It’s called leverage, and Trump is using it to get NATO member states to pay their fair share, or get out of the alliance.
Without American money and military might NATO crumbles. Trump has made no secret of the fact that America will not continue to pay the bill for the bulk of the alliance’s budget. Each member state needs to contribute its required share as stipulated in the alliance charter.
In light of Trump’s apparent fault to honor campaign promises, it should come as little surprise that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is opting to pass on a April 5-6 meeting of NATO foreign ministers to be present during the first US visit by China’s president.
In a move to further infuriate the establishment liberal left and neocon right, Tillerson will travel to Russia one week after the China meeting, which Reuters describes as “a step allies may see as putting Moscow’s concerns ahead of theirs.”
Tillerson intends to miss what would be his first meeting in Brussels with the 28 NATO members to attend President Donald Trump’s expected April 6-7 talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. While it goes without saying, two former US officials told Reuters that “the decisions to skip the NATO meeting and to visit Moscow risked feeding a perception that Trump may be putting U.S. dealings with big powers before those of smaller nations that depend on Washington for their security.”
It is also likely to prompt further speculation of NATO-alternative alliances. State Department spokesman Mark Toner had no immediate comment on whether Tillerson would skip the NATO meeting or visit Russia. Two U.S. officials said Tillerson planned to visit Moscow on April 12.
“It feeds this narrative that somehow the Trump administration is playing footsy with Russia,” said one former U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “You don’t want to do your early business with the world’s great autocrats. You want to start with the great democracies, and NATO is the security instrument of the transatlantic group of great democracies,” he added. NATO is also the alliance which installs anti-missile system, drastically shifting the nuclear balance of power in the region, and keeps piling up troops on the border with Russia, and is then shocked when a furious Russia lashes out.
As for Tillerson’s visit to Russia, any visit to Moscow by a senior Trump administration official will be carefully scrutinized after the director of the FBI on Monday publicly confirmed his agency was investigating any collusion between the Russian government and Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign.
Perhaps this is Trump’s way of demonstrating how little he cares about the public’s reaction to Comey’s revelations. Furthermore, Trump has already antagonized and worried NATO allies by referring to the Western security alliance as “obsolete” and by pressing other members to meet their commitments to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.
Following US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s successful visit to China, it has been confirmed that Xi Jinping, China’s President and paramount leader, will be travel to Washington in early April to meet with US President Donald Trump.
It is fair to say that before and immediately after the election most people expected a meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to precede a meeting between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping. In fact much of the talk in the first days of the administration was of the Trump administration trying to wean Russia away from its alliance with China and its burgeoning alliance with Iran, with China and Iran replacing Russia as the US’s primary enemies de jour.
In the event, though hostility to Iran remains a Trump administration theme, as my colleague Adam Garrie has written, it is China – the US’s great geopolitical rival in the Pacific, and the US’s greatest trade rival and partner – that the Trump administration is reaching out to first.
There is nothing mysterious about the reasons for this. With President Trump being accused by his political enemies in Washington of being Vladimir Putin’s stooge, the Trump administration is simply in no position to reach out to Russia in any public way. Were it to attempt to do so it would simply add fuel to the flames of the ‘Russiagate’ scandal in Washington at precisely the moment when it is showing the first signs of burning itself out. For the sake of its own self-preservation the Trump administration has therefore been obliged to put relations with Russia on the back-burner as it sorts out its problems back home.
Here I am going to take a contrarian view and say that I think the leaders in both Beijing and Moscow are quietly pleased and relieved by this development.
The early weeks of the Trump administration suggested that a major confrontation between the US and China was on the cards over trade policy and the South China Sea. The Chinese media was even openly warning the US that its stance risked triggering a naval race in the Pacific, which it warned the US it would lose.
The truth is that though the Chinese would not balk from such a race if it were imposed on them, the whole pattern of Chinese political and economic policy since 1978 has been for China to focus on its internal development, and there is no reason to think that has changed. At a time when China is seeking to rebalance its economy away from its previous overriding focus on manufacturing and export more towards services and consumption, China would far prefer a cooperative relationship with the US than a confrontational one.
If Donald Trump’s meeting with Xi Jinping can clear the air, with the Chinese leader reassuring Trump that the days of China stealing US manufacturing jobs and pouring cheap goods into the US market are almost over, and that China’s stance on the South China Sea is a purely defensive one (which it is), then it can only be a good thing, both for relations between the US and China, and for the world in general.
As for Russia, I have previously discussed how limited the things the Russians want from the US are (see here and here)
Far from wanting some sort of grandiose ‘grand bargain’ with the US – which previous experience from the early 1970s, the late 1980s, and in 2009 has taught the Russians means their making concessions to the US in return for promises the US never keeps – what the Russians basically want from the US is to be left alone. That way they can concentrate on what has always been their priority, which is their own internal development.
What that means in practice is that what the Russians principally want from the US is that it abandon further plans to expand NATO eastwards into the former Soviet space, and give up its attempts to carry out regime change in Moscow.
The paralysis in Washington means that that is essentially what the Russians now have, without being asked to give anything in return for it. Given the policy paralysis in Washington and Donald Trump’s own lack of enthusiasm for both NATO expansion in the Soviet space and for regime change in Moscow, neither for the moment is being pursued with any vigour or is likely to happen any time soon.
Adam Garrie has written of how the Trump administration’s policy has become one of ‘neglect‘. Nothing would please the Russians more than for that ‘neglect’ to continue indefinitely.
This is not to say that for the Russians this is the optimal relationship they would like with the US. On the contrary, they remain concerned about NATO deployments in eastern Europe and the Baltic States, and are extremely concerned by the deployment of anti-ballistic missile interceptors in eastern Europe. These of course are continuing and in the absence of dialogue with the Trump administration there is no sign of any cap being placed on them.
In addition, despite the quiet discussions that are now happening between the US and the Russian militaries, the Russians must be frustrated that even on such a seemingly straightforward issue as anti-terrorist cooperation no substantive progress is being made.
Having said this, the Russians are realistic enough to know that it would require a President with a far stronger political position in Washington than Donald Trump currently has to reverse the NATO deployments, and that Trump himself – like all Republicans – is deeply committed to the anti-ballistic missile deployments and will never reverse them.
Given that this is so, the situation that exists now is from the Russian point of view the best one that is realistically possible. Certainly it is one which is far better for them than a scenario where they have to refuse Donald Trump’s demands for nuclear weapons cuts and for abandonment of their relations with China and Iran, in return for a promise of an improvement in relations with the US, which they know would be short-lived.
In the meantime any move towards an easing of tensions between Beijing and Washington – which will ease international tensions generally and spare Russia from the need to take sides – is one which will be quietly welcomed in Moscow. http://theduran.com/china-us-thaw-moscow/
Turkey’s relationship with the EU and NATO appears to have plumbed new lows.
Ankara’s agreement with the EU to help hold back a flood of migrants is about to end. On March 13, Deputy Turkish Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus announced the freeze amid an escalating row over Turkish officials' access to the Netherlands. Another Deputy Prime Minister, Nurettin Canikli, also said steps would be taken to reevaluate Ankara’s agreement with Brussels to prevent refugees and migrants from crossing into the EU after they transit Turkey.
Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik said his country should re-assess the migrants deal with the European Union in response to an escalating crisis with the Netherlands, which barred Turkish ministers from holding rallies.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the Netherlands of behaving like Nazis, sparking outrage in a country that was bombed and occupied by Nazi German forces during World War II. He also accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of «supporting terrorists». Ankara has been angered by the refusal of some EU countries to let Turkish ministers speak at political rallies abroad. According to him, Turkey could revise its relationship with the EU on the grounds that the bloc failed to keep its promises on a number of issues since negotiations began a decade ago.
The president went further, asserting that the EU had lost its place as the symbol of democracy and human rights while vowing that Turkey will seek to mobilize other key international organizations, particularly the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), against the rise of fascism in Europe that directly affects Turks, Muslims and all foreigners in the continent.
Adding more oil into the fire, the European Commission highlighted the «serious concerns» expressed by the Council of Europe on March 13 over the amendments to the Turkish constitution which are due to be voted on in the 16 April referendum. The Venice Commission, the specialized body of the Council of Europe for constitutional matters, has published its Opinion, stating that the proposed constitutional amendments in Turkey, which pave the way for Erdogan to remain in office until 2029, are a «dangerous step backwards» for democracy.
Evidently, Ankara’s relationship with the EU and prominent European countries has been dealt a huge blow. Under the circumstances, there is little doubt left that the land crossings component of the Turkey's migrant deal with Brussels sealed on March 18, 2016, will be reconsidered. According to official statistics, the number of migrants and refugees to Greece has declined by 95 percent a year after the EU-Turkey deal was implemented. Greece is currently sheltering more than 60,000 refugees. Some 200,000 refugees and migrants would flock to Greece if the agreement between Turkey and the European Union on the refugee crisis collapsed.
Turkey is a Muslim country. The relationship with the EU will probably deteriorate even further as anti-Muslim sentiments keep on growing in the bloc. For instance, the threat of uncontrolled refugee flows has given rise to a new phenomenon. As governments fail to control the borders, volunteer groups are mushrooming in Europe to prevent illegal border crossings and keep refugees away. More than a million volunteers across the continent, including the Czech Republic, Spain, Germany, Slovakia and other countries, watch the borders to stop illegal immigration. In Hungary, the number of volunteer groups is growing by leaps and bounds. Working closely with government agencies, their members are armed with clubs and pepper sprays.
In Bulgaria an organization formed to prevent migrants from coming numbers about 50 thousand members. The members of the Bulgarian National Movement Shipka are often armed with are armed with long knives, bayonets and hatchets.
The Shipka is a part of the Fortress Europe organization which boasts 17 branches across the continent, including the Czech Republic, Germany and Spain. All in all, there are about 50 such groups in Europe.
Neither the EU leadership, nor national governments fully control the activities of the «people’s volunteer armies». It’s hard to predict what they will do, if Turkey pulls out of the refugee agreement with the EU and uncontrollable migrants’ flows hit Europe again.
As the events unwind, the idea of Turkey’s accession to the EU seems to be more of a pipe dream. The relationship is on the verge of collapse.
Turkey has an alternative. On January 18, Russia and Turley’s military joined together fighting the Islamic State in Syria. It was the first time the air forces of Russia and Turkey were engaged in a joint operation. The relationship has been growing increasingly close recently, especially after the two countries united to launch the Astana process in an effort to end the Syria’s crisis. Sooner or later the Islamic State will be driven out of Syria. Russia and Turley will face the question about what to do next. It could be a start of forming a broader alliance to fight global terrorism beyond Syria’s borders, encompassing other areas of cooperation and bringing in other actors.
Progress has been achieved in all spheres as presidents of Russia and Turkey held their summit in Moscow on March 9-10. For instance, Russia and Turkey are on the way to implement the ambitious Turkish Stream gas project.
The summit’s agenda included the sale of the advanced long-range S-400 air defense systems. With Russia’s help, Turkey could start the production on its own soil to greatly enhance its industrial base.
Turkey also seeks procurement deals in electronic systems, ammunitions and missile technology. General Hulusi Akar, the head of the Turkish armed forces’ General Staff, visited Russia last November to discuss military cooperation. Turkey’s officials have complained about NATO’s unwillingness to cooperate with Turkey. In August, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu criticized the North Atlantic Alliance, saying it was not fully cooperating with Ankara. According to him, NATO was evasive on such issues as the exchange of technology and joint investments.
Turkey mulls joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), as the prospects for joining the EU fade away. Turkey’s SCO accession would be a milestone development bringing together the organization and the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States (CCTS) – an international organization of Turkic countries, comprising Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are possible future members of the council.
After all, Turkey is a major Eurasian power. Its integration into the Eurasian system acquires greater significance as the relations with the EU and many NATO members worsen. Further progress will facilitate dialogue between the Eurasian powers and Turkey and strengthen Ankara’s position with regard to the West in general.
Turkey’s gradual shift from the West to Eurasia and other partners is part of a broader process as the EU gets weakened and divided. Unsurprisingly, as its relations with the West sour, Turkey is reaching out to other poles of power. This multi-dimensional foreign policy will strengthen Turkey’s standing in the world.
Many in the West have purported to find Candidate, and now President, Trump’s insistence that détente with Russia is a “good thing” to be troubling. Some suggest that the President’s insistence on this is somehow sinister – worse even than troubling. But perhaps Trump and his chief strategist Steve Bannon’s sense that détente may be possible is not so much “sinister,” but has more to do paradoxically with a particular coincidence – a confluence of intellectual thinking, a confluence that has been taking shape, almost unnoticed over recent years, but which nonetheless is becoming more significant, and which posits a profound foreign policy potential.
Wintery scene at Red Square in Moscow, Dec. 6, 2016. (Photo by Robert Parry)
Much has been read (most of it hostile) into Steve Bannon’s comment, via the internet, at a 2014 Vatican conference, during which he said that many of Vladimir Putin’s views were underpinned by eurasianism: “He’s got an adviser who harkens back to Julius Evola and different writers of the early 20th century, who are really the supporters of what’s called the Traditionalist Movement … We, the Judeo-Christian West,” continued Bannon, “really have to look at what [Putin]’s talking about as far as Traditionalism goes — particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism.”
Here lies one immediate problem. It is presumed in the Western media, that the unnamed Putin adviser who harkens back to Julius Evola is Professor Alexander Dugin. And here, precisely is the first difficulty: both philosophers have a rare quality of intellectual brilliance, a command of the literature that is encyclopedic, but they are radical – radical way beyond, and at odds with, today’s secular, and uniform tastes. Indeed, even today in Italy, it is best to read Julius Evola, a prolific Italian philosopher and writer, with some discretion, or at least to hold such a book within nondescript, concealing covers, if one is to avoid hostile glares, or even physical abuse.
And the second difficulty? Alexander Dugin has been described as Putin’s “Rasputin” – a “mad mystic.” And Julius Evola was charged in 1951, with others, with the crime of promoting the Fascist Party, and of promoting ideas proper to fascism. Both philosophers, in short, are controversial and have proved hugely vulnerable to sometimes quite wild misrepresentations. Evola was acquitted on both charges of promoting fascism (though he is popularly still viewed as linked to post-war Italian neo-fascism), and Dugin, from 1998 to 2003, was a geopolitics counselor of the Duma’s Chairman (Gennadiy Selezyov) – but was not adviser to Vladimir Putin.
In fact, as Professor Bertonneau has written: “Evola condemns with equal fervour Muscovite communism and American money-democracy, as representing, the both of them, the mechanization and dehumanization of life. Unlike the Marxists – and unlike the Fascists and National Socialists – Evola saw the only hope for Western Civilization as lying in a revival of what he liked to capitalize, on the one hand, as Tradition and, on the other, as transcendence [personal transformation]; he thus rejected all materialism and instrumentalism as crude reductions of reality for coarse minds and, so too, as symptoms of a prevailing and altogether repugnant decadence.”
So why raise these controversial figures? Particularly, as in raising them we tread delicate ground. Well, it is because of that interesting coincidence to which we earlier alluded. Here is one aspect, as Professor Dugin himself notes:
Red Square in Moscow with a winter festival to the left and the Kremlin to the right. (Photo by Robert Parry)
“Julius Evola’s works were discovered in the 1960s [in Russia] by the very esoteric group of anti-communist intellectual thinkers known as ‘the Dissidents of the Right’. They were a small circle of people who had conscientiously refused to participate in the ‘cultural life’ of the USSR, and who had instead chosen an underground existence for themselves. The disparity between the presented Soviet culture and the actual Soviet reality was almost entirely what made them seek out the fundamental principles that could explain the origins of that evil, absolutist idea. It was through their refusal of communism that they discovered certain works by anti-modernist and traditionalist authors: above all, the books by René Guénon, and by Julius Evola.”
And, in America: “Sometime around the year 2000, the work of Julius Evola reached [the American] public consciousness, and thanks to writers like Bill White, Radical Traditionalism entered the [American] right-wing lexicon. This is a philosophy more than a political view, but fits neatly into the New Right idea that culture must be the generative actor for change which will manifest in politics and other areas … It is concerned with two fronts: first, arresting the decline of the West by crushing the Left by any means necessary; and second, a zeal for restoring the greatness of Western Civilization at its height, and [even] surpassing it.”
And here lies the third “difficulty” (or perhaps not a difficulty, but its particular merit, in the eyes of many): in a secular, liberal age, Evola’s philosophy is anti-modernist, anti-secularist and anti-Liberal. It harks back to philosophia perennis, and in American terms, to Aldous Huxley’s definitions of Perennial Philosophy. (In France, the Nouvelle Droite has a different, but parallel, ontological basis, i.e. with such as Alain de Benoist). More confusingly, though it is called Traditionalism, it is really a traditionalism that has no defined tradition.
Of course, this is not to suggest that Julius Evola was the only writer in this radical traditionalist vein. There was René Guenon, Frithjof Schuon, and many others. But, as the New York Times acknowledges (in a typically hostile piece): “More important for the current American administration, Evola also caught on in the United States with leaders of the alt-right movement, which Mr. Bannon nurtured as the head of Breitbart News, and then helped harness for Mr. Trump. ‘Julius Evola is one of the most fascinating men of the 20th century’, said Richard Spencer, the white nationalist leader, who is a top figure in the alt-right movement.”
Just to be clear, that the widely-read Steve Bannon made mention of Evola does not, of course, make him an Evolista. And nor does Putin’s embrace of Eurasianism, make him a Duginista. “But,” as the Times quotes one specialist, “the fact that Bannon even knows Evola is significant.”
In fact, what we seem to be witnessing is that just as the Russian philosopher, Dugin, draws on Radical Traditionalist thinking and then tries to apply it to the Russian situation, so too, the Alt-Right in the U.S. seems to be doing something similar: drawing on Evola and other Traditionalist sources, while distilling their ideas into an American cultural perspective (linking back to Huxley and Edmund Burke).
A wintery scene in Moscow, near Red Square. (Photo by Robert Parry)
In this respect, Trump and Bannon may indeed find much in common with Mr. Putin (though it would be a mistake, I believe, to read the Russian President through the prism of Professor Dugin). Where there is common ground between the latter (Putin and Dugin) is the sense that the West has never made a satisfactory attempt to try to understand Russia as distinct, and of worth, in its own right.
So the West has always tried to change Russia into something that it isn’t – has always tried to make it more like the West: more liberal, more democratic, more “diversity”- orientated – always assuming that that’s how it somehow has to be, and is the best way for it to “be.” But Russia is a thousand-year civilization; it has its own religious sites and its own particular civilizational code. Russia’s leaders do not want to let the West dictate to it how to interpret Russia’s history, or its present – and, certainly not its future.
Dugin unquestionably does share Evola’s unyielding disdain for liberalism, liberal modernity and liberal democracy. And moreover, he also intensely dislikes how the West tries to force this liberalism upon others – in ugly ways – as an “universal value.” This attitude has led him to be cast as fiercely anti-American and a Russian imperialist to boot, who yearns to re-establish the Soviet Empire.
It is possibly Dugin’s polemical video In Trump We Trust that contributed to the (unwarranted) U.S. inference that President Putin too, favored Trump in the U.S. Presidential election. To read Putin in this way, would be wrong. He likely does have empathy for the Traditionalist leaning toward differentiation (national as well as personal, in the Evola sense of becoming: of becoming oneself, of a return to origins). President Putin frequently makes this very point about Russia having its own essential essence and having, too, every right to that differentiation and cultural particular (as do other nation-states).
Evola does refer to Empire, but this has to be understood in a very different way from our contemporary understanding. And Dugin reflects this explicitly:
“One particular layer of Evola’s thoughts is felt by the Russians to be of imminent and extreme importance: his praise for the Imperial Ideal. Rome represents the focal point of Evola’s worldview. This sacred living power which had manifested itself all across the Empire was to Evola the very essence of the West’s traditional heritage… But a similar line of thought is seemingly naturally felt by the Russians, whose historical destiny has always been profoundly tied to that of Imperium… [that is to say], Moscow as the ‘Third Rome’: It should be noted that the ‘First Rome’ in this cyclic orthodox interpretation, was not Christian Rome, but rather Imperial Rome, because the Second Rome (or the ‘New Rome’) was Constantinople, the capital of the Christian Empire.
“Thus the idea of ‘Rome’ held by the Orthodox Russians corresponds to the understanding of … the inseparable ‘symphony’ between the spiritual authority and the temporal realm. For traditional orthodoxy, the catholic separation between the King and the Pope is simply unimaginable and close to blasphemy; and this very concept is actually called the ‘Latin heresy.’ Again, one can see the perfect convergence between Evola’s dogma and the commonplace mindset of Russian conservative thought.”
In his book on Evola, Paul Furlong describes it thus: “Evola sees nationalism as, in essence, the offspring of liberalism, modernity and bourgeois subversion, which announced the arrival of the fourth state that destroyed the traditional order of empire. Within the empire, nations find a just hierarchical order; [whereas] outside of it, they are mere tools of chauvinistic nationalisms, and of regimes interested only in material conquest in the name of contingent realities such as fatherlands.”
It is not hard to see how Dugin might be misread (and therefore perhaps project a false reading on to President Putin of Imperial revanchism rather than, as Dugin intends, of the hoped-for co-joining of the spiritual with the secular). This, despite President Putin having been at some pains to distance his own notion of eurasianism (communal psychology and a single geo-geographic and civilizational unity as a firm basis for state solidarity) from the more (literal) nationalist currents in Russia today.
Russian President Vladimir Putin after the military parade on Red Square, May 9, 2016 Moscow. (Photo from kremlin.ru)
The point here is that Dugin’s (and Evola’s) thinking is novel, and can give rise to wrong assumptions about what some Russian philosophers mean when they talk about “Empire” — a terminology which is translated in the West to imply Russia as being a potential “aggressor.”
But, if we turn to Steve Bannon and his 2010 film Generation Zero, which narrates America’s decline into crisis, it is not hard to detect some Evola resonances – albeit ones tailored to the distinct American cultural code:
Firstly, there is the idea of virile America (as it used to be) as the traditional, just, order of American society – a sort of “New Imperial Rome” perhaps, rather than a “New Jerusalem.”
Secondly, Bannon – like Evola – traces the beginning of the American slide towards decadence to the narcissistic, self-indulgent 1960s (to the Woodstock era, in Bannon’s narrative). Ditto for Europe, in Evola’s view.
Thirdly, Bannon – like Evola – disdains the undifferentiated, materialist and uniform bureaucratic modernity, to which this decadence has given rise. Evola admires ancient and historical societies for the virility of their structures – and not as tools of power (or of chauvinistic nationalism).
Fourthly, Bannon – like Evola – extols the symphony between the spiritual (Judeo Christian) and temporal authority.
Fifth, both see history as cyclical: the fourth turning in Bannon’s narrative versus the fourth stage in Evola’s.
Sixth, both believe that if you are a traditionalist, you must challenge “decadence” by all means.
I do not know whether Bannon or Trump have read Evola, but his sprit, and that of other Radical Traditionalists, has certainly permeated the thinking of the Alt-Right circles in which both men have been moving.
The important point here, is not to draw out all the parallels in order to assert a literary lineage. That does not matter. But rather, to point to something far more substantive: their foreign policy implications. The concinnity of thinking – albeit one refined through different cultural optics – is there.
Trump and Putin do indeed have something in common. If both parties – as it seems they do – concur that differentiated, individuated (but not individualist) states, are legitimate and appropriate to their separate and particular, cultural codes – what then, is there to fight about?
If America and the West now can disavow the need to remake Russia in the Western, diversity-centric, individualist, liberal-democratic image, and agree to accept Russia simply for what it, and its culture, “is,” then this would amount to a shift in Western policy of tectonic import. It would indeed be paradoxical if a figure, such as Evola, somehow might have contributed to such an event.