As the world has reeled from the coronavirus outbreak, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has welcomed yet another new member into its bloated fold: the Republic of North Macedonia. That’s right, folks, if the great Russian Bear wasn’t fearful enough of the world’s largest military bureaucracy–I mean, the most important military alliance in history–then the inclusion of Macedonia should certainly be the thing that spikes dread in the dark hearts of Vladimir Putin and his siloviki. There comes a point when even the absurd becomes the farce and I think we’ve pretty much reached it.
Does anyone honestly think that this is a good idea? Anyone?
Right now, Russia is engaged in an oil price war against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as Moscow seeks to signal to the world that they are strong whereas the Western allies–of which Saudi Arabia is affiliated with–are completely weak. This is Putin’s attempt to sink the US shale market so as to deprive his European targets of any energy independence whatsoever. It’s going to work, too. As one report stated recently, it looks as though President Putin has been planning his ongoing price war for several years. He was just waiting for the inevitable moment that the world economy tanked again (which, of course, everyone knew would happen since we live on Neoliberal Bubbleconomics).
The last time the market tanked, the 2008 housing and financial crises, Russia was not as well-situated as it is today. Back then, Russia attempted to coordinate with China the dumping of their shares of embattled mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in a brazen attempt to kick the Americans when they were down. Beijing declined Putin’s offer. Back then, the United States and China were far too interwoven economically for China to have done that which Putin wanted without suffering grave blowback themselves. As you’ve seen since the 2008 recession until recent days, China managed to sustain itself (at least on paper) far better than their American rivals did. Whereas the US endured turgid economic growth over the last decade, China was able to keep their economy growing–even if it did decline to the single-digit GDP growth rates that it is at today.
After the coronavirus and the proper labeling of China as having been the source of this disease by the Trump Administration (as well as the “trade war”), China and the United States are no longer as tethered as they once were. As Putin pushes and cajoles the world order to conform to his authoritarian desires, one might expect the budding Russo-Chinese entente to blossom more fully–even if Moscow had recently sealed their borders with China as the COVID-19 pandemic propagated from China. Of course, autocrats are going to stay together these days, particularly are the United States exhibits decisive, nationalistic leadership from Washington (for a change) as well as (until recently) showed that it has the capacity to enjoy real economic prosperity under Trump. Even though the American economy has taken a hit by COVID-19, the leadership remains. In some instances, Trump’s approval ratings are higher than they’ve been in some time. This must frustrate America’s enemies.
At the same time, though, the Trump administration should know better than to simply embrace another European state into NATO. Since 2008, NATO has proven that it cannot protect its periphery. While Georgia was not a NATO member, the George W. Bush administration was laying the proverbial groundwork for the tiny state in the South Caucasus region to become a member of NATO. Putin sensed an opportunity in August 2008 to deprive Tblisi of that opportunity–and he took it with great élan. Again, in 2014, the West working assiduously to incorporate Ukraine into both the NATO Alliance and the European Union. Putin almost lost his grip on the situation there after his preferred puppet was removed and replaced by a pro-Western leader. Lacking any viable nuclear deterrent or real military strength of their own, and since they had not yet become members of NATO, the Russians ran roughshod over Ukraine–all while the United States and Russia, the two nuclear powers in this affair, increasingly moved up the escalation ladder.
Many in Washington and throughout the West likely assume that the greater the number of member states in NATO, the stronger it is. But what can Macedonia really contribute? With the exception of a few members, such as Poland, most European NATO members are not paying their fair share to sustain the alliance. Even fewer European members are maintaining a military force the could believably deter any potential Russian push into Europe.
Meanwhile, the primary country of NATO’s southern defensive perimeter, Turkey, embraces a combination of Neo-Ottoman imperialism and Islamism while simultaneously undercutting the NATO Alliance by purchasing Russian-made air defense weapons while at the same time risking a major conflict with Russia over energy-rich territories in Eastern Syria. Turkey also continues threatening Greece, a fellow NATO member, as well as US allies in Israel over natural gas rights in the Eastern Mediterranean and US-ally Egypt over Turkish designs for creating a friendly regime in war-torn Libya.
Far from being the greatest military alliance today, NATO, like the European Union, is on its last legs. It is in dire need of reform or outright termination as an alliance. But, few have the courage to stop this charade and try a truly new policy with Russia and Europe–an America First policy.
After all, as history has shown, without the United States, the NATO alliance is nothing. Everyone knows that.
North Macedonia has a national GDP that’s worth $11.34 billion. You read that right. It’s roughly equivalent to that of Fulton County, Georgia (where Atlanta is located). Yet, we are signaling to an already rabid nuclear power, like Russia, that we in the US are willing to escalate the situation with them (when, in fact, we are not). North Macedonia is not home to any major natural resource and, while its economy relies heavily on global trade to survive, I have doubts that it could produce anything that the world cannot do without (I say this with all due respect).
According to the Heritage Foundation, North Macedonia has scores a 69.5 in their “Freedom Index,” which ranks the freest countries in the world. In other words, North Macedonia is the 41st freest country in the world as of this year. It has a population 2.1 million as of 2020.
Whereas during the Cold War, it made sense to deter Russia at all costs from taking Western Europe, Russia today is likely incapable of taking Western Europe. It is most assuredly looking at moving its borders with Europe deeper into the European plain, somewhere between the Baltic Sea and the Carpathian Mountains. The question of whether they can accomplish this remains unanswered. Plus, there are things we can do short of incorporating more tiny countries into the NATO Alliance, such as North Macedonia, to enhance the security of countries like Poland from Russian aggression.
Expanding NATO to include tiny North Macedonia only further antagonizes the situation at precisely the moment that no one should be seeking escalation in any crisis around the world as the COVID-19 pandemic consumes the world and tears apart the world economy. All focus should be directed on curing the disease, treating the afflicted, and restarting our economy. Picking fights with Russia by expanding NATO to include a, forgive me, useless country like Macedonia; sending larger numbers of US troops to Iraq to combat evil Iranian-backed terrorist organizations; or threatening Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Venezuela is a luxury that we, frankly, cannot afford right now.
Of course, in Washington, the world’s “greatest” company town, accepting a new paradigm to life is verboten! Everyone in that town who matters is struggling to keep things as the “way they were.” Thus far, they’ve been more successful than any of us outsiders would like to admit. So, Macedonia being incorporated into NATO makes perfect sense to the Washington political class because every bureaucracy, even NATO, deserves to be fed–especially in a time of diminishing budgets, stretched resources, and turgid economic growth. Until Washington is made to face the changing reality around us, foreign policy disasters will continue to define our lives. It was not supposed to be this way.