NATO uses ‘Russia threat’ as excuse to halt defense cuts

A US soldier greets the media as custom officers inspect an Abrams main battle tank, for U.S. troops deployed in the Baltics as part of NATO's Operation Atlantic Resolve, at Riga port March 9, 2015. (Reuters/Ints Kalnins)
There are many in the West who are interested in portraying Russia as an aggressor and who ramp up its threat in order to halt declining defense spending, Charles Shoebridge, a former UK army officer, told RT.

RT:Several days ago NATO forces carried out exercises with their Latvian counterparts. What do you think the US is hoping to achieve with these exercises?

Charles Shoebridge: Well its unclear really the extent to which this is as being built in some quarters as a standard rotation of troops or whether this is a standard exercise. But no matter really what the actual substance of it, certainly for the first time it appears that armored vehicles and so on, and all the equipment associated with them, are going to be left behind in the Baltics when these exercises are over, which means that equipment basically is to be in prepositioned presumably in an attempt to enhance readiness for some kind of threat. Certainly the way that this deployment is being built up by the Pentagon, by especially NATO governments and indeed increasingly the media in the West is that this is reassurance for the Baltic states against what is being built as again Russian aggression or at least a Russian threat. [This] is interesting because of course all the Baltic countries to which this deployment is taking place are members of NATO, very unlike of course the situation in Ukraine. Also I think it’s clear that neither serious analysts, nor any military or political figures to their name have put the suggestion that they expect a conventional attack from Russia any time soon in terms of troops and tanks rolling over the border.

When one thinks about the kind of troops and vehicles that are being positioned and exercised in the Baltics, supposedly to reassure those countries really that is the only kind of attack from Russia that those resources could deter, and yet this isn’t on the cards, nobody is suggesting that. So in many ways I think it’s a gesture, it’s posturing and it’s the US again and NATO basically saying to Russia and to their own public “we can stand up for ourselves in this position.” And in saying that you are deploying against the threat of course if you are asserting that the threat from Russia is actually there.

READ MORE: Over 100 US armored vehicles roll into Latvia, NATO flexes muscles in Europe (VIDEO)

RT:Could this posturing raise tension in the regions and if so is that accidental or deliberate?

CS: There is always going to be a danger of this. I mean raising the temperature let’s say in the Baltics also raises the temperature elsewhere for example in Ukraine. We’ve got a situation where American and British troops are being deployed to Ukraine, all being supposedly away from the combat areas and in a training role. Also Britain and the US are sending so-called non-lethal equipment to the Ukrainian army which again can cause some sort of friction between Russia very close to the border there.

Certainly in the West, in the West media and probably from NATO governments that if Russia, as it often does of course as is it’s right, announces large scale exercises within its own territory that is on the border of Ukraine or the Baltics, then of course the West’s newspapers and TV companies will say that this is somehow an escalation, a provocative and dangerous move. And indeed it’s true to some extent, accidents can happen which could result in conflict. But certainly just as NATO has the right to exercise on the territory of its member states, so of course Russian troops have the right to exercise on their own territory, and indeed in international waters and airspace. But when those events happen, in the West it’s built as an escalation and as a provocative move.

RT:General O'Connor reportedly said that the US forces will stay for as long as required to deter Russian aggression. Are we likely to see an expansion of the US military presence in Europe over the coming years?

CS: I think the current tension will defuse but perhaps not in the immediate term. It’s in NATO’s interest politically, even in terms of reinventing itself, creating a role for itself. If one thinks about the withdrawal from Afghanistan and elsewhere where NATO is being active, of course it reinvigorates the alliance if indeed a threat can be said to exist. It’s easy to argue that - as indeed the West is fighting to claim that Russia is a threat to the West as indeed presumably Russia could also simply say that the West is a threat to it from the movement that have taken place in recent months. And so also it’s in people’s interest to claim it as a threat in order to halt the declining defense spending.

We’ve got a situation where very few of the counties of NATO are maintaining defense spending at this aim of two percent of GDP for each country that they said they would. Even today think-tanks announced in the United Kingdom that its supposed target of two percent … will not be met. And so again there are many vested interests here to shall we say ramp up this threat, but also we need to look at the bigger picture here. The US increasingly is going to be focused well away from Europe, it has more interest, and more worries on its plate than Russia in the long-term looking more towards China, the Pacific, the South China Sea, and areas such as that as well of course as the Middle East which is far from being resolved.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.