A variable geometry NATO? Really?

The Ukraine issue touched on existential fears in the West (as well as deep strains of Russophobia) that no comparable emergency would be likely to so do.

Plainly, Biden is in a panic at the record price of gasoline in the US. This is possibly the most neuralgic issue in domestic US politics. He is being hammered, and his “It’s Putin’s price hike” line is being ridiculed (gas prices were 30% up even before Ukraine). His earlier ‘war’ on fossil fuels and restricting domestic production has circled back to haunt him in the polls.

The Biden-led, full-spectrum financial war on Russia failed to turn the rouble “to rubble”, but did light a fire under energy prices across the board.  And hence, we have had Washington releasing oil from the US’ strategic reserve and scrambling around the globe (including even with sanctioned Venezuela), to find enough supply at the margin, to lower crude prices. But, to no avail. The JCPOA is stuck on Congressional opposition, and this week gasoline in the US touched new highs.

Biden is known to be irked and disappointed with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi for refusing to take his calls, or agree to increase oil production, both to stem soaring international prices, and (as importantly in the US optic), to undercut Russia’s ballooning revenues resulting from these high energy prices.

Saudi and Emirati officials, in their turn, are disappointed with American leaders for their lack of due attention to the region, and they say, for scaling back the US security umbrella, which formerly had been an unquestioned ‘given’. Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) additionally feels slighted by Biden’s cold-shouldering him personally, in the wake of the Khashoggi killing.

So, walking onto stage in Abu Dhabi to offer condolences on the death of Emir Khalifa, strode almost the entire US foreign policy and security collective. The lot. The delegation led by Vice-President Kamala Harris included Blinken, Lloyd Austin, Climate Envoy John Kerry, and CIA Director Bill Burns. Prima facie, this representation was a tad ‘over-the-top’ — way beyond protocol requirement.

However, the presence of Lloyd Austin and CIA Director Burns in Harris’ delegation was particularly interesting. They are not only the kingpins of Biden’s ‘bleed Russia’ strategy, but they are also intimately involved in the Global-NATO notion.

Both Gulf States oppose US diplomacy with Iran and have demanded a formal security ‘umbrella’ sheltering their interests, were Biden to sign off on a renewed JCPOA agreement with Tehran.

Of course, Biden primarily wants more oil, and for the States to stop working with Russia in the OPEC+ format. Yet, were Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to agree to pump more oil, and dump Russia from OPEC+  – a big ‘if’ – the challenge would be to identify what might be a feasible security umbrella that Washington could offer.

Formal US security guarantees of a NATO Article Five nature – which Saudi Arabia and the UAE are asking for – are off the table for a host of strategic and political reasons, not least being there would bound to be similar demands from others — Qatar et al.

Hence the new US ‘wheeze’ to establish a quasi-Global NATO, albeit with fluid geometry that does not require all NATO states to approve giving Article Five more widely. This is being touted now in SE Asia, as Biden attempts to muster allies to stand with the US against China.  Both Japan and Taiwan are said to be seeking security assurances, too.

The kite is being flown on both the Biden flanks — in the Middle East and in Asia. And what is the wheeze?

It is Ukraine. US military assistance to Ukraine is being held up by Washington to offer an attenuated Article V model. The lesson, US officials are underlining, is that a formal defence pact with the US is not required for states to be recipients of generous, effective, and immediate US security assistance during a military crisis — as Ukraine demonstrates.

Ah yes. It is true that Ukraine has been the recipient of massive (stealth) NATO military assistance. Since 2014, the latter has trained to NATO standards, and equipped a quarter-million man Ukrainian army. NATO trainers have been present throughout, and NATO advisers oversaw the preparations of the deep, highly fortified bunkers on the Donbas to the west of the Contact Line. These were intended as the kicking-off point for an assault on the Donbas republics. (The assault was pre-empted when Moscow received intelligence laying out Kiev’s operational plan and its date for implementation).

But here is the rub: Ukraine is a very special case (Taiwan might perhaps be seen as coeval with Ukraine), but others are not. Europe and the US did not invest so heavily in the stealth NATO-isation of Ukraine just to give it an ‘umbrella’ against a rainy day.  They did it out of a deep-seated desire to inflict humiliation, economic collapse and concomitant regime-change on Russia.

The Ukraine issue touched on existential fears in the West (as well as deep strains of Russophobia) that no comparable emergency would be likely to so do.  The ‘liberal order was over – were Putin to win’, western leaders openly proclaimed.

A comparable sense of western mobilisation and emergency would not pertain to Gulf States – nor maybe even to “Israel” – if their interests were threatened.  With Ukraine, the West is fighting – by proxy – another round of an earlier European war reaching way back.

Leaving exceptional circumstances aside, and the not inconsequential fact that the war with Russia is far from settled, why would states trust such ephemeral (fluid) assurances that in an emergency they might receive (per the Ukraine model) lend-lease weapons, intelligence and Special Forces advice, but no NATO boots-on-the-ground?

Ultimately, the purpose of this visitation by so many US grand poohbahs was to separate Gulf States leaders from Russia. And why should the Gulf States want to do that?  They have interests in common with Russia — including maintaining a stable and high oil price.


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