Opinion: Opinion | NATO Summit: Why Is ‘Peace’ Such A Dirty Word For The West?

NATO’s 75th-anniversary summit will conclude today (July 11) at the famed Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. This iconic venue was where the NATO Treaty was originally signed in 1949 and where the 50th-anniversary summit was also hosted.

In his inaugural speech 75 years ago, President Harry Truman had stated that the treaty aimed to prevent the kind of aggression that had led to the two world wars. He emphasised that the pact was not an act of aggression but a commitment to peace, democracy, and the rule of law  – a commitment that is being put to test today.

NATO’s Objective

NATO was established as a collective defence mechanism to counter the Soviet Union’s growing influence and perceived threat to Europe post-World War II. Seventy-five years later, Europe feels it is on the brink of another world war, especially since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, near NATO’s eastern borders.

In his address to the summit leaders, US President Joe Biden warned that Russia intended to take over all of Ukraine and that Putin might target Poland next. Biden assured Ukraine of more material and military support, pledging to help defeat Russia. He particularly mentioned supplying Ukraine with five sets of Patriot missiles to protect itself from aerial attacks by Russia.

Western leaders, spurred by media rhetoric, are determined to defeat Russia militarily. They believe that only war can bring peace, and that arming Ukraine further is the right thing to do. They believe that aggression must be met with aggression. This stance explains the hostility and disapproval towards those urging peace talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, or those who advocate for peace over continued conflict.

Modi’s Message of Peace

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for peace is a notable example. Modi’s visit to Moscow for a bilateral summit has been met with disapproval and hostility in the West. The meeting’s timing, decided weeks in advance, coincided with a Russian attack on a children’s hospital in Ukraine. Western media condemned Modi’s visit, framing it as morally questionable; in fact, Le Monde criticised Modi for visiting Russia amid the attack, perhaps forgetting its own Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron’s visits to Israel during bombings in Gaza.

Modi’s advocacy for dialogue and diplomacy was met with sarcasm, with Le Monde dismissing his position as a “Hindu nationalist” view. Zelenskyy, whom Modi respects, was more critical, tweeting that it was a disappointment and a blow to peace efforts. He said, “It is a huge disappointment and a devastating blow to peace efforts to see the leader of the world’s largest democracy hug the world’s most bloody criminal in Moscow on such a day.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s surprise visit to Moscow just before Modi’s trip also rattled Western leaders. A US spokesperson commented that it was not “constructive” or helpful to Ukraine. At a press briefing, he said, “We don’t see this as advancing the peace process. It certainly doesn’t help Ukraine. I think the Ukrainians have already commented on this themselves.”

Orbán, who had met Zelenskyy earlier, advocates for a Europe that is capable of defending itself and resolving the Russia-Ukraine issue internally. He believes the war will end in a Russian victory and urges a negotiated settlement. And since he holds the European Council’s rotating presidency, Orbán faced heavy criticism for taking a unilateral position for peace.

Disconnect Between Leaders and People

A disconnect appears to exist between Europe’s leaders and ordinary people. A new study by the European Council on Foreign Relations shows that Europeans are sceptical about Ukraine’s chances of winning the war. Many believe a negotiated settlement between Russia and Ukraine is the best outcome.

Recently, British far-right leader Nigel Farage urged parties to come to the negotiating table and strike a peace deal, arguing the war had stagnated. He faced a barrage of criticism and was asked to apologise, but he stood by his statement.

Some might say NATO and its partners are engaged in peace efforts. They organised a Ukraine peace conference recently, but that ended in no results, simply because one of the main actors, Russia, was not even invited. 

Who’s Winning the War?

Biden has reassured all 32 NATO members that Russia will be defeated. He told Zelenskyy that his army would win. However, many Western academics and leaders believe Russia will eventually be victorious and any peace agreement will ultimately favour Putin. Russia has captured more than 15% of Ukraine’s territory, and many already believe that Ukraine will never get it back. Putin is said to have put forward more than three peace proposals. Now, he is biding his time. And he appears to be in no hurry. 

Saner voices in the West refrain from indulging in what might be seen as ‘war-mongering’. They believe Putin’s ambition is limited to keeping the eastern part of Ukraine, for Putin, they think, knows that attacking a NATO member country would be military suicide. If Ukraine is admitted into NATO, the possibility of a direct confrontation with Russia will become imminent. That is why Ukraine is yet to be admitted to NATO.

But a few Western scholars and academics believe that not only will Russia lose but that the loss will trigger a total disintegration of the Russian Federation.

American author Janusz Bugajski said two years ago in his book Failed State: A Guide to Russia’s Rupture that the Russian Federation, made up of 83 regions and republics, will break up into pieces even without the West’s efforts. Bugajski’s worry is not the implosion of the Russian state, but that the Americans and Europeans have no plans to manage the various parts of the broken state.

He once told this columnist that the West needed to prepare for the day when his prediction would come true. “We are absolutely not prepared for it. This is the debate every day: the idea that Russia will disintegrate regardless of what the West does. The question is how it would disintegrate, whether it would be peaceful, whether it would be remotely peaceful. I think we need much better preparation first of all to manage the desolation of Russia in such a way that it doesn’t create instability in neighbouring countries, particularly not in NATO countries,” he said.

Trump’s Possible Return

Bugajski’s views are widely shared by many experts and academics. But under Putin, there are no signs of any weakening of the state. His supporters might say it’s the West’s wishful thinking.

Not to forget, the entire NATO-Russia equation and consequently, the possibility of any direct confrontation, might shift if Donald Trump wins the November election in the US. He has already called Putin his “friend” and questioned the “over 200 billion dollars” the US has “wasted” on arming Ukraine.

Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian Prime Minister, recently said that if Trump came to power, peace would prevail in Europe. In a sense, he may not be entirely off the mark in banking on his friend Trump, who is well-known for his unpredictability, but who, as Orbán points out, also “never waged a war with any country” in his four-year rule. 

(Syed Zubair Ahmed is a London-based senior Indian journalist with three decades of experience with the Western media)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author

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