Apart from the struggle between Russia and the West for the heart and mind of Ukraine, a struggle of which the West, apart from Poland, was apparently not aware until recently, the unfolding crisis in that country demonstrates the hazards of allowing the Western Alliance to atrophy as successive American administrations have done.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was the most successful alliance in world history, as it contained the threat of Soviet imperialism and international communism in the West for 50 years, until the Soviet Union disintegrated, without an exchange of a single pistol shot between the two sides. When all 15 Soviet republics seceded from the U.S.S.R., and the hammer and sickle was hauled down on the roof of the Kremlin and replaced with the traditional flag of Russia on flagpoles where it had not flown for 74 years, President Bill Clinton soon improvised the "Partnership for Peace." While it seemed at first a fairly shameless bit of Clintonian flimflam at first, the Partnership proved an effective method of easing the separation of Russia from its former contiguous satrapies eight of which (Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czechs, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), have now joined NATO.
The contest was over, Russia had less than half the population of the U.S.S.R., and there was widespread fear of general famine and a break-down of civic order in Russia. Of course, Russia, which in its history has endured agonies infinitely surpassing anything that was feared or foreseen in the demise of the Soviet Union, did not suffer any such fate, and a junior official of the ancien regime, Vladimir Putin emerged to challenge the consequences of the reduction of Russia to the confines of the ancient Grand Duchy of Muscovy, with Asiatic add-ons.
The raison d'etre of its founding having been removed, NATO swiftly declined to a "coalition of the willing," which in practice meant that those countries so anxious to keep the "attack upon one is an attack upon all" principle with the United States would contribute token forces to the hobby horses of American presidents, especially if they were supported by British prime ministers.
The extended and debilitating involvements in Afghanistan and Iraq began after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington with the North Atlantic Council invoking, for the first time, the provision that had so effectively deterred the Soviet Union: that all NATO countries had been attacked when the United States was attacked on that day. But after twelve years, two wars, over 50,000 casualties and two trillion dollars, to give Iraq and Afghanistan the Maliki and Karzai regimes of crooks, despots, and ingrates, though certainly an improvement, if only temporarily, on Saddam Hussein and the Mullah Omar who preceded them, there is an American administration that appears completely uninterested in continuing the alliance or updating its purpose. NATO has been whittled down to a group of 28 countries pinching every national defence penny and united by nothing except the tradition of potential advantage.
The most irritating illustration of how this splendid alliance, which is susceptible still of being retransformed into the principal galaxy of strategic strength in the world, has eroded, is in the current Ukraine crisis. Poland has performed admirably and is encouraging Ukraine to depart the Russian orbit once and for all; Germany has made purposeful noises, and has at times resembled the Germany of Bismarck: Europe's greatest power, speaking in a voice of both thunder and reason.
The problem with this admirable stance is that Germany, that very illustrious, often erratic, martial nation, is a feeble military kitten. Germany invaded France almost 74 years ago with 3,000 tanks and six weeks later Hitler's crisp obedient legions strutted down the Champs Elysees in their full boots and breeches and shortish tunics, impressing the conquered and cowed French with their precision (and their apparently muscular thighs and buttocks), but today the German army has no tanks.
Canada unites a paper-thin military wallet to a stentorian mouth, minatorily declarative and admirably unclouded by Pearsonian and Trudeauesque waffling and relativism, all in a good cause, but can only send six CF-18's to Poland to support Ukraine. It is at least a gesture. No other NATO country is risking anybody over this monstrous affront, in which Putin's smug complacency that he was suzerain over Ukraine, blew up in his face, thanks to the imperishable nationalism of Ukraine, and he has replied by seizing the Crimea and agitating in East Ukraine, where there are also a majority of ethnic Russians.
It now comes to light that despite all the fire-breathing Germany's late conversion to the virtues of tough talking, German private sector firms have been training and reequipping the Russian army, which in the last days of the communists and the succeeding 20 years, had become a flabby, antiquarian congeries of ragamuffins, not even as capable as the force that was run out of Afghanistan by the Mujaheddin, armed with Jimmy Carter's over-the shoulder missiles.
The German army of Frederick the Great, Blucher, Bismarck, Hindenburg, Ludendorff, Rommel and Manstein, is a pedestrian parade-ground force while Rheinmetall and other German firms have interpreted the Obama administration's naïvely imbecilic "reset" of relations with Russia as a licence to assist that country in reassuming the strength and capability to intimidate its wayward former constituents.
Every two weeks or so, we see a new demonstration of the fruit of weakness and delusional misjudgment in the chancelleries of the West, where formerly, great, or at least consistent and sensible, statesmen ruled. One dares not ask where it will all end, for fear that the logical answer spring from the mists of the unthinkable and legitimize the antics of the Russian gangster-state.
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