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In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, analyses the incongruences in U.S. and European foreign policy as pressure builds up for military confrontation over Ukraine.
ROME, Mar 19 2015 (IPS) - For a long time, citizens of the United States have firmly believed that their country has an exceptional destiny, and continue to do so today even though their political system has become totally dysfunctional.
The three pillars of U.S. democracy – legislative, executive and judicial – are no longer on speaking terms, so dialogue or the possibility of bipartisan policy has virtually disappeared.
In this context, to please his opponents, and with a view to the U.S. presidential elections in 2016, President Barack Obama is increasingly being pushed to act as strong guy.
This is the only reasonable explanation on why he has suddenly declared Venezuela a security threat to the United States, just months after starting the process of normalisation of relations with Cuba, a long-time U.S. enemy in Latin America and ally of Venezuela.
The country’s president, Nicolas Maduro, is extremely happy because his denunciations of a U.S. plot with Venezuela’s opposition to have him removed have now been officially justified – by no less than the United States itself. Even the New York Times, in an editorial on Mar. 12, wondered about the wisdom of such move.
The problem is that, behind Obama’s back, U.S. Republican senators are doing unprecedented things, like writing an admonitory letter to the Supreme Guardian of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, indicating that any nuclear agreement made with Obama would last only as long as he remained in office.
That letter must have made Khamenei and Iran’s hardliners very happy, because they have always said that the United States cannot be trusted, and that the ongoing nuclear negotiations make no sense.
We are now facing an extension of the concept of the exceptional destiny of the United States, in which its foreign policy can also be exceptional, not subject to logic and rules.
Across the Atlantic, what is certainly exceptional is that while Europe has practically always followed U.S. foreign policy, even when it is against its interests as is the case of the confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, the United Kingdom – which has a special relationship with the United States – is now indulging in some divergent action.
Through its Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, the United Kingdom has announced that it intends to join the Chinese initiative for the creation of an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), in which Beijing is investing 50 billion dollars. This has raised the ire of the United States because the AIIB is seen as an alternative to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, in which the United States (and Japan) have powerful interests.
Shortly after Cameron’s move, France, Germany and Italy followed, while Australia will also join and South Korea will have to do so. This will leave the United States isolated, opening up a new “exceptional” dimension – economic might (China) is more attractive than military might (United States).
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has responded to U.S. irritation by declaring that the United Kingdom is joining the AIIB because “we think that it’s in the UK’s national interest”.
Of course, Cameron is playing up to his financial constituency, which is very aware of its interest, even when it does not coincide with U.S. interest. After all, China’s share of global manufacturing output, which was three percent in 1990, had risen to nearly 25 percent by 2014.
Even worse is that Cameron has also decided to cut spending on defence and while the U.K. government currently meets the two percent of GDP target that the United States expects all members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to pay into the alliance, it has only committed itself to continuing that until the end of the current Parliament in May.
For the U.S. administration, this could be taken as a sign of weakness by Russian President Vladimir Putin who, it argues, should be put under growing pressure and shown that the confrontation over Ukraine will escalate until he backs down.
This escalation has already taken a direction that clear heads should exam with a long-term perspective. Are the members of NATO – an institution that needs conflict to justify its new life now that the Soviet Union no longer exists – ready to enter a war, just to keep making the point?
The signals are those that precede a war.
U.K. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has declared that Russia is “as great a threat to Europe as ‘Islamic States’.” Troops are amassing in the Baltic States to serve as a deterrent for a possible Russian invasion. The U.S. Republican Congress is overtly asking for the supply of massive and heavy weapons to the Ukrainian army. Hundreds of U.S. troops have been assigned to Ukraine to bolster the Kiev regime against Russian-backed rebels in the east. The United Kingdom is sending 75 military advisers.
Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, the Polish government is supporting the creation and training of militias, and plans to provide military training to any of the many Poles who are increasingly concerned that “the great Russian behemoth will not be sated with Ukraine and will reach out once again into the West.” The same is happening in the Baltic States, which all have a sizable Russian presence and think Putin could invade them at any moment.
Media everywhere have engaged in a frenzy of personal vilification of Putin and in the popular pastime of using Putin and Ukraine to justify military expansionism – to advocate tit for tat what Putin is doing.
It is difficult to look to Putin with sympathy, but this confrontation has again pushed the Russian people behind its leader, and at an unprecedented level that now stands at around 80 percent.
The Guardian has reported veteran Russian leftist Boris Kagarlitsky as commenting that most Russians want Putin to take a tougher stand against the West “not because of patriotic propaganda, but their experience of the past 25 years”, and it would be a mistake to underestimate the role that humiliation can play in history.
It is commonly accepted that Hitler emerged from the frustrations of the German people after the heavy penalties that they had to pay the victors after the First World War. The same sense of humiliation made the war of Slobodan Milosevic against NATO popular with the Serbian population.
It is the humiliation of the Arabs divided among the winners of the First World War which is at the roots of the Caliphate, or the Islamic State, which claims that Arabs are finally going to be given back their dignity and identity.
And it is also humiliation over the imposition of austerity which is now creating a strong anti-German sentiment in Greece, to which Germans respond with a sense of righteous indignation (52 percent of Germans now want Greece to leave the Euro).
Has anyone considered who is going to take over Russia if Putin goes away? Certainly not those who are now in the opposition. Has anyone considered what it would mean to take on responsibility for a very weak state like Ukraine?
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has now approved a 17.5 billion dollar relief fund for Ukraine but warned that the country’s rescue “is subject to exceptional risks, especially those arising from the conflict in the East.”
In fact Ukraine needs to plug a hole of at least 40 billion dollars in the immediate term, and economists all agree that the country does not have a viable economy. It will require many years of consistent help to reach some economic equilibrium – if there is no war.
Europe is close to recession and apparently unable even to solve the problems of Greece, but goes headlong into supporting Kiev against Russian-backed rebels. NATO can support Ukrainian soldiers up to their last man, but it is impossible that they will beat Russia. Will the West then intervene or back off and lose face, after many deaths and much waste and destruction?
A widespread view now is that sanctions should starve Russia, which will have lost its revenues from oil. What if Putin does not back down, sustained by the Russian people? Are Europeans ready to go to war to please the Republican Congress in the United States? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)
Edited by Phil Harris
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.
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