NATO’s Vilnius Summit – 30 Years of Conflict Provocations

EDITORIAL, 3 Jul 2023

#803 | Jan Oberg, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

NATO’s next summit will take place in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 11-12 July 2023. Almost on the day 26 years ago – July 8-9, 1997 – NATO held a summit in Madrid that confirmed ”The Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security Between NATO and the Russian Federation” – in other words, a permanent NATO-Russia Forum – that had been signed by Yeltsin and Clinton in Paris on 27 May.

M. E. Sarotte’s brilliant 550-page analysis ”Not One Inch. America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate” can be read as one long illustration of how the US – and thereby NATO – in reality, has operated on a big-brother, condescending and manipulative attitude to Russia. Russia was never meant to become an equal partner, and whatever Russian concerns were taken into account, decisions were made to promote US/NATO interests in what was – and remains – a de facto very a-symmetrical relationship. Russia could be bought but neither Russia nor NATO had any interest in making it look like that to the public.

Yeltsin promoted the mentioned Act as a boost for Russia; Clinton saw it as a sugar coated pill for Russia to swallow NATO expansion whether or not by consent.

The Clinton administration – rather more than that of the G W Bush – masterminded this policy. As everyone today can see it has led to a much worse and more dangerous Cold War 2.0 for us all.

What we know so far about the upcoming Vilnius Summit offers no indications that NATO has learned any lessons or re-thinks anything in the light of the Russia statements of concern over  roughly 30 years, not to speak of its war on Ukraine.

Sarotte takes the reader through all the documentation for the fact that Russia – i.e. Gorbachev – was indeed given promises that NATO would not expand ”one inch” if it was accepted that the unified Germany would be a full NATO member. It was not written into a treaty, but the ’cascading’ documentation – at the National Security Archive at George Washington University in particular – is overwhelming nonetheless.

She explains the entire process of NATO expansion policies at the time and concludes on page 261: ”Although the US President did not say so explicitly, ”not once inch” was gaining a new meaning: not one inch was off-limits to the alliance.”

Here two statements on NATO’s 2023 Vilnius Summit page: ”NATO currently faces the most dangerous and unpredictable security environment since the Cold War. How will the Alliance continue to protect its one billion citizens and every inch of Allied territory? … NATO Leaders will meet to address the most pressing challenges for the Alliance, further strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence and bring Ukraine closer to the Alliance.”

That’s where we are today. NATO knows it but does not have any moral or intellectual capacity to ask itself the one-word question: Why?

The bringing Ukraine closer to NATO, i.e. aiming at full membership – and three decades of NATO in Ukraine that consistently ignored the fact that in all opinion polls up to the invasion, only a tiny minority of the Ukrainians was in favour of NATO membership. However, almost 70% of all Ukrainians were in favour of holding a referendum to decide the future relations of Ukraine to Russia, NATO and the EU. Neither NATO nor Ukrainian leaders showed any respect for that democratic wish.

One is reminded of the former NATO SG’s reckless answer to a recent question about how he thought the Russians would react to his proposal to deploy some NATO country troops on Ukrainian territory: ”I don’t care!”

No, to put it crudely, sugar coat the expansion pill, we do not take Russia serious, only our own defined interests which are – as stated by the US Secretary of Defence: To weaken Russia militarily and, furthermore, weaken it economically so it will never be ”a problem” again. Then turn NATO’s full power towards confronting China which is stated as a challenge for the – intellectually poor but only stated reason on NATO’s homepage – that it has values and interests different from those of NATO.

This points to another trend, or strategy, which for good reasons are never highlighted in Western mainstream media: NATO’s daily violation of its own 1949 treaty provisions and its global expansion.

As for the Treaty – that few seems to ever have bothered to read – it is, for all practical purposes, a copy of the UN Charter with Article 5 about mutual defence among its European members added. Distinctly defensive in nature. The provocative – anything but ’defensive’ – alliance has broken its Treaty since 1999 when it did its first, international law-violating out-of-area operation in Yugoslavia, also based upon the lies about a genocide taking place in Kosovo and President Milosevic being, in Clinton’s words, Europe’s new Hitler.

In other words, NATO’s Treaty is about its members, and all members have to be European. At some point, expansion – the only raison d’être of today’s NATO – runs out of new members – and certainly not Russia that has since 1954 shown interest in joining NATO.

What do you do then? You invent a new category that is nowhere in the NATO Treaty: partners. NATO now has 31 members; Sweden is not mentioned by NATO in relation to Vilnius and is likely in for years of self-created troubles. But it has 39 partner states and plans to open an office in Tokyo in conjunction with its attempted containment, with AUKUS, of China and meddling – also against historic agreement – in the Taiwan issue.

Vilnius will also turn the absurd goal of members spending 2% of their GNP on the military into a floor and not, as hitherto, a ceiling. It’s absurd because a military budget should be decided according to a comprehensive threat analysis, followed by a priority discussion and never be tied to a country’s economic ups and downs.

In summary, what we are seeing is a rampant, exclusivist militarism that ’doesn’t care’ about the other side or about the consequences of its own provocative policies devoid of the capacity for empathy, prudence and statesmanship covering up for its largest hubris blunder ever by intensifying its expansion plans against all rational calculations.

There are substantial reasons – as I have argued elsewhere – to see militarism as the main factor about which NATO and EU countries try to remain united. I do not think it will succeed. A kind of latter days secular religion, a matter of faith.

Making oneself strong on one dimension while losing out on all other power dimensions – diplomacy, economy, legality, creativity, vision and culture – is a recipe for disaster. NATO no longer argues or analyses; it postulates and judges – judges everybody else.

It’s mind-boggling and deeply discouraging that this militarism is not problematised and opposed but largely tacitly accepted as the ’new normal’ in politics, media and also research – the latter basically financed by NATO governments. Apart from a tiny group of critical NATO scholars, the vitally important – for democracy – discourse about war and peace has been silenced and peace studies closed down, mainstreamed or turned into ’security’ studies. Just say the words SIPRI.

If NATO ’wins’ this game after having been the leading creator of ”the most dangerous and unpredictable security environment since the Cold War,” the rest of the world will likely approach an eschatological moment.

Peace research ought to have more to say than it has hitherto.


Recommended reading:

Prof. Jan Oberg, Ph.D. is director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, TFF and a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. CV:

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 3 Jul 2023.

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2 Responses to “NATO’s Vilnius Summit – 30 Years of Conflict Provocations”

  1. Thank you for telling it as it is. Please advise if you ever find a text expressing your point of view that is short and written in Spanish.
    Howard R

  2. Jan Oberg says:

    Dear Howard Richards – thanks for your kind words. I do not know that but the text should be easy to translate to Spanish by, say, Deepl. (I do not read Spanish myself so I won’t find such a text). Best, Jan