Recent statements by the defense ministers of Germany and Canada reveal that the globally-oriented Western military consortium that is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization plans not only to continue but broaden the wars and military occupations it has conducted over the past twenty years.
The bloc’s primus inter pares – in fact its ringleader – the United States, has with its Alliance partners spent the past generation at war almost with respite: The first war with Iraq in 1991, bombing campaigns and large-scale troop deployments in the Balkans (Bosnia in 1994-1995, Yugoslavia and Kosovo in 1999 and Macedonia in 2001), Afghanistan for the past decade (with military deployments to Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as part of the larger war theater), Iraq again from 2003 onward, the Horn of Africa (bases in and operations from Djibouti for attacks inside Somalia and Yemen and the maintenance of navy war groups in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden), airlift operations in western Sudan and Uganda, and the current 108-day air assault against Libya.
But, to borrow the title of a volume by French historian and novelist Zoé Oldenbourg, the world is not enough. Or, at the very least, nothing short of the entire world is sufficient to slake the ambitions of the world’s only military bloc.
In May the German government announced that while cutting the number of troops in the Bundeswehr overall it was increasing the number assigned to foreign missions from 7,000 to 10,000. (“Simultaneously.”) Berlin and its NATO allies cannot even pretend that their armed forces are necessary for defense of their respective homelands; they are completing the transformation from conscript or mixed conscript-volunteer forces to strictly professional (NATO’s term and requirement) expeditionary armies.
In late May the new German defense minister, Thomas de Maizière, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that he did not exclude the prospect of his nation’s troops being deployed to “unstable countries” such as Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan.
Reunified (and remilitarized) Germany has engaged in combat operations and dispatched troops outside its borders in war and post-conflict zones, in Europe and overseas, since the mid-1990s for the first time since the country’s defeat in World War II, including to Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Djibouti, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Iraq (as part of the NATO Training Mission-Iraq), Lebanon, Chad and the Central African Republic, Uganda (to train local troops for the war in Somalia) and the Gulf of Aden as part of NATO and, less frequently, European Union missions – for all the difference that exists between the two. (The expanded version of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon established after the Israeli attack on the country in 2006 is not officially but for all practical intents a NATO-EU operation.)
Germany has 4,900-5,300 troops in Afghanistan, its largest deployment abroad since the Second World War, engaged in the first ground combat mission conducted by German armed forces since the same period.
Maizière’s comments included the assertion that “soldiers are part of [Germany's] foreign policy, and a political process must accompany the deployment of soldiers,” while accentuating his country’s “alliance” obligations. Ones not currently being honored in the war against Libya, for sure, though Germany increased its commitment in Afghanistan to free up other NATO states’ forces for that conflict and renewed its participation in the bloc’s ten-year Operation Active Endeavor naval surveillance and interdiction patrols throughout the Mediterranean Sea.
On June 2 CBC reported that Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay pledged that “Canada is looking at setting up bases around the world to better position the military to participate in international missions.”
In propia persona MacKay said: “The focus of the planning, let’s be clear, is our capability for expeditionary participation in international missions…We are big players in NATO. We’re a country that has become a go-to nation in response to situations like what we’re seeing in Libya, what we saw in Haiti…” The reference to Haiti was presumably not only in relation to earthquake relief efforts in 2010 but to Ottawa’s military involvement in the country in 2004 and since.
Canada has been employing a base in Germany and of late in Cyprus (after being expelled from Camp Mirage in the United Arab Emirates last year) for the wars in Afghanistan and Libya.
The Canadian daily Le Devoir disclosed that the government, under a program named Operational Support Hubs Network, has completed negotiations for bases with Germany and Jamaica and is “in talks with Kuwait, Senegal, Kenya or Tanzania, Singapore and South Korea” for more.
At the same time MacKay was touting Canada as a “big player” in NATO, he confirmed that his nation’s air force will receive its first fifth generation U.S. F-35 (Joint Strike Fighter) stealth fighter jets in 2016, a transaction that could cost as much as $16 billion, the largest arms purchase in Canada’s history. Decades after the end of the Cold War. What has been projected as eventually 65 of the multirole warplanes will be used first and foremost against Russia in the Arctic Ocean, but that many of the advanced aircraft are not required to be scrambled against Tupolev Tu-95s over international waters. Like Germany, Canada’s alliance obligations entail far wider – international and strategic – intentions.
Shortly before retiring as head of the world’s mightiest military organization with a World War II-level budget ($725 billion for this year), Robert Gates attended the annual International Institute for Strategic Studies-run Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore, astride the strategic Strait of Malacca, and by some accounts reached an arrangement with the host country for a naval base there where new (yet to be deployed) U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ships will be stationed.
Last November Gates joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen for the 25th anniversary Australia-United States Ministerial meeting in Australia, during which visit the local press revealed that the Pentagon will gain access to several Australian army, air force and navy bases.
As with the naval facility in Singapore, the intended target is America’s main rival in the Asia-Pacific region: China.
While in Singapore last month, Gates said that although there are “still some myopic souls” who believe that the U.S. cannot retain its preeminent military role in the Asia-Pacific, “In the coming years, the United States military is also going to be increasing its port calls, naval engagements and multilateral training efforts with multiple countries throughout the region.”
The Pentagon moving into bases in Australia and Singapore follows the acquisition of new American staging and forward, supply and docking and refueling, air, interceptor missile and radar, special operations, infantry, drone and other surveillance bases and other military facilities over the past twelve years in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Djibouti, Iraq, Bulgaria, Romania, Israel, Seychelles, Colombia, Poland and Bahrain (a reported new unmanned aerial vehicle – drone – base for attacks inside Yemen), and smaller or not yet acknowledged bases and other forms of permanent military presence in nations like Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal, Morocco, Mali, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Panama, the Netherlands Antilles, Lithuania, Estonia and Hungary (in the last three cases air bases obtained under NATO arrangements). If the Yugoslav, Afghan and Iraqi war precedents are an indication, base plans for Libya are already underway.
Far from the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union curbing the military expansion plans of the Pentagon and NATO by eliminating their official reason for being, those two developments have led to ever-expanding global designs by the “world’s sole military superpower” and its North Atlantic allies.