A Europe with a German profile
Meanwhile… how has England fared?
Are the Russians… out or defeated?
Conservatives and socialists
The Russian threat
NATO prepares for war

By Gilberto Lopes

“Americans in, Russians out, Germans down”. This is how Lord Ismay – Hastings Lionel Ismay, 1st Baron Ismay, British Army General, first Secretary General of NATO (1952-57) – defined the aims of the organization, founded in 1952 at the height of the Korean War and the beginning of the Cold War.

As Victor Davis Hanson, a historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and author of the book The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, warns, Lord Ismay did not mean leaving out the Soviet Union (which once tried unsuccessfully to join NATO), but the “Russians”. Nor East Germany, or the Nazis. Simply the “Germans”.

In an article published in July 2017, Hanson argued that Ismay understood that, caught between Germany and Russia, Europe needed a powerful external ally to prevent further conflict. That ally was the United States, then tempted to isolationism by the risk of getting involved in another European war. A concern that Trump’s eventual triumph next November will once again arise.

What Hanson does not say is that preventing the emergence on the European continent of a power that could challenge London was always a key objective of modern British foreign policy.

For some reason, Hanson would say, both former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1979-90) and Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1985-91), viewed German unification in 1989 with concern. To Lord Ismay, Thatcher, and Gorbachev alike, a divided Germany seemed safer.

Although today, in many respects, Germany is in many ways a “model of democracy”, one should not forget certain “roots” that suggest history could repeat itself, Hanson added. General Ismay did not fail to recall the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, nor Germany’s role in the two world wars.

A Europe with a German profile

NATO’s goal of keeping “the Germans down” was not achieved. German unification in 1990 and Brexit, approved in a referendum on 23 June 2016, by which Britain decided to leave the European Union, are two expressions of this failure.

Fourteen years before Brexit, on 1 January 2002, the euro, the single currency that Britain never adopted, had come into circulation in twelve European states. Even then, Britain was beginning to withdraw from a Europe that was becoming increasingly organized along German lines.

The euro was the backbone of this construction. A common currency that avoided the appreciation of a national currency, such as the mark, makes exports more expensive for a country with a growing trade surplus, as was the case with Germany.

The German central bank effectively controlled European finances, says Hanson. The impoverished Mediterranean economies were tied to the German economy, which saw Brexit as “an intolerable affront to its leadership”.

Analyses of the euro’s effect on European economies abound and it is not possible to analyse it in detail here. I suggest the text by Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics and author of the book “The Euro. How the common currency threatens Europe’s future”, published in 2017. For Stiglitz, to save the European project, the euro had to be abandoned. The euro has made the weaker countries even weaker and the stronger ones stronger, says Stiglitz. Germany’s GDP, which was 10.4 times that of Greece in 2007, became 15 times that of Greece in 2015.

Adam Tooze, a British economic historian, pointed out in Foreign Affairs magazine in September 2012 that Germany’s growth was unsustainable because much of its surplus was achieved at the expense of the current account deficits of European countries in crisis.

Germany saw the huge trade surplus – which it had enjoyed since 2000 – as a way to return to the old post-World War II glory days. But then, Tooze says, they invested in the country. In 2012, Germany was investing more abroad than at home. In that sense the surplus was not a repeat of the post-war growth model, “but a sign of its decay”.

Perhaps in no other scenario was this ‘German’ Europe portrayed more dramatically than in the conditions imposed on Greece in the renegotiation of its debt in 2015, with German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble (2009-2017) playing an aggressive role in imposing drastic cuts in public spending, privatizations and the obligation to make it pay every penny of the debt. Eurozone governments did not even want to see a renegotiation, a relief of the Greek debt.

Gradually it became clear what this was all about. The IMF had decided to protect the affected banks, mainly Germany and France, exposed to Greek debt. The Greek economy was sacrificed to save the euro project and the Northern European banking system.

Mario Draghi, then president of the bank, acknowledged that eurozone countries made a profit of 7.8 billion euros thanks to the conditions they imposed on Greece in the renegotiation of its debt. Berlin earned around 2.9 billion euros from the Greek crisis, thanks to its share of the profits generated by the European Central Bank’s (ECB) program to buy Greek debt securities.

Meanwhile… how has Britain fared?

In 2018, British Prime Minister Theresa May was negotiating with the European Commission the arrangements that would govern Britain’s exit from the European Union, following the June 2016 referendum.

“At Theresa May’s famous Downing Street dinner with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister argued that they should commit to making Brexit a “success”. A perplexed Juncker reminded her that this was impossible because both sides would lose out.

Luxembourg’s Juncker was the same man who, together with Germany’s Schäuble, had raged against Greece three years earlier in the debt renegotiation.

In November 2022 the Bank of England warned that the UK faced a “very challenging” scenario for its economy and that unemployment would almost double by 2025 from 3.5 percent to almost 6.5 percent. While it would not be the deepest recession in its history, it would be the longest since records began in the 1920s, the central bank said.

Rishi Sunak’s conservative government was announcing further spending cuts and interest rate hikes. The Labor opposition warned that families would not be able to bear these increases, that food prices and energy bills were rising, and that they would now face higher mortgage rates.

Even then, the British press reported that millions of people were being forced to skip meals (or go the whole day without food). One in four households with children was experiencing food insecurity.

In October 2022, the BBC published an article entitled “Rats, bones, and Mud: The Famine Foods Desperate People Are Eating to Survive”. “People are eating pet food and heating their food with candles,” said another article, two months later, in a commentary on the effects of inflation in the UK.

With the economy virtually stagnant, the IMF forecasts GDP growth of 0.6 percent in 2024. The OECD projected a contraction of 0.4% in 2023 and a more modest growth of 0.2% in 2024.

An Observer opinion poll found that 41% of respondents thought that Britain had become less influential over the last ten years. 19% thought it had become more so. 35% thought Brexit had made it less influential, compared with 26% who thought the opposite.

The European Commission’s forecasts for the region’s economy are not optimistic either. “Significant stagnation in the EU throughout 2023 translated into weak momentum going into the new year. [The EU economy entered 2024 in a weaker-than-expected situation and the latest indicators do not suggest an imminent rebound”.

This was not the scenario imagined by the British when NATO was created 75 years ago.

Are the Russians… out or defeated?

It is no longer a question of keeping the Russians out of NATO, as Lord Ismay had suggested. Now the goal of NATO member states is to defeat Russia. Something far more ambitious… and dangerous.

The post-war era is over,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told a meeting of the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) in Bucharest, Romania. “We are living in new times: a pre-war era. Either we fight to protect our borders, territory, and values, to defend our citizens and future generations, or [we accept] the alternative which is defeat.”

Defeating Russia “is indispensable for the security of Europe”, the French president also believes. “Europe is on the warpath”, two correspondents of the Spanish daily “El País” enthused. “More ammunition, more arms production, greater investment and coordination in defense capabilities.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, assured the European Parliament that “the threat of war may not be imminent, but it is not impossible”. For Spanish journalists, this is one more granite, a contribution to the paradigm shift, a warning to European citizens to prepare themselves mentally for war, as the Swedish government, which has recently joined NATO, has called for.

What kind of war should European citizens be preparing for, we in Latin America and the rest of the world should be asking ourselves. Are those who want to prepare for a war between Russia and NATO in their right mind? Who are they talking about the need to produce more ammunition or a paradigm shift? What ammunition are they talking about, what paradigm?

For Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the pro-war camp is very strong in Europe. Putin has reiterated that he has no intention of waging war with NATO, which will inevitably be a nuclear war.

Some think that by further militarizing Europe and moving NATO’s borders closer to Russia we will all be safer. Von der Leyen’s warning, say the Spanish journalists, is only the latest in a string of “striking statements warning of the risk of Russian President Vladimir Putin attacking a European country”.

The warnings are in the same tone, never precise: “Our experts predict that this could be within five to eight years”, according to German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius. For Danish Defense Minister Troels Lund Poulsen, the hypothetical attack could happen even sooner.

Conservatives and socialists

Journalists are enthusiastic about what they see as “a historic step” by the EU to support Kyiv militarily with intergovernmental funds. Or that the European Investment Bank will change its lending policy “to finance companies that manufacture arms and ammunition”.

The West has progressively increased its involvement in the war: it supplies long-range artillery, advanced air defense systems, tanks, cruise missiles, and satellite intelligence.

For the head of Estonia’s intelligence service, the Kremlin is “probably” anticipating a “possible” conflict with NATO in the next decade, “or something like that…”. “The defense ministers of Denmark and Germany have also warned that Russia could attack NATO in less than a decade”.

“We are at the dawn of a new, more turbulent, and more difficult era,” says Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen at the European Socialists’ congress in Rome. Putin is the “great destabilizer”. “Russia attacks where it smells weakness”. It is therefore a question of joining forces against him.

It is the same congress where the Luxembourger Nicolas Schmit will be nominated as the candidate of the Party of European Socialists (PES) for the presidency of the Commission. The Conservatives will put forward the current President as their candidate for re-election. The European Parliament will be elected next June, and will then be responsible for electing the Commission’s top officials. According to the major European media, the conservatives are not only assured of a majority, but, by moving even further to the right, they will consolidate a larger bloc than the current one.

Schmit was blunt: “There can be no compromise with the extreme right, nor with those who support and protect it”. Then he adds: “We cannot accept that our children are exposed to permanent threats (from Vladimir Putin), to permanent blackmail from a power (Russia) that is an imperialist power and, by its orientations, a fascist power”.

No one speaks of NATO’s permanent advance towards Russia’s borders, of the Ukrainian Maidan of 2013-14, stimulated by the United States. Only about the “Russian threat”. “The defense of Ukraine is essential for European stability and to prevent the expansion of Russian global power. Containing Russia in Ukraine means keeping the line of contact as close to the Russian border as possible, constraining Russian expansionist tendencies,” argues four scholars from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based organization.

“Europe reasserts itself”, according to the Spanish journalists. In 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea the military budget of European NATO allies was $235 billion: 1.47% of GDP. In 2023, the amount rose to 347 billion dollars, equivalent to 1.85% of GDP. By 2024, $380 billion is expected. That is 2% of GDP. A figure already considered insufficient by European countries.

The Russian threat

Is Russia a real threat to NATO? asked Andrea Kendall-Taylor, director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, and Greg Weaver, former director of the office of the Undersecretary of Defense for policy, in a 5 March article in Politico.

They did not question it. Their article sought to analyze how NATO allies should prepare for a Russian aggression that, despite all evidence to the contrary, they considered highly likely.

Weaver and Kendall-Taylor quote former US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mike Milley as explaining that, while the costs of deterring aggression are high, the costs of fighting a major war are much higher.

They are concerned about having to fight in two theatres: Europe and Asia. This requires ensuring the ability to transport and supply their forces, by sea and air, to the battle scenarios and to have sufficient conventional ammunition to maintain their superiority.

Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Valdai Discussion Group, suggests another view of the problem. The Western ruling elite today is very different from that of previous generations, believing in its infallibility. It believes that any deviation from the political and ideological norms established after the Cold War would be “a real catastrophe for the world”. And since any compromise with the Russians would mean that, “it must be avoided at all costs”.

“The United States was unable to handle the responsibility of being the world’s sole superpower at the end of the Cold War,” Putin said at the recent Youth Festival in Sochi.

Lukyanov refers to the origin of these ideas, to the “end of history” mentality that prevailed with the end of socialism in Eastern Europe. The world seemed to be moving in a single direction, until it was confronted with a new reality, with states capable of opposing and blocking this movement.

For twenty years Russia tried to make people see the need to rearrange the international order. These warnings were ignored. The result was what happened on 24 February 2022, when its troops entered Ukraine. Russia is now trying, with military force, to force the West to revise its approach of the 1990s, to seek a new agreement on the European security scenario, says Lukyanov.

That the West’s rhetoric about the unacceptability of a Moscow victory is becoming increasingly strident is alarming. “We are entering a dangerous period”, he believes.

For Indian diplomat Kanwai Sibal, former ambassador to Russia (2004-07), EU member states are promising more weapons for Ukraine, while refusing to accept Moscow’s assertion that they have no plans to attack any NATO country. They think that by raising the level of confrontation, they will force Moscow to the negotiating table.

“This may be a serious misjudgment,” he said. Far from forcing a negotiated solution to the conflict, such a logic may lead inexorably to a confrontation between Russia and NATO.

The argument is that if Russia wins, it will attack other countries to satisfy its imperial ambitions.

“Does anyone in this room think Putin will stop in Ukraine? I guarantee you he won’t,” said Joe Biden in his State of the Union address on 7 March. The phrase reminded me of that of then Secretary of State Colin Powel who, on 5 February 2003, displayed before the UN Security Council a sample of anthrax, supposedly from Saddam Hussein’s arsenal, yet another argument to justify, a month and a half later, the invasion of Iraq.

These are false arguments, says Sibal. “Putin has been in power for 24 years, NATO has expanded five times, US troops and missiles are stationed close to Russia’s borders, without any aggressive response from Russia”. No one now explains why Russia would be interested in attacking NATO.

Putin has warned the West of the risks of its policies, especially NATO’s advance towards its borders. He did so in 2007, in his speech at the Munich security conference, and has not stopped doing so since. His last offer of a deal, in December 2022, two months before the invasion of Ukraine, was rejected.

The West believes that Moscow will not respond militarily if the West continues to increase its support for Ukraine. “This may be a serious misjudgment; it may explain why Europeans do not take due note of Russia’s formidable nuclear apparatus”. This,” said Sibal, “could drag the West, and the whole world, into the nuclear nightmare.

NATO prepares for war

Just because Russia does not have the means to achieve its neo-imperial ambitions does not prevent it from pursuing them to the bitter end, said Joschka Fischer, former foreign minister and leader of the German Greens (who now holds that portfolio again, under ex-Peacenik Annalena Baerbock).

On neo-imperial ambitions, the most recent lessons of history reveal that what Fischer attributes to Russia fits better with German behavior. Imperial ambitions have led to bitter middles, but which, repeated, can lead to the bitter end to which the German politician refers.

The European Union is no longer just a peace project. Europe must prepare for war. This program does not contradict the initial goal of preventing war in Europe, said Riho Terras, a conservative member of the European Parliament and former Estonian military commander. The European Commission has just presented a Defense Industrial Strategy together with a grant fund of at least 1.5 billion euros for a European Defense Investment Program. But much more will be needed if Europe is to create a competitive industrial complex, according to European Commission Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton. One hundred billion euros would be needed. When NATO was created, the United States was an expanding power. It was at the height of its dominance on the international stage. It controlled close to 50 percent of the world’s industry.

In 1999, ten years after the end of the Cold War, Bill Clinton (93-2001) announced that the United States had a bright and prosperous future ahead of it. It seemed certain: the country was richer than ever.

Since then, its share of the world economy, and its productivity, has been falling steadily, while its manufacturing industry and infrastructure have become increasingly obsolete.

Financial instability is just one of the problems of the Western economy, said Financial Times economic analyst Martin Wolf in his latest book, “The Crisis of democratic capitalism”. It is a long text, for a deep crisis, to which Wolf adds other factors, such as “rising inequality, growing personal insecurity and sluggish economic growth, especially after the Great Recession”.

The debate on the decline of the American empire has many edges, but it is clear that the
a country that imposed the Bretton Woods rules on the world today must strive to try to maintain them before they get out of hand.

It is the same country that made NATO the backbone of its defense policy, a belligerent organization that continues to tighten its grip on Russia, moving ever closer to a nuclear war from which its leaders seem to dream of emerging victorious.

Will we, the rest of the world, remain mere spectators of a play about our end? Will China’s mediation effort, with the early March tour of its special representative for Eurasian affairs, Li Hui, which included Kyiv, have any chance of success? Or Lula’s, or Petro’s, or Pope Francis’? The only unacceptable thing is to sit back and wait for the curtain to fall.

We won’t have a chance to applaud!