On April 25 the White House published a heartening and most welcome “Joint Statement by President Donald J. Trump and President Vladimir Putin of Russia” to mark “the 75th Anniversary of the historic meeting between American and Soviet troops, who shook hands on the damaged bridge over the Elbe River. This event heralded the decisive defeat of the Nazi regime.” Some of us considered this a most positive step in relations between the countries, noting, as it did, that “the ‘Spirit of the Elbe’ is an example of how our countries can put aside differences, build trust, and cooperate in pursuit of a greater cause.”
Unfortunately the official policy of Washington is not to “cooperate” with Russia, or indeed with many countries, but rather, as detailed in the current National Defense Strategy, to challenge them. The Pentagon justifies the enormous annual expenditure on armaments and worldwide deployment because “Long-term strategic competitions with China and Russia are the principal priorities for the department [of defense], and require both increased and sustained investment, because of the magnitude of the threats they pose to U.S. security and prosperity today, and the potential for those threats to increase in the future.”
Inevitably, the Trump-Putin statement came under fire from those to whom the forging of worldwide trust and harmony signifies national corrosion rather than a desirable advance in trade and prosperity.
Member of Congress Eliot Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a not inconsequential post, promptly tweeted that “Everyone knows that Trump has a bizarre infatuation with Russia’s autocratic leader and that Trump constantly plays into Putin’s hands.” This was not surprising, coming from a long-term and suspiciously dedicated opponent of Russia, and he was joined by Angela Stent, formerly, amongst other things, of the State Department’s Office of Policy Planning, who opined that “Putin wants validation from the United States that today’s Russia, like the Soviet Union, is a great power.” Stent is an outstandingly intelligent person, but it not clear why she objects so strongly to Russia’s desire to improve the quality of life of its citizens and advance its international standing.
Her contention about the Elbe statement that “I am sure this was a Russian initiative,” was at best disingenuous because, as she certainly knows, there is a organization called the Elbe Group of US and Russian representatives, based at the Harvard Kennedy School, which “believes that our mutual interests are better served through cooperation than confrontation. Obstacles to joint cooperative efforts should be reduced or eliminated.” The Elbe spirit lives on, no matter the intensity of the campaign to destroy it, and there is little doubt that the Joint Statement was literally what it is titled.
Engel’s assertion that “Trump constantly plays into Putin’s hands” is similarly confusing, if only because Trump has signed a decree to stop “construction of a pipeline that is set to increase the flow of natural gas directly from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea” by imposing economic sanctions on “all businesses and individuals participating in construction of the pipeline”, which to any impartial observer would seem to indicate that Trump is not exactly in anyone’s hands – especially as Germany and the European Union consider his action “a severe intervention in German and European internal affairs.” Russia was, to put it mildly, most unimpressed by Washington’s spiteful sanctions.
There have been many off-the-planet statements by anti-Russia commentators, but one of the more captivatingly fatuous is the allegation by Max Boot of the Washington Post that “Trump helps Russia simply by spreading chaos in the US government and division in US politics. It is Putin’s dream to have an American president who denigrates dedicated FBI agents, intelligence officers and diplomats…” Be assured that, while President Putin may well laugh at Trump’s antics (and few people don’t, save for his Republican supporters who will do anything to keep out the Democrats no matter what they really think of him), it is a trifle doubtful that he dreams and schemes about Trump’s denigration of US public servants.
It is most regrettable that all the efforts being made by such as the Elbe Group and many world figures to ease tension and promote goodwill between the US and Russia are being so energetically undermined by the powerful anti-Russia lobby, based on Washington’s military-industrial complex which has no desire to slow down or in any way interfere with movement to ever-greater expenditure on armaments. It is grimly coincidental that at the time of the Elbe Joint Statement the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) produced a report indicating among other things that the “United States drives global growth in military spending.”
SIPRI notes specifically that “military spending by the United States grew by 5.3 per cent to a total of $732 billion in 2019 and accounted for 38 per cent of global military spending. The increase in US spending in 2019 alone was equivalent to the entirety of Germany’s military expenditure for that year. ‘The recent growth in US military spending is largely based on a perceived return to competition between the great powers,’ says Pieter D. Wezeman, Senior Researcher at SIPRI.” It was further stated that “total military spending by all 29 NATO member states was $1035 billion in 2019” as against Russia’s $65.1 billion which, although an increase of 4.5 per cent over the previous year, does not look exactly threatening.
One of the greatest increases in the world was that of Bulgaria, which rocketed up by 127 per cent, mainly to pay Lockheed Martin for F-16 fighters, and there are countless other examples of NATO military expenditure that benefit the military-industrial complex and, by subsequent donations, their supporters in the US Congress.
Nobody has explained exactly how Russia can pose a threat to the United States as described in the National Defense Strategy, given that its 2019 defense budget was 65 billion dollars as against the 748 billion of the US Just what is “the magnitude of the threats [it poses] to US security and prosperity” by outlaying less than a tenth of US military expenditure?
Forecasts for financial year 2020-21 indicate US military spending of $934 billion while SIPRI notes that in Russia there are likely to be “small annual nominal increases in military expenditure [from 65 billion]. However, the expected rate of inflation means that military spending is likely to fall in real terms.” Some threat.
Let’s get it straight: nobody is saying that Russia is not prepared to defend itself. With a land area of 17 million square kilometers (twice that of the United States) and a land border of 20,241 kilometers (12,577 miles) – US 3,145 kilometers (1,954 miles) – it would be strange indeed if its armed forces were not extensive. But they are not threatening the United States or one single one of its citizens.
So why does the Pentagon and its sub-branch in Brussels, managed by the energetic Jens Stoltenberg, continue the policy of confrontation? That costs a great deal of money and achieves nothing, whereas cooperation can lead to tranquillity, a contented citizenry and economic prosperity – the last, of course, excluding the US manufacturers of expensive weaponry. Which is perhaps the answer.