A year after the end of the Second World War, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, while on a visit to the United States in 1946, delivered one of his most famous speeches, known by historians as the ‘Iron Curtain speech’. The speech could be considered as the first declaration of the Cold War, which ended in 1991, following the fall of the Soviet Union.
Strongly criticising the Soviet Union’s control over Eastern European states, Churchill said: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the continent.” At several points of time during the four decades and so of the Cold War, the world narrowly survived an annihilation war. The most infamous was during the Cuba crisis in October 1962, which nearly triggered a nuclear war between the US and the USSR.
Seven decades after the Churchill’s speech, the iron curtains are no more. Nato, the US-led Western military alliance has absorbed almost all of those states in the east of Europe. Its forces and military hardware is at Russia’s doors, literally. But instead of celebrating its victory and working to make world a safer place and avoiding the mistakes of the past decades, Nato has in fact declared the start of a new Cold War; but one that is probably very much less cold than the first one.
The only unpredictable thing here is the actions of the US, and some of its closest allies in Nato These nuclear powers have clearly decided to drag the rest of Europe, and the rest of the world by extension, in another Cold War.
The not-so-subtle declaration came in the form of Nato’s so-called ‘Strategic Concept’ document that was approved by the alliance’s leaders at their summit in Madrid, which ended on Thursday. The document, reviewed and updated every 10 years, “sets out the Alliance’s priorities, core tasks and approaches for the next decade. The concept describes the security environment facing the Alliance, reaffirms our values, and spells out Nato’s key purpose of ensuring our collective defence,” as per Nato’s official website.
The summit, described by Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of Nato, as “historic”, in its strategic concept for 2030, defined Russia as the “most significant and direct threat” to the security of its members. It condemns what it described as “the Russian Federation’s war of aggression against Ukraine [which] has shattered peace and gravely altered our security environment.” It says that, in general, “Moscow’s behaviour reflects a pattern of Russian aggressive actions against its neighbours and the wider transatlantic community.”
It might be understandable under the current circumstances to issue such a strong language in the context of the Ukraine war and its security and humanitarian fallouts. After all, the destruction is overwhelming, and more than 12 million Ukrainians have fled their homes since the war began in February. However, the actual moves on the ground taken by Nato’s leading member, the US, even before the concept was approved on Thursday, signifies more than a rational reaction to the Russian offensive in Ukraine. It shows a pattern, on Nato side this time, of a belligerent policy to besiege Russian militarily. And that sets the world on a very dangerous path.
Stoltenberg announced even before the summit that Nato will increase the number of troops on “high alert to more than 300,000, eight times the current number, citing what he described as “the most serious security crisis” in Europe since the Second World War. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden announced his country was swelling its military presence in Europe — establishing a permanent military base in Poland (ironically the headquarters of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact during the first Cold War), expanding the military base in Romania, and deploying additional destroyers and strategic bombers in Spain and Britain.
These calculated decisions were obviously planned much earlier than Russia’s war in Ukraine. Moscow complained for years of Nato’s aggressive policy of expansion eastward, despite the alliance leaders’ assurances since the 1990s that the alliance was not interested in moving east of Berlin. As recent as 2010, Nato’s Strategic Concept that was adopted at the Lisbon Summit in that year stressed that “Nato poses no threat to Russia. On the contrary: we want to see a true strategic partnership between Nato and Russia.”
Russia, nevertheless, is not the only target of Nato’s new ‘historic’ document approved in Madrid. The alliance seems to be doubling down its bets on absolute domination. The Madrid document described in detail the “systemic challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China”!
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told the media in the Spanish capital that Nato has had “growing concerns about China’s unfair trade practices, use of forced labour, theft of intellectual property and their bullying and coercive activities, not just in the Indo-Pacific, but around the world.”
Probably, it is pointless here to say that these are American concerns, from the point of trade and business competition only. One cannot recall that leading EU states, France and Germany in particular, have had any such complaints. Europe, it seems, is being dragged in America’s trade war with China. The risk here is that the US has muscled European allies into making its economic competition with China as an existential challenge to Nato members, which is not.
In the Madrid document, Nato says that today’s “world is contested and unpredictable.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. The only unpredictable thing here is the actions of the US, and some of closest allies in Nato These nuclear powers have clearly decided to drag the rest of Europe, and the rest of the world by extension, in another Cold War. There is a real risk today that this new cold war may not remain cold as the first one. With Russia feeling cornered and China pushed around, things may very well get a little hotter.