The future of NATO

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a panel discussion on ‘The Future of NATO’, as part of the Literary Review of Canada’s Spur Festival. The discussion is now available online here:

http://www.cpac.ca/en/programs/public-record/episodes/45762998/

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12 thoughts on “The future of NATO”

  1. I must be starting to be affected by epistemic closure because I physically found it hard to listen passively to some points made by the other participants.

    Even the more levelheaded historian guy… Yeah, “Russian cyberattacks in the Baltics”.

    First, a little primer on roughly how the Russians have structured their “cyber” capabilities:

    SVR and GRU are both focused in intelligence gathering, not destruction/disruption (vs. Western targets). FSB is focused on contra-subversion/repression and counterespionage, as well as to making sure that the life expectancy of any Chechen “Wilayet Ichkeria” Amir is measured in months.
    This “denial of service” things are not what the actual Russian spy agencies do, but what the “runet” does when it perceives that is has the high states leave to blow off some steam.

    Various Russian grouping are pretty good at not quite legal cyber activities, these groups are also interested in good working relationships with the Russian authorities, and trolling Latvia is a very cheap and risk free way to do so. While the Latvians of course claim that only the dastardly FSB (which would not even be hacking Latvia agency because that is SVR/GRU turf) could penetrate the defenses manned by heroic Balts against the Russian hacker hordes, one should of course remember that claiming “Oh noes, the FSB comes” gets you funding and attention, while claiming “Oh crap, some Contractor got social social engineered by a teenager Russian script kiddie” does not.

    Various public stunts with the Baltics were not concerted efforts by the Russian authorities to punish plucky little Latvia, but mostly consisted of some script kiddies having fun at Latvias expense.

    What I am asking myself is, do they actually seriously believe what they are saying?

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  2. I haven’t watched the video, but to Andrej’s comment: I think the problem is that there is the official narrative. It’s ubiquitous, ever-present, almost palpable, it’s common sense. It affects all of us.

    To break out of the narrative, one has to consciously reject it, treating every element of it with extreme skepticism; to assume, always, a falsehood or deliberate misleading spin. And this is how you become a ‘troll’, or ‘bot,’ who shouldn’t be taken seriously.

    However, if you belong to a society of official enemy, and you practice the same approach in respect to *their* narrative, then you’re a ‘dissident’, and you can never be wrong.

    And so it goes…

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  3. The most basic premise of the three other participants in this discussion is that Nato is designed to respond to (various external) threats, to “solve problems” that Nato is “confronted with”, to “meet challenges” that Nato “faces”, etc. etc. Their world-view is constructed around this vision of Nato as an essentially reactive or even passive, purely defensive organization that strictly speaking acts only in response to events and/or action by Others, i.e., Nato acts only when acted upon (or, lately, when “innocent victims” are acted upon). This is the common thread running through almost everything they say; it’s what holds together their self-contained, hermetically sealed conceptual edifice. Very dangerous things just sort of happen out there in the world, i.e., outside the borders of Nato members, and here we are huddled together inside this alliance just keeping each other safe and secure and stable as against these external dangers.

    Given the basic constraints they’re operating under, they simply don’t have the imaginative capacity – i.e., they lack the requisite cognitive tools – that would allow them to begin to see how Nato itself may be a threat, how Nato itself may pose risks to the world, how it could be a problem generator rather than a problem solver.

    Their intellectual framework simply does not permit this notion to enter, even in passing. The vision of Nato as essentially “good” (qua problem solver, stability creator, guardian against threats and challenges, etc.) likely operates at a very fundamental level: it is integral to their self-identity. To question any one part of this vision is to question the whole.

    This is why inconvenient facts are either deemed irrelevant or re-characterized as “propaganda”, i.e., as threats in themselves. Inconvenient facts are to be processed via “perception management”, and not in any way internalized.

    When combined with jargon and seemingly sensible bureaucracy-speak, this basic framework is virtually impenetrable. This is why they can look at “alternative” views with a kind of innocent puzzlement, as if they’re being present by someone from another planet. Or when they do recognize difficult or inconvenient facts, they recognize them as the “Kremlin position” (because facts are almost entirely dependent on their source). This is why it is possible to have “reams and reams of lawyers” confirming the legality of a clearly illegal action. And so on.

    Or, this is why, for example, Mr. McRae can, at the drop of a hat, talk for hours and hours on end on any given micro-subject pertaining to Nato without ever once expressing any kind of deficit in self-confidence.

    There is no doubt because there is no doubt.

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    1. Incidentally, what I’m trying to suggest above also helps explain how it is that, in a situation where Turkey has shot down a Russian fighter jet over Syrian territory (on the premise that the Russian jet made a de minimis incursion over Turkish territory), and where the killed Russian pilot (or pilots) are paraded around by head-chopping lunatics, it is Turkey that is deemed and declared (by Nato council) to be the victim … and despite the fact that – at least outside the Nato bubble – Turkey is widely recognized to be supporting those head-chopping lunatics who, incidentally, are the very same (or at least some variant thereof) head-chopping lunatics that have declared themselves mortal enemies of – and indeed at least in one case have viciously attacked – all other Nato members.

      Despite all of Turkey’s highly risky, dangerous and threatening agency in the world, despite having taken actions that have caused real harm both to itself and to others, it is still folded under the rubric of “essentially passive, innocent, even victimized, but above all good, ally”.

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      1. When hundreds of other people are writing things about a high profile incident, it is difficult to find anything original to say, thus my silence so far on the shooting down of the Russian plane. But I should probably give it some thought and see if I can produce something.

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  4. Yes but your commentary is invaluable and doesn’t need to be perfectly original to be worthwhile. We are desperately in need of sensible, balanced, even-handed analysis. (Although unfortunately, “balanced” in the present, highly imbalanced intellectual climate ends up looking “pro-Russian”, and/or is often accused of being such). Even a response to some other commentary would be of interest.

    So for example, I just listened to the CBC’s The Current and, predictably, given the CBC’s relentlessly negative coverage of anything pertaining to Russia/Putin, the discussion amounted to an apology for Turkey; for instance, evidence connecting Turkey with ISIS was glossed over if not entirely ignored. (Regarding the evidence, see for example the Columbia University research paper here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-l-phillips/research-paper-isis-turke_b_6128950.html.) Turkey’s actions were placed in the context of Russia’s “aggression”, its alleged prior multiple incursions into Turkish airspace, Turkey’s affinity for its ethnic brethren across the Syrian border, the distinction between “moderate” and supposedly non-moderate rebels, and so on. And because they wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity to remind us how nasty Russia is, there was also discussion of Russian aggression in the air generally, for example its air incursions in the Baltics; and, of course, its propaganda on MH17 (in light of which we are not to take anything Russia claims about yesterday’s incident seriously). Etc.

    On the airspace “trespass” issue in particular, I haven’t been able to find much balanced commentary; for example just how egregious are Russia’s actions in this respect? Do they really seriously threaten commercial air traffic in Scandinavia? Does crossing Turkey’s airspace for 17 seconds (the time Turkey alleges in its complaint to the UN) justify the shoot down? Is there not a “de minimis” concept in international law relating to these matters (i.e., as in “de minimis non curat lex”)?

    Note: back in 2012, when Syria shot down a Turkish airforce jet, Erdogan in said: “A short-term border violation can never be a pretext for an attack”; and Anders Fogh Rasmussen opined that it “is another example of the Syrian authorities [sic] disregard for international norms, peace and security and human life.” (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-18584872)

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