By Ann Wright
I just returned from Poland where I was speaking at a NO TO NATO, NO TO WAR Conference and rally in Warsaw.
Earlier this week I spoke with a young man in Krakow, Poland who described the ironies of holding the 2016 NATO summit in his country. Tomas, a university trained historian and now tour guide, reminded me how Germany, one of the strongest partners in NATO, invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.
As Tomas commented, “Seventy years ago Germany virtually destroyed Europe and ironically now is the most powerful country on the continent–again. During World War II we in Poland had our land taken, our people murdered and then with the defeat of the Nazis, we were given by the U.S. and the U.K to the Soviet Union and had to endure decades of communist rule while Germany was rebuilt and prospered. Now again we find ourselves in midst of a military confrontation that will do no one any good.”
He added, “I do not believe the Russians want a war and I wish the US missiles would not be on Polish soil as we become a target again. I don’t like that we are having big NATO military exercises in Poland—it’s giving our politicians the rationale to reintroduce mandatory military service which I do not want. Where are these NATO countries getting the idea that Russia is going to invade anyone? I just don’t see it.”
A Little World War II History
During World War II, Nazi Germany wrecked havoc on the people of Poland-Jews and Poles alike as they colonized the whole of Poland, enslaved the entire population and quickly began exterminating minorities in their campaign to eliminate all but the Aryan race. Entire cities were cleansed and given over to German families and many of the cities, such as Warsaw, were destroyed by the Nazis as they fled at the end of the war. 6 million Jews from all over Europe were executed, gassed and their bodies burned. 2,400,000 Poles, 3,000,000 Ukrainians, 1,593,000 Russians, and 1,400,000 Byelorussians were killed in Poland during World War II.
The Soviet Union joined Nazi Germany on September 17, 1939. The Soviets killed 22,000 Polish Army officers and intellectuals in May 1940 in the Kaytn forest, a massacre the Soviet Union did not officially acknowledge until 2010. The Nazi-Soviet alliance didn’t last long with Germany double-crossing the Soviets by invading the Soviet Union in June 1941.
In 1945, the Soviet Union pushed Nazi Germany first out of their country, then out of Poland and other areas of Eastern Europe at the expense of 27 million Soviet lives. However, Poles will not forget that the Soviet Union waited across the Vistula River to liberate Warsaw until the Nazis had murdered virtually everyone in the Warsaw uprising. Stalin had struck a deal with Roosevelt and Churchill and the Soviet Union was rewarded for its key role in defeating the Nazis by acquiescence of the United States and Great Britain to Soviet control of the Eastern block countries, including Poland. For sixty years, until 1989 Poland was a communist state in the Soviet sphere and the Warsaw Pact, the organization formed by the Soviets to mirror NATO.
2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw
The NATO Summit July 8-9, 2016 in Warsaw, Poland has put into action the biggest changes to the alliance since the dissolution of the Soviet Union to counter what NATO is terming “an aggressive and dangerously unpredictable Russia.” NATO suspended military cooperation with Russia after Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea following the coup of the elected pro-Russian government and the subsequent referendum in Crimea in which the majority of citizens of Crimea who are ethnic Russians overwhelmingly voted to “reunite” with Russia rather than stay in what they call an anti-Russian Ukraine.
The US-led NATO alliance is enacting a “Readiness Action Plan” to ensure it is ready for any future actions such as the conflict in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
According to the State Department press release President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry will use the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland to further efforts to “strengthen NATO’s security and to project stability to the Alliance’s east and south.” http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/06/259236.htm
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO will take key decisions to “strengthen the NATO alliance’s defense and deterrence and project stability beyond NATO’s borders.” http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/events_132023.htm
NATO’s new top military leader, US Army General Curtis Scaparrotti said that NATO had to be ready to “fight tonight” against Russia, if necessary and President Obama increased to $3.4 million US military spending in Europe in his 2017 budget proposal, four times the previous budget.
However, not all associated with NATO favor escalation. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany called the recent military exercises in Poland, in which 14,000 American troops participated, “saber-rattling and war cries.” In a clear rebuke to NATO, he added, “Whoever believes that a symbolic tank parade on the alliance’s eastern border will bring security is mistaken. We are well-advised to not create pretexts to renew an old confrontation.” Adding to the caution against vilifying Russia, French president, François Hollande, said that Russia should not be seen as a threat, but a partner.
Responding with a non-confrontational Independence Day July 4 message to President Obama, Russian President Putin wrote that “the history of Russian-American relations shows that when we act as equal partners and respect each other’s lawful interests, we are able to successfully resolve the most complex international issues for the benefit of both countries’ peoples.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/the-kremlin-obama-agrees-to-more-military-coordination-in-syria/2016/07/06/21e57c3c-43b0-11e6-88d0-6adee48be8bc_story.html
Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, insisted that Russia “has always been open for dialogue” with NATO, especially to fight the “genuine threat” of terrorism.
“Russia is not looking [for an enemy] but it actually sees it happening,” Peskov told reporters in Moscow. “When NATO soldiers march along our border and NATO jets fly by, it’s not us who are moving closer to NATO borders.”
NATO Military Moves Against Russia “Aggression”
In their meeting in Warsaw, NATO members approved sending 600-800 person battalions to four countries on Russia’s borders, – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Additionally, a 5,000 strong “Very High Readiness Joint Task Force” (VHRJTF) has been created by NATO for fast deployment with forward command centers along Russia’s border. These units would use pre-positioned heavy equipment to cut deployment times. And the size of the NATO Response Force which would follow the VHRJTF has been increased to 40,000 troops.
The US will deploy 1,000 more US troops to Poland, the UK will send 500 soldiers for a battalion based in Estonia, and Canada and Germany will lead two more battalions in Lithuania and Latvia. President Obama stated that in 2017, a US armored brigade would also be deployed to a base in Poland. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/08/nato-summit-warsaw-brexit-russia
The Warsaw summit announced that the US-built missile defense shield based in Romania, Turkey and Spain is operational and under NATO command. President Obama visited Spain on his way back to the United States from the Warsaw summit to thank the Spanish government for allowing four US Navy Aegis missile destroyers to be home ported in Rota, Spain. 1,100 US military personnel and their families now live in Spain. Romania and Poland host the land-based Aegis Ashore missile interceptors.
This year NATO has been very busy with military actions. It created a new missile base in Romania, in June NATO held the largest military exercises in the history of modern day Poland with 31,000 NATO troops and ominously named the maneuvers “Anaconda” for the strangling snake. NATO held other military actions in Georgia and Norway in March, Bulgaria in April, and Estonia and Romania in May. https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2016/07/04/nato-necessary/DwE0YzPb8qr70oIT9NVyAK/story.html
Russia, for its part, has been protesting since 2013, long before the events in the Ukraine, the build-up of the US missile system in Europe. Russia is building a new military base within artillery range of Ukraine and deploying 30,000 troops to border posts. Russia has been sending aircraft and naval vessels very close to US Navy ships in the Baltic Sea as a warning that the US is operating very close to Russian borders, actions that the US would take if Russia sent its naval ships that close to the borders of the United States.
In response to NATO military deployments, Russia plans to activate three divisions by the end of 2016 and assign them to its western regions near the Baltic States and Poland. President Putin said on July 1, “We are constantly accused of military activity, but where? Only on our own soil. We are supposed to accept as normal the military buildup on our borders.”
Yet when one looks at the force structure of a confrontation between US/NATO and Russia, the probability of Russia taking any offensive action against any Eastern Europe country is very low:
TROOPS 3,600,000 766,000
AIRCRAFT 21,000 3,500
NAVAL VESSELS 1,700 300
MILITARY BUDGET $842 BILLION $46 BILLION
More US/NATO actions
On July 5, two days before the NATO summit, the United States and Georgia signed a security deal to strengthen the former Soviet republic’s defenses against Russia as it waits to join NATO.
Georgia had been promised a path to NATO membership in 2008 but that has not materialized due to NATO’s reticence to attempt to add Georgia while Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway regions of Georgia, have been occupied by Russian forces since a brief war in 2008. Secretary of State Kerry stated
“On security, our partnership is unwavering. The Georgian people have chosen a Euro-Atlantic future and the United States remains committed to helping the Georgian people attain that goal. The United States remains steadfast in its support of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” and thanked Georgia for its large commitment of troops to the NATO support mission in Afghanistan.” Kerry said the NATO promise that Georgia will eventually join the transatlantic alliance would be repeated in Warsaw, a statement that did not go well with the Russian government and apparently did not go well with some NATO countries as neither Georgia nor the Ukraine were accepted into NATO membership at the 2016 summit.
Alternative NATO Conference
The Alternative Conference on NATO was sponsored by the international NO TO WAR, NO TO NATO organization http://www.no-to-nato.org, and five Polish peace and social justice organizations. 150 persons attended the Alternative Summit including international guests from 12 countries including Germany, Belgium, UK, Spain, France, US, Russia, Czech Republic, Bosnia, Sweden, Norway, Finland.
Piotr Ikonowicz, Social Justice Movement Poland and one of the Polish organizers, said that NATO propaganda against Russia scares people and makes ultra nationalism easier in Poland. He reminded the conference of Poland’s participation in the CIA prison torture program and that Poland had sent troops to Iraq.
Filip Ilkowski, Stop the War Initiative Poland and another of the Polish organizers, said that right wing nationalism and anti-refugee sentiment in Poland is very worrisome. Poland has refused to accept any of the 7,000 refugees of the EU quota for Poland, yet anti-refugee anger toward people they don’t even know is strong. He also mentioned that there are a lot of young Ukrainian men living in Poland who left their country because they do not want to get drafted into military service for Ukrainian military operations in the east of Ukraine.
Reiner Braun, co-chair of the International Peace Bureau, spoke of international solidarity against militarism and of the very successful 2016 Stopp Ramstein-No Drone Wars http://www.ramstein-kampagne.eu/appeal/ event in June with over 5,000 participants. September 30-October 3 will be the International Peace Bureau’s World Congress conference “Disarm! For a Climate of Peace” in Berlin.
Kristine Karsch, of NO TO NATO, spoke of the dangers of military confrontation between NATO and Russia and also of the possibility of a European Union Army.
Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee said that Russia shares common concerns with other countries and that confidence building measures such as the Deep Cuts Commission and OSCE dialogue along the lines of the Helsinki Talks in the 1980s are desperately needed.
Claudia Haydt of the Information Center on Militarization Germany commented that NATO wants another 100 billion euros for war preparations rather than on peace building measures. NATO should reflect on why there are so many refugees in Europe-military operations from which they are fleeing.
Maite Mola, Vice President of the European Left, from Spain said that Spaniards don’t realize that home porting of US Aegis missile destroyers in Spain makes Spain a park of NATO intervention wherever the destroyers go.
in Odessa, Ukraine for international support for the investigation of the deaths of at least 46 people on May 2, 2014 at the House of Trade Unions in Odessa, Ukraine by Ukrainian ultra-nationalists.
Dave Webb of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament http://www.cnduk.org asked that activists join in the campaign to stop the costly replacement -2 Billion euros-of the UK Trident nuclear submarine fleet and go to the United Kingdom Embassies and Consulates on July 18 to say no to nuclear submarines.
Ludo de Brabander of Vrede (Peace) Belgium reminded us of the corporate sponsors of NATO expansion—and of the NATO conference itself. Raytheon has giant posters on entire city buildings announcing its participation in NATO—Poland has awarded Raytheon a $7 billion contract for Patriot missiles. Raytheon got an $815 million contract to upgrade existing Patriot systems in South Korea and won a $2.4 billion contract for Patriot missiles to Qatar. Raytheon generated $8.4 billion in foreign sales in 2014, 29 percent of the company’s total revenues, a higher percentage than any other major US military contractor. https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2015/04/21/poland-picks-raytheon-for-billion-deal-polish-newspaper-says/iwTHaVuDvMZKCkbm0HmJZP/story.html
Jan Majicek of Socialisticka Solidarite, Czech Republic said the US and NATO have put the squeeze on countries for more money for NATO wars. He said that NATO “dues” for his country was increasing by 25% or 450 million euros which is two and one-half times the budget for healthcare in the Czech Republic.
Ann Wright spoke of worldwide US imperialism with US influence in its pivot to Asia and the Pacific and her recent trips to Jeju Island, South Korea and Okinawa, Japan where local opposition to US militarism is very strong. She also spoke of a recent trip to Russia, including the Crimea. Russian citizens do not want military confrontation, but they also want their country to be respected.
Four members of the German Parliament from the Left Party (Die LINKE) attended the conference. Left Party member Wolfgang Gehrcke described the debate in the German Parliament last week on the German role in NATO as much more open and frank that anyone had thought possible. Sahra Wagenknect, the leader of the Left Party, said that NATO is increasing the danger of war in Europe, that the costs in weapons of the member states of NATO are 13 times higher than the Russian military budget and rearming of NATO “has increased the risk of military confrontation with Russia.” http://www.plenglish.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5043711&Itemid=1
Ilya Budraiskis of the Russian Socialist Movement said that the NATO threat to Russia gives the Russian government the excuse to clap down on dissent and those working for more open political space.
The Russian government recently passed a controversial package of counterterrorism measures, including tougher sentences for extremism and heightened electronic surveillance of Russian citizens, requiring telecom operators to store recordings of their customers’ phone calls and text messages for six months and order messaging services such as Facebook and Telegram to provide decryption keys to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).
Russia-phobia makes opposition to NATO difficult in Poland
The Polish government and much of the Polish people are solidly behind NATO which made planning the Alternative Conference difficult for the local organizers.
The coup against the pro-Russian government in the Ukraine and the Russian response of annexation of Crimea to has given governments— US, Russia, and NATO countries— the opportunity to spend more on war weapons and create a very hostile climate for any opposition to their actions. In Poland, opposition to NATO is characterized as communist-inspired, crazy, Russian loving, West-hating people.
Our international delegation was very proud to be with those in Poland that are willing to challenge their government’s wholesale acceptance of NATO’s ambitions in Eastern Europe.