Recent Foreign Affairs article unmasks NATO’s view on the shifting tides of global power
Owen Schalk / July 14, 2023
On July 10, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg published an article in Foreign Affairs titled “A Stronger NATO for a More Dangerous World.” The piece ran one day before the NATO summit in Vilnius, and it reads as a statement of purpose to the world, meant to frame the major issues that would be discussed in Lithuania: namely, the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO, the membership of Finland and Sweden, NATO’s expanding presence in Asia, and the notion that the NATO alliance is an entirely reactive one and that any and all global tensions are being driven by Russia in Eurasia and China in the so-called “Indo-Pacific.”
Stoltenberg’s arguments are so disconnected from reality that they would be comical if they didn’t portend the increased likelihood of globe-spanning military confrontation. His article is a regurgitation of the hubristic militarism that has always driven NATO, but which has been supercharged by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s economic rise.
NATO is massively enlarging its military infrastructure in Europe and beyond. The alliance’s leadership seems intent on entrenching its military presence and security alliances around the borders of Russia and China, actions which Moscow and Beijing view as aggressions. At the same time, non-Western economic alliances like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (CSO) and BRICS are leading the charge to de-dollarize world trade and encourage more South-South cooperation.
As the centre of the world economy shifts eastward, the US government’s attempts to retain its global hegemony, including through the Washington-controlled NATO alliance, appear increasingly reckless. The combative tone of the Vilnius summit, and Secretary General Stoltenberg’s global vision of a West that can do no wrong, bode poorly for both peace in Ukraine and the possibility of avoiding military conflict elsewhere.
Mimicking Joe Biden’s juvenile thesis that the world is divided into democracies (i.e., the West and its allies) and autocracies (Russia, China, and their allies), Stoltenberg entirely blames the Russian government for all destabilization in Eastern Europe, including the 2014 separatist uprisings in Ukraine’s Donbas. He claims that Putin may soon attack a NATO country, without offering a shred of evidence or explaining how Russia, which has been unable to push through the Ukrainian military, could expect to simultaneously take on Poland or the Baltics.
The necessity of tackling climate change is mentioned once in Stoltenberg’s article, and it is disingenuous, as the entire piece is suffused with glee over the fact that the US, Canada, and European nations are upping military spending and thereby pumping more fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere. NATO members’ commitment to spend two percent of GDP on their militaries is already outrageous, but according to Stoltenberg, two percent is not nearly enough. “This figure should be a floor to build on,” he writes, “not a ceiling to reach… Preventing aggression today is less costly than fighting a war tomorrow.”
By increasing military spending while stretching the supposedly “North Atlantic” alliance into Eastern Europe and Pacific Asia, NATO leaders are themselves raising the likelihood of war, seemingly at the behest of a decaying hegemon whose decline is inevitable.
Meanwhile, the global vision that Stoltenberg posits to justify militarization is so flatly ridiculous that it shouldn’t merit refutation—except it must be refuted, because it is the same worldview that leaders in NATO countries like the US and Canada are also advocating.
According to Stoltenberg, Western nations are blameless for all conflict with and involving Russia since the end of the Cold War, including in Georgia (where President George W. Bush encouraged Mikhail Saakashvili’s anti-Russia policies and abandoned him when war broke out), Syria (where the US sent $1 billion in weapons to anti-Assad rebels and allowed ISIS to grow to gain leverage over Assad), and Ukraine (where US and NATO involvement between 2014 and 2022 increased tensions with Russia enormously).
Stoltenberg claims that Russia had no material considerations for launching or participating in wars in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria, Ukraine, and elsewhere. Rather, he writes that Putin personally has a deep-seated aversion to “freedom and democracy,” and it is that disdain for supposed Western values that leads Russia to make war. According to Stoltenberg, Putin “wants a world where big states dictate what their neighbors do. This puts him in constant confrontation with NATO’s values and international law.”
This is perhaps Stoltenberg’s most ludicrous statement. It is based on a case of historical amnesia so all-consuming that one simply cannot allow that he believes what he is writing.
Just last year, when the US government was fighting in Ukraine against “a world where big states dictate what their neighbors do,” the UN General Assembly voted 185 to two to condemn the US’s 60-year blockade of Cuba, which has illegally deprived the Cuban government of $150 billion and caused medicine and food shortages and migration crises that have killed untold numbers of Cubans.
France, another NATO member, has exercised neocolonial influence in West Africa since those states secured nominal independence. The French treasury still controls the CFA Franc, the currency of many West African nations, meaning that the monetary policies of West African states are managed in Europe (although there are currently efforts in West Africa to replace the franc with the “eco,” a sovereign currency). French policies toward the smaller nations of West Africa restrict those nations’ sovereignty, regional integration efforts, economic and industrial development, and attempts at poverty alleviation.
NATO member Canada, meanwhile, has a long history of interfering in the affairs of Latin American and African states when they attempt to exercise greater control over their mineral resources, including in the Congo and Tanzania.
Canada and the US have attempted to overthrow the elected Venezuelan government, another “small neighbor,” and roll back the economic and political sovereignty Venezuela has gained under the Bolivarian Revolution.
Similarly, Canada, the US, and European nations have repeatedly invaded and occupied Haiti, including to overthrow its elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. There is currently talk of dispatching a multinational force to occupy the island once more.
Stoltenberg also ignores the illegal US invasion of Iraq, one of the 21st century’s worst crimes, which killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Overall, the US-led post-9/11 wars resulted in the deaths of 4.5 million people while displacing another 38 to 60 million. In countries affected by the US-led “War on Terror,” it is estimated that 7.6 million children are suffering from acute malnutrition. Evidently these details are of no importance to NATO’s secretary general.
Perhaps most glaringly, Stoltenberg makes no time for the NATO bombings of Serbia and Libya, which directly influenced the thinking of the Russian leadership. In particular, NATO’s bombing of Serbia, a close Russian ally, and its decision to recognize Kosovo’s independence outside the bounds of international law had a notable impact on Moscow’s attitude toward the West. The “Kosovo precedent”—i.e., a nation (or nations) ignoring international law to recognize the independence of a breakaway region in another nation—influenced Russia’s decision to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two separatist regions claimed by Georgia.
In 2022, Putin referenced the Kosovo precedent when recognizing the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk in the leadup to the invasion of Ukraine. “Very many countries of the world did this, including our opponents in the West, in respect of Kosovo,” Putin stated. “[It is] a fact that very many states of the West recognized it as an independent state. We did the same in respect of the republics of Donbas.”
When it comes to European arms control, Stoltenberg blames Putin completely for “dismantl[ing] the international arms control architecture,” ignoring the fact that it was Donald Trump who withdrew from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) treaty with Russia as well as the Open Skies Treaty.
Stoltenberg’s case of historical amnesia also extends to Asia, where he asserts that China is “threatening its neighbors and bullying other countries” while trying to “take control” of supply chains and infrastructure in Western nations—ignoring the increasingly provocative military exercises of the US and its allies in the region. He lauds the fact that “our Indo-Pacific partners,” including Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan, were invited to Vilnius to deepen their military collaboration with NATO, presumably for the purpose of pressuring China more, regardless of the consequences of such a policy.
And, maybe most recklessly, Stoltenberg declares that “Ukraine will become a member of NATO,” a promise that the actual member states seem less keen to pursue, given the fact that Ukraine has not yet been welcome into the alliance. Of course, Ukrainian membership in NATO would broaden the scope of the Ukraine war to include the rest of Europe, as according to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, an attack on one member is considered an attack on all members.
The global vision that Stoltenberg articulates in his Foreign Affairs article encourages conflict and militarization in Europe and Asia, while propounding a fantastical image of Western benevolence that has no basis in reality. The article excuses every violent and illegal action taken by the US and its NATO allies since the end of the Cold War, for the purpose of making Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seem like a war crime of unprecedented criminality and scope. By doing so, Stoltenberg is justifying the massive increases in military spending that are occurring under his tenure as NATO leader, on the unsubstantiated claim that a war-mad Russia may soon attack a full-fledged member state.
More broadly, Stoltenberg’s article shows that the Western world will continue to assert its primacy not only in Europe, but Asia as well, despite the clear desire in most of the Global South to build trade and military alliances beyond the dictates of the West. Stoltenberg’s article is thus about more than Russia and Ukraine. It is about the decline of the US and its allies, which is at this point undeniable, and the desperate efforts of Washington and its vassals to hold onto their global dominance.
In Vilnius, NATO is laying out an agenda for Ukraine, but also a plan for the world, which is fundamentally based in a rejection of historical knowledge and a denial of current realities. Given that the arguments in favour of Western supremacy are so unconvincing, it is easy to see why most of the world wants greater sovereignty, and why NATO’s only response to the shifting tides of global power is to bloviate and militarize.
Owen Schalk is a writer from Manitoba. His book on Canada’s role in the war in Afghanistan will be released by Lorimer in September. You can preorder it here. To see more of his work, visit www.owenschalk.com.