NATO vs. Russia: Why all the recent talk of World War III?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

British military exercises that may have been carried out with potential deployment in eastern Ukraine in mind, recent comments by NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and a BBC film depicting a Russia-NATO nuclear conflict following a pro-Russian uprising in Latvia are all doing their part to further stoke tensions between Moscow and the Atlantic Alliance, when a more measured approach is what is needed.

Britain, like any proud and sovereign nation, has the full right to consider and undertake appropriate measures to maintain and enhance its defense and security capabilities. Indeed, it is more than justifiable in our times of international terrorism and conflict, keeping in mind the 7/7 London bombings, as well as regional conflicts in the relative vicinity of Britain, be it eastern Ukraine or Syria.

Yet the actual predestination of any military build-up and training manoeuvers is another question. The recent announcement that 1,600 British troops are to be sent to Jordan to conduct a simulated operation on the same scale as the invasion of Iraq, described by the media as “the first time in more than a decade” that such an exercise was being held, was accompanied by an official clarification.

The war game is aimed at testing the ability to dispatch and deploy a 30,000-strong expeditionary contingent to any crisis “hot spot” anywhere in the world.

However, the stakes were upped after an unnamed source, quoted by UK daily The Telegraph, disclosed the immediate strategic goal: “This isn’t a counter-ISIS exercise. If anything, this is much more about us being prepared to join the U.S. in Ukraine than it is in Syria.”

There is no other way to interpret this clarification but to assume that the United States is entertaining the idea of sending its troops to Ukraine with Britain as a strategic ally.

Furthermore, Ben Farmer, The Telegraph’s defense correspondent, quoted once again a source, most probably in the UK’s Ministry of Defence, that the operation in Jordan “could be a dry run for one day having to send a large armored force of British troops to Eastern Europe if there was ever a Russian confrontation with NATO.”

The news comes on the back of two symbolic events. First, on Feb. 3 the BBC aired an hour-long pseudo-documentary titled “World War Three: Inside the War Room,” which presented afictitious scenario in which the ethnic Russian minority living in Latvia’s eastern region of Latgale, near the border with Russia, revolts and establishes a “Latgalian People’s Republic,” in a clearly drawn parallel with the “republics”set up by pro-Russian rebels in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Lugansk in 2014.

Assembled in the “War Room” in London, 10 British former military and diplomatic senior executives face a challenge: vote for a nuclear counter-strike – and thus risk the breakout of a Third World War – or not? It all comes down to a test of the political will of the UK leadership, with General Sir Richard Shirreff, who until March 2014 was Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, asking the others: “Are we ready to die for [the Latvian city of] Daugavpils?”

Meanwhile, a day earlier, on Feb. 2, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, commenting on the alliance’s annual report, claimed that when in March 2013 a Russian aircraft with nuclear capabilities came within striking range of Stockholm it was intended as a “simulated nuclear strike against Sweden.”

The statement resonates with a recent poll revealing that while in 2013 only 10 percent of Swedes thought it might make sense to join NATO, the figure is now 41 percent.

The BBC program, with its pseudo-documentary scenes set in Latvia, could of course be downplayed on the grounds that it is nothing more but a “hypothetical scenario,” and all military strategists on both sides regularly act in accordance with the playbook.

After all, there was no indignant reaction by the Kremlin. Only Russian bloggers went so far as to make the claim that, quoting one of them, this is “demonization of Russia of the 85th level” aimed at habituating the British public to the possibility of a nuclear shoot-out in Europe.

In Britain the spectrum of comments ranged from congratulatory applause to accusations of a “provocation.” Annabelle Chapman from the magazine The Prospect disapproved of the BBC product for another reason: “More broadly, by portraying Russia as fearsome, Latvia’s ethnic Russians as separatists, Riga as helpless and its Western allies as hesitant, the program inadvertently echoes some of the Kremlin’s narratives.”

In fact, Moscow has never openly attempted to present Russia as “fearsome,” ethnic Russians residing in Latvia as “separatists”, Riga as synonym of Latvia proper as “helpless”, and there have been no claims of believing the West to be “hesitant,” even if some of Russia’s actions of the last few years could be interpreted as indicative of such a stance.

What is more to the point is the consistently played-up presumption by politicians, top officials and media outlets in the West that the probability of a war fought with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) should not be ruled out.

The pervasiveness of talk of the coming nuclear Armageddon, even if portrayed as an imaginary scenario, as well as veiled hints that Anglo-American troops are being readiedfor dispatch to Ukraine, only intensifies fears, enhances stereotypes, and destroys attempts to dispel misunderstanding and build confidence.

True, the BBC film is a grotesque antidote to warmongering. Still, you do not prevent war by making an admission through a “hypothetical scenario” about its inevitability. Quite the opposite. Open debates BBC-style on the “particulars” of the sequence of events prior to World War III could turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The opinion of the writer may not necessarily reflect the position of RBTH or its staff.

Special section: Troika Report>>>

Read more: How realistic is BBC film about Russia-NATO nuclear war?

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