The Absurdity of NATO

The whole world knows the name Gavrilo Princip, and that of he man he assassinated, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Princip’s shot triggered the Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia that set in motion the chain of events leading to the Great War of 1914.

After Serbia appealed to Russia for help, Russia began moving towards mobilization of its army, believing that Germany was using the crisis as an excuse to launch war in the Balkans. Upon hearing news of Russia’s general mobilization, Germany declared war on Russia. The German army then launched its attack on Russia’s ally, France, through Belgium, violating Belgian neutrality and bringing Great Britain into the war as well.

Is it possible that a similar chain of events may have already begun unfurling with the Syrian downing of a Turkish F-4 fighter jet? Turkey have already invoked a full meeting of NATO,  claimed that Syria have fired on a second Turkish plane, and vowed that Syria’s actions “won’t go unpunished”.

The vast and sprawling system of national alliances that existed prior to the events 1914 were considered by policy makers of the time to be a counterbalance against excessive tension and the threat of war. The great powers created alliances ostensibly for the purpose of deterring war. The dominant view was that the potential for dragging in allies reduced the chances of an attack. In reality, it just meant that one spark could set the entire world aflame.

This is functionally the same as the interconnecting mesh of derivatives and shadow intermediation that foreshadowed the crash of 2008. As financial parties sold each other more and more “hedges“, the consensus of the time was that this made the system safer, as it allowed risk to be dissipated around the system. The theory was — and there were plenty of inaccurate mathematical models to back this up — that spreading risk around the system made the financial system safer. As it turned out, it didn’t. In the wake of MF Global and the London Whale, we know that the financial system has not learned the lessons of 2008. But it seems even more absurd that the diplomatic system has not really learned the lessons of 1914. 

The NATO system — set up to oppose the Warsaw Pact system, which no longer exists — functions the same way — rather than dissipating risk, it allows for the magnification of international tensions into full-on regional and global wars. In the late 20th century the threat of nuclear war proved a highly-effective deterrent which limited the potential for all-out-war between the great powers, offsetting much of the risk of the hyper-fragile treaty system. Yet the potential for magnifying small regional problems into bigger wars will continue to exist for as long as NATO and similar organisations prevail.

We do not know exactly what arrangements Syria has with Russia and China — there is no formal defensive pact in place (although there is one between Syria and Iran) though it is fair to assume that Russia will be keen to maintain its Syrian naval assets, a view which is supported by the fact Russia heavily subsidises the Syrian military, and has blocked all the UN-led efforts toward intervention in Syria.

After the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact was allowed to disintegrate. Until NATO is similarly allowed to disintegrate, the threat of magnification will remain large. Could a border skirmish between Syria and Turkey trigger a regional or even global war? Under the status quo, anything is possible.

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War: The Quickest Way to Kill a Protest Movement?

#OccupyWallStreet is the second incarnation of “mad as hell” since the 2008 corporatist bailouts that effectively killed American capitalism. The first incarnation — the Tea Party, initially a furious response to government bailouts of failed banks — was too easy to astroturf and transmute into right-wing ideologues spouting fire and brimstone on right-wing social issues. It was too easy to discredit for what Fox News, Judson Phillips and Glenn Beck made it into — a non-spontaneous anti-tax anti-Obama ranting brigade. The Tea Party, at least at the leadership level, ended up advocating Bush-Reagan military-industrial hegemony on steroids.

#OccupyWallStreet picks up where the original intentions of the Tea Party were strangled by Beck, Palin and Limbaugh. It’s anti-corporatist. Anti-bailout. Anti-corruption. Yes, many of the people there are old-school statist leftists who want to abolish and not restore capitalism. But there is no doubt that with the global economic apparatus largely failing to appease anyone but insiders and bankers, the hopey-changey sentiments (“we have to give Obama a chance!”) that have been keeping the revolution down can’t be silenced for long. People need jobs, prosperity, fulfilment, and (for better or worse) they’ll make mayhem until they get it.

With global youth-unemployment and underemployment soaring I only expect this movement to balloon and echo around the world. There is a danger — just like the Tea Party was co-opted into the Republican political apparatus — that #OWS will be co-opted into the establishment left. If Obama removed Geithner and hired Krugman and Elizabeth Warren, a significant chunk of the protestors might be placated — for now. But the problems sucking economies down can’t just be wished away. They can’t be solved by printing money and pumping it. They can’t be solved by digging ditches. And thanks to the creation of the internet, and the rise of Facebook and Twitter, until the system functions well enough to give the indignants what they want and need, they will keep causing a ruckus. As Reagan put it:

Information is the oxygen of the modern age. It seeps through the walls topped by barbed wire, it wafts across the electrified borders. … The Goliath of totalitarianism will be brought down by the David of the microchip.

And so it might seem this totalitarianism might be ended — and God’s workers furiously demanding as much liquidity and favours as is necessary to “save the system” (and their bonuses) with no consideration that the system might itself be the problem is surely a kind of financial totalitarianism.

Sadly, we know how that aphorism from Winston Churchill goes: that Americans will do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.

So a new war in the middle east may seem attractive to some elements of the Western establishment:

  1. Create a new post-9/11-style hard-to-question patriotism — “There’s a war on — we all need to rally together around the flag — the complainers and protestors must hate America”
  2. Put America back to work — in weapons factories, and on the front lines.
  3. Give the economy a large Keynesian injection — through war spending.
  4. Take out Iran, a powerful enemy of America — and send a threatening message to other uppity Eurasian autocracies like Russia and China.
  5. Curtail civil liberties & censor the internet — “There’s a war on — we all need to rally together around the flag — and those who don’t must be working to undermine America”
Let the war propaganda begin in 3…2…1…
The problem is, starting a new Eurasian war carries with it a whole host of risks — not least the possibility of an oil shock and a massive oil spike — and the real prospect of dragging Russia, China, India & Pakistan into the conflagration.

So would Obama authorise and support Netanyahu in instigating regime change in Iran?

Perhaps he might consider it — how else can he get a big stimulus bill through Congress, and divert attention from a failing American economy and growing civil unrest? But more worrying, I’m not even sure Obama matters.

From GulfNews:

In recent weeks, intense discussions have taken place in Israeli military and intelligence circles about whether or not to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Apparently, the key question in the debate was how to ensure that the United States took part in the attack or, at the very least, intervened on Israel’s side if the initial strike triggered a wider war.

Reports of these discussions have caused considerable alarm in Washington and in a number of European capitals. Some western military experts have been quoted as saying that the window of opportunity for an Israeli air attack on Iran will close within two months, since the onset of winter would make such an assault more difficult.

Concern that Israel may decide to attack without giving the US prior warning is thought to be the main reason for the visit to Tel Aviv on October 3 of the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta. His aim seems to have been to rein in the Israeli hawks.