During a NATO foreign ministers meeting, held earlier this month by secure video conference, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declared, “NATO was created to deal with crises. So we can help and our Alliance is playing its part.” NATO was on the case. But what exactly was it doing? Here Stoltenberg became vague:
NATO would apparently offer “logistical, transport and medical help” to member-states fighting the pandemic.
Russia and China have of course been providing “logistical, transport and medical help” all over the world for weeks, but NATO makes it sound as if it alone is doing anything, and rushes to take credit for aid that in reality has nothing to do with the alliance.
On March 30, a cargo aircraft from China landed in the Czech Republic to deliver respirators and face masks. “This was the third such transport flight from China to the Czech Republic…under the NATO supported Strategic Airlift International Solution,” NATO proudly announced. So, China delivers medical equipment, and NATO takes the credit?
Recently, NATO member-state Turkey was supposed to deliver medical supplies to NATO member-states Spain and Italy. Once again NATO rushed to take credit. Stoltenberg was “proud to see NATO Allies supporting each other through our disaster relief centre.”
Understandably, Stoltenberg didn’t address Spain’s complaint that Turkey had seized hundreds of ventilators and sanitary equipment that Spain had already paid for. The ventilators had reportedly been manufactured in Turkey on behalf of a Spanish firm that bought the components from China. Subsequently, Turkey ordered all domestic mask producers to produce exclusively for the Turkish state.
Lack of cooperation among NATO member-states has become endemic. In the US, the Trump administration ordered healthcare equipment firm 3M to stop exporting N95 respirator masks to Canada and Latin America. In response, Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister threatened retaliation: “We have an enormous number of products that are essential for the United States in their fight against Covid-19.” Canada, he said, provides the US doctors, nurses, testing kits and key ingredients for the N95 masks.
Meanwhile, Germany accused the US of engaging in “modern piracy” by diverting in Bangkok, Thailand, 200,000 facemasks that were destined for Germany. France also complained when the US seized a consignment of masks bound for France from China. “The masks were on a plane at Shanghai airport…when the U.S. buyers turned up and offered three times what their French counterparts were paying,” the Guardian reported.
Germany, in turn, had initially banned the export of medical masks and other protective gear to Italy. Though Germany did eventually relent, there was no relenting on Spain, Italy and France’s plea that coronavirus-incurred debt be shared out in the form of corona-bonds. Germany’s refusal infuriated the Italians so much, that a group of Italian mayors and politicians bought a page in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung to remind Germany that it had not been forced to pay back its debts after World War II.
In stark contrast to the reluctance of NATO member-states to do much for one another, China and Russia have been delivering aid all over the world, including NATO countries. Russia sent masks and ventilators to the United States; and ventilators, medical equipment and military virologists and epidemiologists to Italy. Russia also sent coronavirus testing kits to Iran, North Korea and Venezuela, as well as to former USSR republics such as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus. Russia has also sent military doctors and virology and epidemiology specialists to Serbia.
China also stepped up to the plate. It sent coronavirus testing kits as well as ventilators, masks and doctors to Italy; testing kits to Spain; and facemasks to Holland. It also delivered coronavirus testing kits to Palestine, and aid to Cambodia and Malaysia.
NATO as useless now as in 2008 & 2015 crises
Contrary to Stoltenberg’s claims then, the most striking feature of the coronavirus crisis is the absence of a NATO contribution to its solution. Pandemics are as old as humanity. Sooner or later, something like Covid-19 was bound to come along. Yet, despite all of the resources NATO had eaten up over the years, it has undertaken no emergency planning for a possible pandemic or a biological weapon attack. Its military hardware, vaunted command structures and constant military exercises are as useless today as they were in 2015 when Europe faced its last serious crisis.
Of course, it was NATO itself that triggered the 2015 migration crisis. Its reckless intervention to overthrow the government of Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi threw the previously stable North African country into chaos and caused the massive flow of migrants into Europe. The same sequence followed the subsequent intervention of key NATO powers in the civil war in Syria.
In 2015, Europeans woke up to discover not only that their most urgent security problem was not Russia, Ukraine and Crimea (NATO’s obsessive concern), but Europe’s open borders, a problem NATO had done nothing to address and, worse, had exacerbated by fueling instability on Europe’s periphery. Yet NATO offered no explanation as to why Europe’s borders had remained so porous for decades. Similarly, in the face of a spate of terrorist attacks in Europe in 2015, NATO was unable to explain why, after supposedly fighting terrorism for the better part of two decades, it had done so little to safeguard Europe from the scourge of terrorism.
In a speech delivered in Wellington, New Zealand, on Aug. 5, 2019, a few months before the Covid-19 outbreak, Stoltenberg declared that the greatest challenge the West faced was “increased competition between great powers” and that “a more assertive Russia, is putting the rules based order under pressure.” Russia was everywhere, threatening everyone, “trying to meddle in and undermining the trust in democratic institutions.” And then there was “the rise of China.” China and Russia, Stoltenberg warned, “represent challenges for all of us, both NATO Allies and…many other countries.”
So there it is. A few months before the onset of a global pandemic, the full ramifications of which we can today barely grasp, NATO was expressing alarm about Russia and China, the two powers that have done far more to help NATO countries out during this pandemic than NATO itself has.
Meanwhile, Europe and the United States careen toward an economic catastrophe that will dwarf the 2008 crisis by several orders of magnitude. NATO’s contribution to solving that crisis will be as useless as its contribution to solving the 2008 crisis. What will it be? It will plead with member-states not to skimp on their contributions to a security organization from which they derive no security.
Header: A crew member of a military transport helicopter of type NH90 (NATO Helicopter 90) sits in the door of the helicopter after landing at Dresden International Airport. © Global Look Press / Robert Michael / dpa