by Claire Bernish
A “serious military confrontation” between Russia and NATO nations ranks at the top of the Council on Foreign Relations list of conflict risks for 2017 — and judging by the new McCarthyite, Red Scare hysteria gripping the nation, it seems the United States is hell bent on making that a reality.
For its ninth annual Preventive Priorities Survey, CFR’s Center for Preventive Action (CPA) “asked foreign policy experts to rank conflicts based on their likelihood of occurring or escalating and their potential impact on U.S. national interests.”
A military conflict between Russia and a NATO member nation would stem “from assertive Russian behavior in Eastern Europe,” according to the survey.
Other “top tier” risks with a “high” impact and moderate likelihood of occurring include a nuclear crisis with North Korea; a cyberattack on critical U.S. infrastructure; and a “mass casualty terrorist attack,” either in the United States or another NATO ally nation.
Additionally, three conflicts with a “high” likelihood which would have a “moderate” impact include “increased violence and instability in Afghanistan resulting from a continued strengthening of the Taliban insurgency and potential government collapse; the intensification of violence between Turkey and various Kurdish armed groups within Turkey and in neighboring countries; and the intensification of the civil war in Syria resulting from increased external support for warring parties, including military intervention by outside powers.”
CFR analysts did not deem any conflict both highly likely and highly impactful to U.S. interests, “a change from last year when an intensification of Syria’s civil war was considered the most urgent threat. Respondents still considered a worsening of Syria’s civil war to be highly likely in 2017, but downgraded its impact on U.S. interests from high to moderate.”
Analysts did, however, view President-Elect Donald Trump as a substantial wild card, as Paul B. Stares, CPA director and General John W. Vessey senior fellow for conflict prevention, explained:
“With a new presidential administration assuming office, it is important to help policymakers anticipate and avert potential crises that could arise and threaten U.S. interests. Our annual survey aims to highlight the most likely sources of instability and conflict around the world so that the government can prioritize its efforts appropriately.”
What the survey unsurprisingly fails to mention is the role the United States and NATO have actively played in a potential military conflict with Russia.
As recently as late June, Russian aggression remained a subject of debate — even within NATO. General Petr Pavel, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, explained rather bluntly,
“It is not the aim of NATO to create a military barrier against broad-scale Russian aggression, because such aggression is not on the agenda and no intelligence assessment suggests such a thing.”
But a number of Balkan states, paranoid about the possibility Russia would invade as it had in Crimea, requested support in the form of military protection from NATO — and the subsequent buildup of alliance forces along Russia’s border has been viewed by many as the true aggression in this scenario.
First deploying between 3,000 and 4,000 troops, Pavel initially claimed troop buildup would remain limited in scope due to the lack of substantive threat from Russia — but numbers quickly ballooned to at least 40,000, and it’s unclear at this point precisely how many NATO troops are stationed along the Russian border.
Further, on the eve of the U.S. presidential election, NATO put 300,000 troops on high alert over fears of Russian hackers. Since then, anti-Russian hysteria has gripped the American political establishment, and though no unassailable proof has yet surfaced, the CIA, various politicians, and mainstream outlets claim Russia did, indeed, interfere in the election.
That claim, though plastered in a constant string of headlines, has been disputed by the FBI and, more recently, a Wikileaks insider. Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan and known ally of Julian Assange, told the Daily Mail on Tuesday,
“Neither of [the leaks] came from the Russians. The source had legal access to the information. The documents came from inside leaks, not hacks.”
Murray also penned in a blog post:
“I have watched incredulous as the CIA’s blatant lie has grown and grown as a media story – blatant because the CIA has made no attempt whatsoever to substantiate it. There is no Russian involvement in the leaks of emails showing Clinton’s corruption. Yes this rubbish has been the lead today in the Washington Post in the US and the Guardian here, and was the lead item on the BBC main news. I suspect it is leading the American broadcasts also.
“A little simple logic demolishes the CIA’s claims. The CIA claim they ‘know the individuals’ involved. Yet under Obama the USA has been absolutely ruthless in its persecution of whistleblowers, and its pursuit of foreign hackers through extradition. We are supposed to believe that in the most vital instance imaginable, an attempt by a foreign power to destabilise a US election, even though the CIA knows who the individuals are, nobody is going to be arrested or extradited, or (if in Russia) made subject to yet more banking and other restrictions against Russian individuals? Plainly it stinks. The anonymous source claims of ‘We know who it was, it was the Russians’ are beneath contempt.”
What, exactly, is the ultimate goal with this Red Scare, McCarthyite scaremongering isn’t yet clear, but the tactic has certainly furthered the cleft between the U.S. and Russia — making CFR’s conflict assessment of the situation all the more believable.
Whether the incoming Trump administration will heed the warning — and end the unnecessary, absurdly dangerous provocation — is still an open question.
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