Thursday, August 11, 2016

Philip Breedlove and the New Cold War hawks

Spiegel International recently reported on new details that have come to light on the hawkish maneuvers of Gen. Philip Breedlove in the Ukraine crisis. (Christoph Schult and Klaus Wiegrefe, Dangerous Propaganda: Network Close To NATO Military Leader Fueled Ukraine Conflict 07/28/2016) Breedlove was the commander of the US European Command and the Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO from 2013 to 2016. Schult and Wiegrefe report:

The newly leaked emails reveal a clandestine network of Western agitators around the NATO military chief, whose presence fueled the conflict in Ukraine. Many allies found in Breedlove's alarmist public statements about alleged large Russian troop movements cause for concern early on. Earlier this year, the general was assuring the world that US European Command was "deterring Russia now and preparing to fight and win if necessary."

The emails document for the first time the questionable sources from whom Breedlove was getting his information. He had exaggerated Russian activities in eastern Ukraine with the overt goal of delivering weapons to Kiev.

The general and his likeminded colleagues perceived US President Barack Obama, the commander-in-chief of all American forces, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel as obstacles. Obama and Merkel were being "politically naive & counter-productive" in their calls for de-escalation, according to Phillip Karber, a central figure in Breedlove's network who was feeding information from Ukraine to the general.
Some of the more prominent names they mention as collaborating with Breedlove on his hawkish project are Wesley Clark, Colin Powell and Victoria Nuland, the neocon heavyweight and wife of Robert Kagan. Nuland serves as the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and played a key role in the Obama Administration's regime-change efforts in Ukraine against Viktor Yanukovych's government, deposed in 2014. Her "f**k the EU" comment over Yanukovych's ouster didn't set well with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, unsurprisingly. (Angela Merkel: Victoria Nuland's remarks on EU are unacceptable Guardian 02/07/2014)

Breedlove's hawkish stance and the differences Merkel's government had with him aren't news. (Erik Kirschbaum and Tom Körkemeier, NATO and Germany are not on the same page Business Insider/Reuters 03/07/2015)

Spiegel International reported 03/06/2015 (Breedlove's Bellicosity: Berlin Alarmed by Aggressive NATO Stance on Ukraine):

... General Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander in Europe, stepped before the press in Washington. Putin, the 59-year-old said, had once again "upped the ante" in eastern Ukraine -- with "well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery" having been sent to the Donbass. "What is clear," Breedlove said, "is that right now, it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day."

German leaders in Berlin were stunned. They didn't understand what Breedlove was talking about. And it wasn't the first time. Once again, the German government, supported by intelligence gathered by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency, did not share the view of NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).

The pattern has become a familiar one. For months, Breedlove has been commenting on Russian activities in eastern Ukraine, speaking of troop advances on the border, the amassing of munitions and alleged columns of Russian tanks. Over and over again, Breedlove's numbers have been significantly higher than those in the possession of America's NATO allies in Europe. As such, he is playing directly into the hands of the hardliners in the US Congress and in NATO.

The German government is alarmed. Are the Americans trying to thwart European efforts at mediation led by Chancellor Angela Merkel? Sources in the Chancellery have referred to Breedlove's comments as "dangerous propaganda." Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier even found it necessary recently to bring up Breedlove's comments with NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg.
The same article mentions German concern over Nuland's role in pushing escalation against Russia over Ukraine.

Schult and Wiegrefe note that Nuland is "considered a potential candidate for secretary of state" in a Hillary Clinton Administration. They don't say whom is doing the considering in this case. But a Nuland appointment would be a strong sign that Clinton intends to pursue a "new Cold War" approach against Russia.

Wiegrefe writes in Eastern Flank Security: The Siren Song of NATO's Hawks Spiegel International 07/12/25016:

Hawks like the former NATO commander Wesley Clark and former German General Egon Ramms refer to the border [between Russia and the Baltic states] as the "Baltic Gap," an allusion to the famous Fulda Gap of the Cold War, the site on the eastern border of the German state of Hesse where military strategists feared a major Soviet tank offensive. It never happened. Now, though, the fear is that a massive Russian invasion could take place somewhere along the plains between the Estonian town of Narva, in the country's northeast, and the Belorussian town of Brest, located on the border with Poland.

At the NATO summit in Warsaw on Friday and Saturday, the alliance followed through on its desire to bolster its conventional forces. A rapid reaction force had already been established, but now, the alliance intends to station thousands of soldiers in the three Baltic countries and Poland. In case of a Russian attack, NATO is to have almost 50,000 troops available to beat it back. And there are plenty of military and political leaders who would like to see an even more robust presence.

The hawks would seem to be setting the tone at the moment. Russia is an "existential threat," NATO's then-top military commander, Philip Breedlove -- who also adopted a hardline position during the height of the Ukraine crisis -- said not long ago. This spring, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said that Russia represents a greater risk to Europe than Islamic State. And at the beginning of June, the Danish NATO officer Jakob Larsen publicly suggested that "we need to learn to fight total war again." Larsen commands NATO's advance post in Lithuania and apparently isn't aware that the last call for "total war" was made in Germany during the infamous 1943 speech delivered in a Berlin sports stadium by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. [my emphasis]
Wiegrefe notes, apparently in line the official German position, "The democratic West could certainly afford to be a bit more even-tempered. It is, after all, vastly superior to semi-authoritarian Russia in many respects,including militarily, economically and politically."

Wiegrefe cites this article by Elbridge Colby as an example of the hawkish position, America Must Prepare for 'Limited War' The National Interest 10/21/20155. (Behind subscription; full text available from the Center for a New American Security).

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