled over 17 trillion US dollars, adding to a US deficit that now stands at 30.4 trillion US dollars. This does not include the monies spent and actions taken in “the war on drugs,” the lives lost, or the fact that the world is less safe today than it was in 1989. Meanwhile, real wages for the lower-middle classes stagnated and their hopes for a better future for themselves and their children withered.
NATO as the new “Policeman of the World”
Following an acrimonious and unfruitful G7 meeting, NATO met from June 28th to June 30th, ostensibly to talk about the Ukraine situation, but the end goal from the beginning was to designate China as the organization’s long-term threat. A new determination to deepen “defense” cooperation with Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the Republic of Korea was announced, and coincidently all the countries were in attendance.
It was an interesting backflip for an organization established at the end of WWII to implement a defensive security agreement between European and US states against Russian attacks and to prevent another World War starting in Europe. During the Cold War, NATO’s purpose was about “deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent.” But, when the Warsaw Pact dissolved in 1991, instead of disbanding, NATO was folded into a US strategy to deter “the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere.” This quote is telling, as it clearly underlines that Russia was viewed not as a potential partner to be integrated into Europe, but as a threat that needed to be perpetually guarded against, and that the U.S. intended to maintain its hegemonic position using NATO.
It turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. In 2007, Vladimir Putin repudiated the US unipolar world order hostile to Russia in a speech to the Munich Security Conference. Based on broken oral assurances that NATO would not expand into areas of the former USSR and having had its application to NATO turned down three times, Putin had come to the conclusion that the hope he had expressed in his speech to the German Bundestag in 2001: to be part of a European “home,” was no longer feasible. Imagine if Russia had been allowed into NATO, the hostilities we face today would have never happened. Once again, a lack of vision, or one obscured by the need to have a “bad guy” to justify American exceptionalism, prevented any hope of peace.
Instead of peace, the U.S. showed the EU the economic dividends of military, political and economic supremacy in the form of targeted loans to countries that employed American contractors like Kellogg, Brown and Root, CH2M Hill, and Bechtel, and that bought American equipment from makers like Caterpillar. During the Afghan war, an average of 300 million US dollars a day was spent, and a similar amount in Iraq. American firms like KBR, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Parsons, Northrop Grumman, and the infamous Blackwater, lined up for parts of the trillions doled out, in many cases without bids. As can be imagined, the massive money involved was noted enviously by European arms, equipment, and services companies that wanted a piece of the pie.
The economic carrot of war money was not enough though to get the EU to up its military spending and oppose those to whom the U.S. deemed as adversaries. There had to be a galvanizing event, especially given the rather lukewarm EU reaction to the US unilateral withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and the JCPOA. By luck or planning, the simmering Ukraine conflict seemed like the perfect event. It would make Putin the villain, weaken Russia, and could be fashioned into a conduit for casting China as an outlier while energizing NATO into sharing the costs of assuming America’s “Policeman of the World” role. The American exceptionalism camp may have reasoned that by putting Ukraine in play, it would either result in China breaking with Russia, or create an opportunity to paint China as a conspirator, either one being a desirable outcome.
It seemed easy. Every major American intellectual from Kennan to Kissinger, including Biden and the current head of the CIA, Casey, had stated categorically that putting Ukraine in play would draw Russia into an armed confrontation. But what started under Obama in 2014, with what the Russians saw as a political putsch by pro-EU and U.S. factions and ended up with an independent Crimea, was interrupted by Trump, whose mercantilist vision only extended to casting America as a victim who needed to get paid. But, with Biden at the helm, the game was afoot. Already reeling under the failures in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, etc., the botched retreat from Afghanistan, the incompetent handling of the pandemic, and a wartime military budget, a budget which dwarfed the education budget by a factor of almost 3X, the U.S. wanted proxy countries, which would avoid US body bags for its troops, buy arms and willingly pay for them. The answer was of course to make NATO into an extension of US policy, and by policy, that meant an instrument of American exceptionalism.
The vision of a “Global NATO,” first articulated in 2006, has become a grim reality for billions of people who don’t want what the U.S. has done in South America, Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and now Europe, to happen in Asia.
What does this mean over the short- and intermediate-term for the U.S., NATO, and the world?
Ironically, the US narrative on NATO’s global role is best summed up in a November 2021 speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. He extolled that in “an age of systemic competition” where “Russia and China are undermining the rules-based international order,” NATO is needed to become “the institutional link between Europe and North America”…“to defend democracy, freedom, and the rule of law,” obviously oblivious to the ironic reality of the State Department mantra being uttered by a European who is oblivious to the costs of what he was proposing or its consequences.
Despite being months away from the latest conflict in Ukraine, China already figured into the equation. It would seem strange to identify your largest source of imports and third largest export destination as an entity that needs to be defended against. To some, the absurdity may be palpable. The idea that the EU has been somehow tricked into trading and making money by a sneaky adversary seems ludicrous on its face, but the constant daily rhetoric seems able to quash reasoned thoughts, at least for now.
In the short term
The EU has switched its dependency for food and energy from Russia to the U.S. and will be paying more for defense, possibly even more for the rebuilding and absorbing of a country whose metrics and qualifications made them a nonstarter for EU membership in 2019.
In the medium term
This comes at a time when financial pressures from poor leadership on the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the financial repercussions of stimulus payments, massive miscalculations about the effect of the conflict on food and energy prices as well as a snarled supply chain logistics, and burdensome tariffs are, and will continue to be, felt by voters. It is hard to imagine voters will be more concerned about refugees than keeping themselves and their families warm and fed with a roof over their heads.
Over the long term
Weakening your allies will not help you, even if they are your competitors if your adversaries continue to prosper.
But in the end, the optics and irony of a group of former colonial masters and their progeny, who cling to a mainly European-derived identity, ushering in a second era of hypocritical “white father knows the best,” are not going to play well with an increasingly multipolar world where people remember the first round of colonialism. So, while NATO’s role may be to maintain/resurrect the failing racial, social, economic, political, and ideological supremacy of the U.S. and the EU, it may, in the end, isolate and diminish them.
Please note: The above contents only represent the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of Taihe Institute.
This article is from the July issue of TI Observer (TIO), which is a monthly publication devoted to bringing China and the rest of the world closer together by facilitating mutual understanding and promoting exchanges of views. If you are interested in knowing more about the July issue, please click here:
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