On the war path (8) Acting Dutch government active in NATO preparations for war

The coalition of Liberals and Labour may have been decimated in the last elections, and the cabinet consigned to handling only routine matters, our defence minister, Ms Hennis, remains combative as ever. She has made herself the mouthpiece of American plans to transform NATO in Europe towards a strategy of attack. The journal, Foreign Affairs, already in early June wrote that NATO must be given the right to cross Europesan borders without formalities (in wartime, national sovereignty will of course be suspended, but for the time being military transports must still be announced in advance). A military ‘Schengen’. 23 days later secretary Hennis got the same idea! An lo and behold, an enthusiastic response to ‘her idea’ followed! 

It would all be a bit pathetic if we were not speaking about a manifest build-up to a large-scale military conflict in the Baltic states. Of this the acting cabinet of prime minister Rutte has made itself the cheerleader. On the war path!

This year alone, almost thirty large-scale NATO exercises take place in Europe, four NATO battle groups have been formed in the Baltic states, and a whole series of specific infrastructural arrangements put in place: taken together, revealing the transformation towards an offensive strategy. Last July, manoeuvres code-named Saber Guardian were held in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romenia under US direction, in which 25 000 troops from 24 countries participated. In addition, 4500 NATO troops are stationed in the Baltic states (on a rotational basis). Units of the US 2nd Cavalry Regiment are deployed at 100 miles from the Russian exclave, Kaliningrad, a remnant of the USSR hemmed in between Poland and Lithuania.

As always, military and economic concerns, especially energy interests, are involved in this development. Last year the EU decided to finance a pipeline linking Finland and Estonia, and 3 August last Poland agreed to the Baltic Pipeline that from 2020 will pump gas from Norway via Denmark to Poland. A further pipeline will connect it to Lithuania and Slovakia, both important clients of Gazprom.

Kaliningrad in this context plays a role similar to the Russian naval base of Sebastopol in Crimea: a strategic pivot from which an entire region can be dominated militarily. NATO will be very keen to end the Russian ‘occupation’ there (we are talking about former East-Prussia, captured from the Nazi’s by the Red Army in 1944).

Hence there is reason to assume that the expectation of the commander of the American troops in Europe, Hodges, that Germany will open its railway net to NATO in the case of a crisis, is well founded.

‘The Russian threat’ is meant to serve to overcome hesitations in public opinion and even among politicians.

Nobody will deny that there are tensions in the Baltic states. In Estonia and Latvia 20 to 25 percent of the population is Russian, especially in the cities: half the population of the Latvian capital, Riga, is Russian. In Lithuania a little under 10 percent are Russians. These Russians are in various ways being harrassed and limited in their civil rights by the nationalists in Power. Often these have a background as exiles in North America in the Cold War. T. H. Ilves, president of Estonia from 2006 till last year, grew up in New Jersey and worked in the US for the propaganda broadcaster, Radio Free Europe; the former Lithuanian president, V. Adamkus, also had American citizenship for 30 years and mainly worked as an officer in military intelligence. The Latvian president, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, grew up in Canada. All of them rushed back to their homelands after the collapse of the Soviet Union to lead the anti-Russian forces, with the Atlantic connection foremost in their programmes.

Anti-Russian laws that in Ukraine led to civil war, provocative parades of SS veterans and last but not least, NATO activity at sometimes a few hundred metres from the Russian border, it can all lead to unrest. But NATO stands ready. Secretary Hennis repeats American wishes as being ‘her idea’(enthusiastically received).

An acting cabinet is only allowed to manage routine affairs, the less important issues in other words. Should that include a war in Europe, a war that we must assume would be the last…?

Kees van der Pijl

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