Russia, NATO, Trump: The Shadow World


NATO and Russia are close to war, according to General Sir Richard Shirreff, recently NATO’s second-in-command. In 2017: War with Russia, he writes that Russia could invade the Baltic states, which are NATO members, while NATO does nothing. When crisis strikes, the British prime minister is at the pub, the Germans are paralyzed by anxiety, and the Greeks and Hungarians are in Russia’s pocket. The Americans are raring to go, but three countries have to fall before they can persuade their European partners to share their sense of urgency.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin; drawing by James Ferguson

And one could almost now say that Shirreff’s alarmism has been overtaken by events, which are conspiring to demolish even the outward show of solidarity on which NATO relies for its deterrence. Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and Turkey’s post-coup crackdown call into question the strategic direction of two of NATO’s major military powers. As for Donald Trump’s argument during the presidential campaign that America’s richer allies should pay adequately for their protection, it was a fair point in principle, but a fatal thing to say in public. It made clear that America’s commitment to NATO would not be unconditional under President Trump; and if America’s commitment is not unconditional, then fairly obviously it will not extend to nuclear war. The cat is out of the bag. Seen from Moscow, the West has not been in such inviting disarray since the Suez crisis of 1956. Whatever constraints Putin may now feel upon his land-grabbing instincts, they must be entirely domestic in nature. NATO is no longer one of them.

Shirreff was Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, NATO’s second-ranking military officer, from 2011 to 2014. Before that he was commander of NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps. He should know of what he speaks. He writes his book in the manner of a popular thriller, full of stock characters and military jargon. But he insists upon its truth to life. He says in his preface: “This is not fiction as such. This is fact-based prediction, very closely modelled on what I know, based on my position as a very senior military insider at the highest and best-informed level.”

2017 begins with a new Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Russian army sweeps westward from the pro-Russian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in the east of Ukraine to the Crimean peninsula on the Black Sea coast, already annexed by Russia in 2014. This easy conquest is three days’ work for Russia, brings it half of Ukraine, and, since Ukraine is not a member of NATO, sets off no NATO response.

Hours later, while NATO is still arguing about who lost Ukraine, Russia is moving against the Baltics. A demonstration by Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority in the capital, Riga, is infiltrated by Russian special forces who engineer chaos. Concealed Russian snipers shoot dead three protesters, creating the pretext for a Russian…

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