Last week Agence-France Presse, the French news agency, reported that U.S. and British air strikes killed two civilians and injured seven in an air strike on what an Iraqi spokesman said were civilian facilities in northern Iraq. The US military said the strikes had hit military targets as a response to anti-aircraft fire.
The week before, military authorities in the Persian Gulf region leaked stories to several US and European news agencies to the effect that they were frustrated because they can find no more military targets in the "no-fly” zones and the bombing they have done to date seems to have had no impact on the political situation in Iraq.
Last Wednesday Jane’s Defence Weekly reported US plans to bring in more heavy-equipment barges to pre-position more equipment and weapons in the Gulf region. "That would put enough armoured fighting vehicles, artillery and other systems in place,” the magazine reported, "to equip a 50,000-strong reinforced division of four heavy brigades at short notice in the event of a new crisis with Iraq or Iran.”
The equipment will be placed on barges, Jane’s explained, because "The GCC states Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain are reluctant to allow the equipment for a fourth brigade to be deployed on their soil.”
The upshot? Eight years after the desultory ending of the Gulf war, as the states in the region (the ones we’re supposedly defending) start to complain, the US keeps lobbing bombs at Iraq, keeps the economic embargo in place (leading to the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqis) and moves to step up the hostilities.
To what end? The war ended and Saddam Hussein is still in power. The United States and its allies may have blundered by not invading Baghdad. But it’s time to get over it and let the countries in the region (all of which are oil-rich) handle their own defense.
While Russia seems to have replaced communism with gangsterism which hardly precludes aggression and destruction in Chechnya, on the western flank of the former Soviet Union three countries are struggling with a bit more success with the problems and opportunities of defining themselves in the post-communist era. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the Baltic states, freed themselves of the Russian domination that had been their lot since the notorious Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939 through a series of mostly peaceful demonstrations in 1991. Since then they have become independent and tried to establish, with varying degrees of success, democratic societies with relatively open market economies.
Tony Mazeika thinks they’re going to make it.
I’ve known Tony and his wife Danute, who live in Mission Viejo and are of Lithuanian ancestry, for years. They were leaders of the Baltic-American Freedom League throughout the 1980s, Tony having president for several years.
BAFL worked with Congress to reaffirm American opposition to the forcible incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union, reminded Americans of the oppression visited on the countries from which they or their parents had fled and made contact with and offered various kinds of support to anti-communist freedom fighters in the Baltic countries. Their efforts probably helped in some small way to hasten the end of communist domination of the Baltic states, but the liberation surprised some American activists. The end of communism was only the beginning of the hard work of changing political institutions and cultural/political attitudes.
Tony, Danute and their family just returned from three weeks in the Baltic countries, where they met with political leaders in all three countries and with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and former President Vytautas Landsbergis, now leader of the parliament. I had a long lunch with Tony this week and pored over the written material he provided me.
WHICH WAY TO GO?
The Baltic countries are interesting in part because they could provide a model for other countries emerging from communist domination. They also could pose a problem in some ways in that, for reasons not all that difficult to understand, their leaders (and probably most of their citizens) want to join NATO and it’s difficult not to sympathize with them. If NATO is not expanded in the next few years or if, as I dream in my more utopian moments, it is disbanded or reshaped the Baltic countries will still have fairly legitimate security concerns.
All three countries seem energized by enthusiasm for democracy and entrepreneurial activity. All have gone a long way toward establishing democratic institutions and growing their economies. But numerous hard decisions lie ahead.
Most observers agree that if NATO and the European Union expand further the Baltic countries are likely to be among the next admitted. But you might wonder why the Baltic countries are so eager to join unions of countries that believe they have "matured” past freewheeling capitalism and are encrusted with bureaucracy and inclined to want new members to impose the same kind of social-welfare programs that to keep most Western European countries economically stagnant, with relatively high levels of unemployment and social discontent.
WHY THE WORRY?
The main reason lies in geography. For centuries Lithuania and Poland and to a slightly lesser extent the other Baltic countries which lie in relatively flat coastal plains, have been dominated and victimized by Russian and German expansionism. Armies from these two contending imperial powers have marched through the Baltic countries repeatedly, often leaving death and devastation in their wake.
Most Balts look eastward to a Russia that has replaced communism with gangsterism, where neo-imperialist nationalism is becoming more popular in the wake of economic failure and domestic strife, and believe they have reason to continue to worry. Russia might be economically and socially devastated and its armies may be demoralized. But it still is a huge country with significant resources and nuclear weapons. If new leadership decided to distract attention from domestic political failure with foreign adventures, it would hardly be the first time, either in Russia’s history or the world’s.
So it’s not difficult to understand why the Baltic countries would like to be included in a NATO an-attack-on-one-is-an-attack-on all defense treaty. And insofar as they look to Europe and the West as their economic future and for the most part they do they’ll have to deal with the continental bureaucracies that largely determine the terms of trade between Western Europe and other countries.
LOOKING TO THE WEST
That said, all the Baltic countries are setting an independent and largely market-oriented course and have made serious progress. Tony showed me photos not only of ornate castles and cathedrals being restored, but of new industrial and housing development in all three countries. With relatively high levels of education, they are on the verge of becoming high-tech meccas with the western orientation they have preferred through most of their histories.
Valdas Adamkus, Lithuania’s president, is of Lithuanian heritage but lived in Michigan until not long ago. His "outsider” status, according to Tony, is a political asset rather than a liability. He is viewed as somebody who can view problems objectively, not being tied to any of the older factions. Since being elected in 1998 he has cut government spending. The head of the Lithuanian armed forces is a former colonel in the US Army and a Vietnam veteran.
Estonia, which has the lowest taxes in the region, has become a shopping mecca for Finns who can be in Estonia in a half hour by ferry because of its low prices.
According to a November 1 Reuters story, the London-based brokerage Williams de Broe said three have stabilized since the Russian economic crisis (which affected them deleteriously) of last year. The three currencies are all stable because of low inflation, 100 percent backing by foreign currencies and relatively low government debts. Williams de Broe forecasts flat GDP growth this year and improvement next year.
So the Baltic countries have reason for some nervousness over Russia, but seem well on the road to building relatively peaceful and prosperous countries on the fringes of the former Soviet Empire. If they are to prosper over the long haul, however, they will need to come up with an approach other than joining NATO to protect them from the possibility of a takeover sometime in the future.
NATO’s recent adventures in imperialism in Kosovo have caused some Balts to develop reservations, Tony told me. The offensive campaign outside NATO borders, followed by the exercise in failed "nation-building" have some wondering whether NATO will be a reliable defensive alliance any more or a New World Order institution interested in everything but defense.
There are other reasons to be concerned. If a piece by foreign correspondent Anna Husarska in the October 25 issue of The New Republic is accurate (and whatever her leanings, she’s usually a pretty good reporter) the NATO war against Kosovo and Yugoslavia is turning out to be valuable to other aggressors as a model of how to do it and get away with it.
As Ms. Husarska puts it, after a visit in Moscow following several years absence, Moscow’s war against Chechnya is being sold the same way the NATO war was sold: "The message Yeltsin’s team is trying to convey is that what they’re doing in Grozny is analogous to what the Western alliance did in Yugoslavia. The list of targets given was almost precisely parallel to those presented during the Kosovo strikes, including everything from the Chechen TV station and radar installations to Chechnya’s air fleet. (One plane was destroyed, the other spared.)
"Then there are the video clips showing these targets first framed in crosshairs, then obliterated by the blast. The main difference between this presentation and the ones that were done in Brussels is that NATO’s video clips were accompanied by running commentary from Jamie Shea (or occasionally that Luftwaffe officer with the heavy accent), while in Moscow the clips are narrated by a velvety female voice that sounds more like a receptionist for an escort agency than a briefer on a military operation."
NATO WORSE THAN MOSCOW?
Ms. Husarska feels obligated to conclude that the analogy doesn’t work because "the Kremlin is playing the part not of NATO but of Slobodan Milosevic." But the analogy works all too well. The aggression by the Russian military into Chechnya is an unjustified and brutal campaign that (by all accounts) is hitting plenty of civilian targets and causing thousands of civilian casualties. So was the NATO aggression against Kosovo.
If anything, the NATO aggression was less justified. To be sure, most decent people sympathize with the Chechnyans, who have been colonized first by imperial Russia, then by Soviet Russia, then by Gangster Russia. But Chechnya is within the borders at least of the Commonwealth of Independent States. If Moscow had a shred of decency it would grant Chechnya independence, of course. But while it probably should be, Chechnya is not an internationally recognized sovereign state outside the borders of the alliance it has peeved. Yugoslavia was and is a sovereign state outside what had previously been viewed as the defensive perimeters of the NATO alliance.