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Mainstream, VOL LX No 12, New Delhi, March 12, 2022

Who wants war? | SG Vombatkere

Friday 11 March 2022, by S G Vombatkere

War and the Deep State

Russia’s military attack on Ukraine starting 24 February 2022, is war. Whether or not countries are actually involved in war, war is always justified by one or more parties to the conflict, and condemned as unjustified by one or more parties.

Both sides of the conflict and opinion have their arguments and “facts”, which are easily manufactured using fake news and deep-fake videos. Thus, long before the first physical casualty in fighting, the first casualty in war is truth, a statement attributed to Aeschylus, Greek tragedian, 5th Century BCE.

Albert Einstein had said that war would have disappeared long ago “had the sound sense of nations not been systematically corrupted by commercial and political interests acting through the schools and the Press”.

Wars between nations are conceived in the stratosphere of domestic and international politics, planned by generals, and executed by middle and junior rank commanders and soldiers. The effects of wars are suffered by soldiers and civilians on all sides of the conflict.

Indeed, there is a Serbian saying: “In war, the politicians give ammunition, the rich give food, and the poor give their children. When the war is over, the politicians get back the leftover ammunition, the rich grow more food, and the poor search for the graves of their children”.

Ironically, we spend billions of dollars trying to find life on other planets, and trillions of dollars killing life on Earth.

In present times, shooting wars are not only about destruction, about loss of life and property, social disruption and general misery. Wars and armed conflicts of every sort, provide benefits to the “deep state”, which comprises behind-the-curtain commercial-political interests combined with parts of governments, operating at the highest political levels in every country. The deep state is essentially shadowy and not possible to pinpoint, but its existence is apparent to a keen observer. [1]

Every nation formulates its foreign policy for protection and security of its economic, political, natural resources, etc., interests. The deep state has a hand both in defining the interests and formulating policy in its favour, for execution by political leaders, using diplomatic and military means.

Run-up to the war in Ukraine 

After WW2, Germany had been divided, the eastern portion with USSR, and western portion with the Allied forces, with Berlin in the midst of East Germany. NATO, led by USA, was formed in 1949. NATO consisted of war-devastated European countries around the North Atlantic Ocean, and was created “... to ensure the security of the Northern Atlantic area [and] to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means”. West Germany joined NATO in 1955.

Although USA and USSR had both fought against Hitler’s Germany, USA was ideologically and politically strongly opposed to the repressive Soviet communist regime, which was considered a threat. Decades later, when USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev was dismantling USSR with his policy of ‘perestroika’ and ‘glasnost’, his worldwide travels and talks succeeded in convincing the international community that a re-structured USSR posed no threat to the world.

According to declassified U.S., Soviet, German, British and French documents posted by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s famous “not one inch eastward” assurance about NATO expansion, when he met Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials. [2]

US Secretary of State James Baker and Germany’s foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher had promised Gorbachev, that if Germany was unified, US-led NATO would not expand eastward, and not threaten Russian sovereignty. However, there was no legal agreement prohibiting NATO from expanding eastward.

East Germany merged with West Germany in 1990, and the Soviet Union finally collapsed in end-1991. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was the political successor of the Soviet Socialist Republics that constituted USSR. Russia remained the dominant political-economic-military member. Ukraine, earlier with USSR, was a member of CIS, but withdrew from CIS in 2018.

With the breakup of USSR, NATO had lost its raison d’etre. However, rather than re-structuring or winding down, USA expanded NATO by inducting several central and eastern European nations. In 1998, the US Senate ratified NATO’s expansion eastward, violating the promise made to Russia. Reacting to this ratification, US strategy and foreign policy expert George Kennan had presciently said: “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake”. [3]

Scholars had commented that NATO’s eastward expansion was based on improving the business interests of USA’s military-industrial complex (MIC). Indeed, one scholar had pithily stated that earlier, weapons were manufactured to fight wars, but now wars are manufactured to sell weapons.

USA viewed the collapse of USSR as a US victory, providing economic opportunity. USA had failed to understand that collapse of USSR was collapse of only the communist-socialist political economy. Russians, who had repelled and defeated both Napoleon and Hitler at sacrifice of millions of Russian lives, had a self-image and pride of nationhood. The collapse of USSR was doubtless a blow to Russian national pride, but this was re-built over the years, along with economic and military strength. It was placed centre-stage and accelerated by Putin, who rarely wore a velvet glove on his iron hand.

In 2008, USA deployed a missile weapon base in Poland, located 100-km from Poland’s border with Russia, purportedly to intercept missiles fired from North Africa or Iran. Unconvinced with USA’s stated intention, Russia strongly objected to this, since NATO’s missiles could easily strike targets deep inside Russia. European NATO members meekly observed that the missile base may actually compromise European safety in the event of outbreak of hostilities.

Also in 2008, Ukraine applied for NATO membership. Russia believed that USA had instigated Ukraine for NATO’s eastward expansion directed at Russia, and alleging that USA had supplied Ukraine with weapons and trainers.

Putin alleged that the Ukraine government was oppressing Russian-origin people of the coal-rich, industrial Donbas region of southeast Ukraine, and that Russia could not feel "safe, develop and exist" because of what he claimed was a constant threat from NATO.

In March 2014, the people of Crimea held a local referendum, and voted to break away from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. The referendum was disputed by Ukraine, but Russia annexed Crimea on its basis. Two months later, pro-Russia separatists in southeast Ukraine areas of Luhansk and Donetsk, held a referendum and declared independence from Ukraine.

In July 2014, a Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down over Ukrainian airspace, killing all 298 onboard. A unilateral Dutch investigation indicated in October 2015, that the airplane had been hit by a Russian-built surface-to-air missile. In September 2016, investigators said that Russia moved the missile system into eastern Ukraine and then back to Russian territory after shooting down the flight. Russia denied any hand in it, and alleged a NATO plot favouring Ukraine.

Aimed at enabling a permanent peaceful solution to the geopolitical tension and conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and cessation of violence in the Donbas area, the first Minsk Agreement was signed in September 2014. With France and Germany trying to broker peace between Russia and Ukraine, a second agreement was reached in March 2015.

The agreement included provisions for cease-fire, withdrawal of heavy weaponry, and Ukrainian government control throughout the conflict zone. However, efforts to implement the provisions of the agreement and reach a diplomatic settlement, were unsuccessful. Ukraine’s claim to sovereignty was at odds with “big brother” Russia insisting that Ukraine should recognize independence of Luhansk and Donetsk. Armed hostilities continued.

On 22 February 2022, Russian president Vladimir Putin declared that the Minsk agreements "no longer existed", and that Ukraine, not Russia, was to blame for their collapse. Two days later, on 24 February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine.

Russia claims that its attacking Ukraine is predicated on NATO’s threat to the geopolitical and national security of its homeland. It claims not to be against Ukrainian people, but against the Ukranian political establishment, which was actively seeking admission into NATO. Russia alleges that Ukraine’s “neo-Nazi“ security forces are supported by USA and other NATO countries politically and materially, with weapons and equipment.

On the ground

As in most wars, people seek refuge away from the war zones. Since 24 February, over one million Ukranians have migrated to neighbouring countries. Unable to stop the exodus, the Ukrainian government has not permitted male citizens of “fighting age” to leave, providing them with weapons — reportedly including even to convicted criminals released from jails — to fight the invading Russian forces.

Instead of reaching and controlling Kyiv very quickly, the Russian military has been halted or slowed. This could be due to one or more of the following:

# Logistic failure (e.g., fuel supplies) affecting the Russian column which is halted 30-km short of Kyiv;
# Intelligence failure concerning unexpected armed resistance from Ukrainian civilian fighters and from the Ukranian armed forces;
# The end-of-winter ground thaw making cross-country movement of Russian fighting tanks impossible, and bogging down Russian convoys, making them targets for raids by armed Ukranian civilians;
# Condemnation of the Russian attack by almost all nations in the UN.
# Even if Russia reaches and controls Kyiv, the growing resistance of civilians in cities overrun by Russian forces, makes Russian military occupation of Ukraine for any length of time, fraught with unaffordable consequences. The occupation of cities involves street-to-street fighting and CQB (close quarter battle) for which the young conscript Russian soldiers are not trained. It may lead to an Afghanistan-like situation, when Soviet forces withdrew in 1988-1989 after suffering heavy losses.
# Men from different countries are volunteering to help Ukraine, and NATO forces are deploying mercenaries.

NATO

NATO’s credo is that attack on one member is an attack on all members, and invites retaliation. Ukraine not being a member of NATO, helps USA to restrict itself to supplying weapons and equipment for the fighting.

USA does not want to get into active engagement in the Russia-Ukraine war, because bringing home body bags risks negative domestic publicity and provides no profits to the MIC, besides risking re-start of US Veterans’ protests against USA’s military engagement. Supplying weapons and equipment to Ukraine from neighbouring EU countries, to help Ukrainians resist and repel Russian forces, is more productive politically and commercially.

Evidence of this, is USA’s rejection of Poland’s request to move MiG-29 fighter jets to a US-base in Germany [4] to help defend Ukraine, because it risks inviting Russian attack on a NATO country.

Very recently, Ukrainian President Zelensky reportedly says he is no longer pressing for NATO membership for Ukraine, one of Russia’s reasons for invading Ukraine. In another statement possibly aimed at placating Moscow, Zelensky said he is open to “compromise” on the status of Luhansk and Donetsk territories, which Putin recognised as independent just before February 24. [5] These statements may indicate Zelensky’s intention of talking with Putin, short of capitulation.

“Uber-isation” of war 

Russia is reportedly enlisting mercenaries from its private military company, the Wagner Group, into the Ukraine war. On the opposite side, US and European private contractors are seizing opportunities to help supply logistics including mercenaries, in the war.

Mercenaries are mostly former soldiers who are a cheap human resource, because the company supplying them — as part of innocuously named “security services” — has not paid for their training, and does not guarantee their performance or loyalty. These companies are military contractors or aggregators of military human and material resources, available to the highest bidder. Significantly, companies supplying these mercenaries are structured as businesses, and are even traded on Wall Street and London Stock Exchange.

The use of military contractors began in USA’s 1991 invasion of Iraq, in both combat and post-combat stages. Blackwater Security Company, with connections at the top-most levels of the US administration, was prominent. USA spent over $100-billion on private military contractors, who at one phase outnumbered the 146,000 US troops in Iraq.

Deployment of mercenaries in wars is a source of enormous profits to military contractors, and a convenient method of fighting a war with adequate deniability for political leaders. It proves the military’s nexus with political-commercial interests.

Denouement 

It is futile to attempt predicting the outcome of the Ukraine war, or even whether it will escalate or “go nuclear”. Serious negative effects of the Ukraine war on the closely interlinked international economy are certain. Also certain, are huge profits to commercial MIC interests and the direct humanitarian costs in the combat zones, and also globally.

It is apt to recall the words of General Dwight Eisenhower: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on an iron cross. I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity”. Ironically, he was later US President, and defined the MIC.


[1S.G.Vombatkere; “Beyond Balakot: The Deep State and War”; https://frontline.thehindu.com/cover-story/article26507747.ece; Frontline; March 29, 2019

[2“NATO expansion: What Gorbachev heard”; https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/russia-programs/2017-12-12/nato-expansion-what-gorbachev-heard-western-leaders-early; and “James Baker to Helmut Kohl, in a letter dated 10 February 1990”; https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/document/16119-document-08-letter-james-baker-helmut-kohl; National Security Archive

[3Thomas L. Friedman; “Foreign Affairs: Now a word from X”; https://www.nytimes.com/1998/05/02/opinion/foreign-affairs-now-a-word-from-x.html; The New York Times; May 2, 1998.

[4“US Snubs Poland’s Offer Of Sending Jets To Back Ukraine, 2 Patriot Missile Systems Sent For ‘Defence’“; https://www.msn.com/en-in/news/world/us-snubs-polands-offer-of-sending-jets-to-back-ukraine-2-patriot-missile-systems-sent-for-defence/ar-AAUOu6F?ocid=mailsignout&li=AAggbRN; msn news; March 9, 2022.

[5“Ukraine No Longer Wants NATO Membership, Biden Bans Russian Gas, Oil Imports“; https://www.msn.com/en-in/news/world/ukraine-no-longer-wants-nato-membership-biden-bans-russian-gas-oil-imports-key-updates/ar-AAUNhMN?li=AAgfYGb; msn news; March 9, 2022.

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