Can COVID-19 Take Down NATO?
The Pentagon insisted on going ahead with provocative NATO war games near Russia’s borders, despite the coronavirus epidemic, but Germany pulled its forces out and closed its roads to troop movements.
“The virus will spread on the more than 800 US bases strategically scattered around the globe, causing worry and fear in the local communities surrounding them.”
DEFENDER Europe 20 , NATO’s latest anti-Russian war games, began in February and was scheduled to continue into June. The games would have been the largest rehearsal for transferring US troops from the US to Europe since the mid-1990s. However, on March 13, the German army announced that it would not participate and withdrew its troops for fear of spreading the coronavirus.
The equipment for the US armored brigades was to be unloaded at ports in Belgium, Holland and Germany or from warehouses in Belgium and Germany. The plan was that 1500 German troops would transport it across Germany in convoys and by rail to training grounds in Germany and Poland in 50 days, but Germany’s withdrawal stopped the supply line.
The AFP news agency reported that further transfer of American soldiers from the US through German airports has also been stopped, so the military drills near Russia’s European borders are effectively over for now.
On March 11, two days before Germany withdrew from DEFENDER Europe 20, Norway’s armed forces canceled Cold Response, more anti-Russian war games, that would have deployed 15,000 NATO and allied soldiers. The Norwegian military said that they were canceling because of the “out of control coronavirus.”
I spoke to Bruce Gagnon, coordinator and co-founder of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, about the NATO shutdown.
Ann Garrison: Bruce, do those of us who are not fans of US/NATO wars have reason to celebrate?
Bruce Gagnon: I’d not call it a moment to celebrate under the circumstances. But we should feel good that peace movements around the world supported this demand to shut down these irresponsible war games by US/NATO. Now our focus must shift to the Asia-Pacific where again the US is promoting a huge naval war game called RIMPAC aimed at China, North Korea and Russia. NATO is expanding into the Asia-Pacific region, intending to become a “global alliance” with a broader interventionist mission. So we all must keep our eyes on that ball as well.
AG: Do you think it’s likely that Germany and Norway, and perhaps other NATO nations, will begin to withdraw troops from various US/NATO interventions inside and outside Europe as well?
BG: Depends on how long the virus pandemic continues and the resulting level of economic collapse. Interventions cost money and NATO members are going to be economically hurting by the time this virus is defeated. So they shouldn’t be in a hurry to intervene anywhere. Also, the sanctions on Russia have hurt many European economies; Italy, Germany and France have been the most outspoken against them. There are many reasons why more and more NATO members are questioning the value of the “alliance.”
Which countries are assisting others during this pandemic? China, Cuba, and Russia are all helping other nations from Iran to Italy, Thailand to Nicaragua. And what is the US doing to help anyone else? Nothing that I know of, and in fact it’s making things worse by continuing to sanction Iran and Venezuela during the pandemic.
“More and more NATO members are questioning the value of the “alliance.”
The US is even doing a poor job of helping its own population, which has become largely superfluous to Mr. Big. And people remember these kinds of things. Europeans are figuring out that the US is a morally and spiritually bankrupt nation and that’s no doubt dawning on Americans who see the scarcity of medical equipment and the abundance of lethal weapons here.
Hopefully, the COVID-19 crisis will reveal the real threat to our safety: neoliberal austerity that destroys national health care, environmental protection, and everything else of real value.
AG: If that happens, isn’t pressure to withdraw US troops likely to build as well, especially if coronavirus begins to spread among them? Soldiers generally live and work in close quarters, as do prisoners, and many prisoners who should have been released a long time ago are now being released to stop the pandemic inside prison walls.
This week DefenseOne.com published a story of the first case on a US naval ship, in which it said that “the warship’s leaders ordered dozens of senior enlisted sailors and officers into a cramped room on the ship to brief them on the crisis and proper social distancing,” thus demonstrating how hard it may be for the Navy to limit coronavirus spread aboard its ships.
BG: Yes, good question. Just as various ports of call turned away holiday cruises because they were laden with the virus, nations will at some point begin to turn away the hundreds of US warships transporting the virus. The virus will spread on the more than 800 US bases strategically scattered around the globe, causing worry and fear in the local communities surrounding them. None of this will help the image of the USA, especially if Washington is as slow to deal with the virus within the US military as it has been all over the US.
AG: Reading about this I get the idea that the war games would have proceeded as planned if US commanders had their way. Do you agree?
BG: If there had been no public outcry, the Pentagon would likely have tried to macho their way through it for as long as possible. Fortunately, there was an outcry—not just from the public—but also from heads of governments like Germany’s. The German Bundeswehr’s pullout meant a halt to most of the supply line of military equipment and weapons for the exercises, not only because German troops would not be involved but also because German roads wouldn’t either.
AG: It’s my impression that Poland, which did not announce a withdrawal, is currently very right-wing, very anti-Russian, pro-NATO and pro-US, and that they’ve even complied with Trump’s demand that they spend at least 2% of their GDP on weapons. Would you guess that’s why they were willing to stay in DEFENDER Europe 20?
BG: Poland is currently a total lackey of the US. Their government requested that the Pentagon build a military base inside Poland and even offered to pay for it. The US has installed a huge weapons hub there near the Russian border. One key reason for the war games was to move massive amounts of additional heavy weapons from the US to Poland for eventual use. Poland has made their people a target in any hot war between the US/NATO and Russia. Lately, however, some in Poland are calling for a better relationship with Moscow. Lech Walesa, former Polish labor leader, Nobel Prize winner, and the first elected President of Poland after the fall of the Soviet Union (1990-1995), has been one such voice reaching out toward Moscow. The power of the US to control the chessboard in Europe is indeed fading, and even nations like Poland will eventually have to see the writing on the wall and cut the umbilical cord with Washington.
AG: I’ve been told that a significant number of people in Germany do not want to antagonize Russia, but that antagonism between Germany and Russia is important to power players in the US. What do you think?
BG: Germany is an interesting case study. After World War II and Hitler’s defeat, the US’s Operation Paperclip brought more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians, such as Wernher von Braun and his V-2 rocket team, to the US. One of the Nazis the US brought here was Lt. Gen. Reinhard Gehlen. He was head of the “Wehrmacht Foreign Armies East” military intelligence service on the eastern front during World War II. He was brought to Washington where he helped create the CIA which used Gehlen’s “ratline ” of contacts inside eastern European areas controlled by the Soviet Union. The US used these “assets” to internally destabilize the Soviet Warsaw Pact Bloc. They were among the causes of Stalin’s deep internal paranoia and ruthlessness.
After the CIA had downloaded Gehlen’s brain, they shipped him back to Germany. He was put in charge of the CIA’s new partner, the West German “Federal Intelligence Service.” So almost as soon as the war was over, West Germany came under the control of the Washington Deep State. That has made it difficult for Germany to be a sovereign nation ever since.
Vladimir Putin has a great friendship with Gerhard Schröder, the German politician who served as Chancellor of Germany from 1998-2005. Schröder has been a strong voice for ending the New Cold War hostility toward Russia from the West.
Many business leaders in Germany speak openly about ending the sanctions on Russia that have hurt the German economy badly. Washington’s drive to “full spectrum dominance” expresses its desire to control every level of every other nation’s affairs.
AG: Do you think that this difference, or much of it, is about the natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, given that the US fossil fuel industry would rather Germany buy its liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipped across the Atlantic?
BG: That is no doubt a big factor in the current drama. US fracking corporations want to ship LNG over to Europe at higher prices than Russian gas can be transported via pipelines. Most Europeans laugh at the thought. Following the US-directed coup in Ukraine in 2014, and the installation of a right-wing/Nazi-backed government, the US pressured Kiev to sign a deal to purchase US LNG instead of gas from neighboring Russia. Ukraine’s economy is in collapse as Western interests hollow it out. Even the rich topsoil in Ukraine, once the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, is being sold to Western corporate interests.
AG: Do you think Germans who’d rather Germany get out of NATO anyway saw COVID-19 as an opportunity and played a significant role in Germany’s withdrawal from DEFENDER Europe 20?
BG: In a poll in 2018, 42% of Germans wanted the US troops out of their country, while 37% wanted them to stay. In the same poll it was reported that Germans felt more sympathy for Vladimir Putin, 36%, than Trump, 6%, while 58% said they didn’t know or else didn’t answer. So attitudes are changing and this pandemic will only accelerate that.
AG: Russia borders the European nations of Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. It looks like all these nations are NATO members except Finland, Belarus, and Ukraine, and Finland plans to join in 2025. In Belarus , there seems to be a tug-of-war far less reported than that in Ukraine, with Belarus still identifying as a strategic ally of Russia. Could you talk about the significance of the Belarusian buffer zone and the Ukrainian proxy war?
BG: Belarus is key. Attacks on Russia have always come through Ukraine and Belarus. The US has destroyed Ukraine and is now working to draw Belarus into its hip pocket. Belarus is using the current “love” from Washington to get more economic concessions from Russia. The US would be thrilled to take control of Belarus. Look at where it is on the map.
I have followed the coup in Ukraine since it began in 2014. In 2016 I went to Odessa along with Regis Tremblay and Phil Wilayto to stand with the mothers of those who were killed by Nazi death squads in the Odessa Trade Union Hall soon after the coup in Kiev. The only people ever sent to jail for those assassinations were the victims’ relatives, but the new “democratic” government and its henchmen were responsible, and they were both funded and directed by the CIA.
The US is using Ukraine to demonize Moscow and destabilize the Russian border while at the same time robbing it blind. Sadly, few in the West clearly understand the US-NATO destabilization plan all around Russia.
Anyone inside of Ukraine—particularly in the Donbass region right on its Russian border—who dares stand up against the US puppet government in Kiev or supports the breakaway republics in Lugansk and Donetsk is called a Putin-lover. The coup in Ukraine was an Obama operation carried out by Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the State Department’s Victoria Nuland.
AG: Which of the NATO member nations have US/NATO bases and/or weapons installed on their Russian borders?
BG: Poland of course has a US base as does Norway, and both have Russian borders. The US often holds war games in northern Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Pentagon war games regularly go on in the Baltics, creeping right up to the Russian borders in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. How are the Russians to react?
The US has also installed missile launch bases in Romania and Poland that could fire first-strike, nuclear-capable cruise missiles that would reach Moscow in 10 minutes. The US is also building up its military connections in Georgia to gain another strategic leverage point against Russia. And there’s much more US/NATO military aggression aimed at Russia than what I’ve just shared.
Fort Russ News is a good website for tracking this. US Army Special Forces from Ft. Carson, Colorado, are rotated in and out of western Ukraine to a base where they train Ukrainian soldiers. They are then sent off to eastern Ukraine, along the border with Russia, to attack their Russian-speaking fellow citizens in the Donbass region.
AG: Do you know how many nuclear weapons NATO has installed near Russia’s borders and where they are?
BG: The US/NATO have bases in five countries in Europe that store about 150 airplane-delivered nuclear bombs (B61 warheads). Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Turkey each host such facilities. At other US Navy and Air Force bases throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Asia-Pacific, the US has the capacity to go nuclear in a flash with either Russia or China.
AG: And does Russia have equivalent force, including nuclear force, on their side of these borders?
BG: Yes, Russia can match the US in nukes and has even gone farther in new technologies like hypersonic missiles. For more than 10 years Russia and China have been warning Washington that continued missile deployments along their borders—on land and onboard Navy Aegis destroyers—jeopardize all negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Russia and China have both renounced first-strike use, and their nuclear forces are for retaliatory purposes only. They have no scenarios for a nuclear first strike on Europe or the US. The US is the only nuclear power that refuses to renounce first-strike nuclear attacks. Its military actually holds war games that include nuclear first-strikes on Russia and China. The Space Command annually calls their first-strike war game the “Red Team vs. the Blue Team.” Space technology already enables and directs all US military operations, and now we’re told that we need Trump’s Space Force. The goal is total domination of earth and space on behalf of Western corporate capitalism.
Star Wars will be the most expensive industrial project in human history. The aerospace industry has directed its Washington lobbyists to identify “dedicated funding sources” that could be used to pay for it, and they have: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the rest of the social safety net that’s already in tatters.
AG: Are nuclear weapons on NATO’s Russian borders any greater threat than nuclear weapons that could be launched from Germany, from other European nations, or even from within the US or Russia? I last read that it would take an ICBM launched in the US 30 to 35 minutes to reach Russia. Could you help us understand this?
BG: The closer a military has its weapons to their declared “enemy” target, the quicker and easier it is to hit them. That makes a decapitating first-strike more tempting to the US top brass. The Pentagon has this capability in place all over the world with its 800 military bases.
All the nuclear nations can destroy one another with nukes many times over. The ABM Treaty outlawed “missile defense” because this so-called “shield” could be used after the first-strike “sword” is plunged into another nation. “Missile defense” is a vital component of first-strike planning. Getting rid of the ABM Treaty led to even worse destabilization of the “balance of terror.”
George W. Bush walked away from the ABM treaty with Russia and escalated funding for “missile defense.” Obama then began the ongoing “missile defense” deployments encircling Russia and China. Russia responded with hypersonic weapons that can get past the US “missile defense” shield. It’s all an unfathomable waste of money and very dangerous.
AG: DEFENDER Europe 20’s sweeping rehearsal for the transfer of US troops to Europe seemed to assume the possibility of an all-out shooting war between Russia and NATO, insane and infectious as that sounds, coronavirus or no. Can you share any thoughts on that?
BG: Russia has been invaded over and over again in its long history. Their military is oriented toward defending their vast territory. Sweden has invaded Russia dozens of times. Napoleon and Hitler both failed to take control of Russia in wars that cost incredible numbers of lives.
More than 27 million Russians died defeating the Nazis in World War II. In contrast, the US lost only 500,000.
The West wants control of Russia’s vast resources and its landmass. Now, with global warming and the melting of the Arctic ice, Western oil interests want control of the region, but Russia happens to have the largest border with the Arctic. The RAND Corporation produced a study that calls for balkanizing Russia, breaking it into smaller countries that are easier to seize and control. It’s insane but that is what Washington’s CIA-run foreign policy is all about.
This is the reason for the constant demonization of Putin and Russia. Even many so-called progressives fall for it and become unwilling to look at the larger geostrategic issues that drive the US’s ceaseless efforts to take down Moscow.
Russia’s attitude is, “We don’t want war, but if you attack us, we will hit you back with everything we’ve got.” Putin often asks, “What kind of a world would it be without Russia?”
Westerners know little about Russia’s long history and culture. Needless to say, their dismissive arrogance does not endear Russians to us.
Russia cut their military budget during the last two years, moving the money into social and infrastructure development, but at this point, their new hypersonic missiles are more advanced than anything the US has.
AG: OK, getting back to the coronavirus pandemic, how do you see NATO and the US military operating if the pandemic lasts just another three months, another six months, or even a year or more? Some are saying that everything will be different and less globalized when it’s over, the more so the longer it lasts. Is there any chance that will include reducing global US troop deployment on 800+ military bases?
Can the drone bombing continue with minimal deployment? Could the expectation of future pandemics become a sick and twisted argument for weapons in space?
BG: My mind is racing with theories about what is going on at present with the virus and global economic shutdown.
AG: You’re not the only one.
BG: Is the Deep State pulling these strings? Is COVID-19 a bioweapon produced in either the US or China? And if not, could it have leaked from a US or Chinese lab?
Will the US military be used to contain a hungry and angry populace here at home that at some point rebels, as in “The Hunger Games ”? Will the virus infest the US military to a point where they are all under quarantine? Virtually anything is possible at this point.
The Deep State doesn’t give a damn about the young people who join the military primarily to get a job.
Here in Maine, just 10 miles from where I live, we have the Bath Iron Works (BIW) Shipyard owned by General Dynamics, which employs 6,700 workers. The machinists union there fears the worst from the virus and has asked that they all be allowed to go home on paid leave. The company says they could go home unpaid or use up their vacation time. The first positive test for the virus surfaced at BIW on March 23, but the company is still refusing to back down. Neither General Dynamics nor the Pentagon give a damn about these workers.
So, like other nations with US bases, our local population feels threatened by the local military production facility at BIW. Even the workers who depend on it for their livelihood are afraid. People must begin to reevaluate the utility of US bases and weapons manufacturers and reflect deeply on their cost and their true mission.
We’ve been calling for the conversion of BIW to build commuter rail systems, offshore wind turbines, tidal power systems and more to deal with our real problem: climate change. Studies show that if we made such a conversion we’d also get more jobs as a result.
The US military and economic empire is itself a deadly virus. It sucks the wealth and life-blood out of its host nations, including the US, but the world is waking up. Hopefully it won’t be too late.
Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.