The 2023 NATO Summit at Vilnius, Lithuania, is now but a memory. If I could characterize the summit in just two words, I would say, “reality bites.” And it bites both ways.
On the one hand the US and its NATO allies came face to face with the reality that endless promises of “unlimited” military aid to Ukraine to defeat Russia would not achieve that goal. Five weeks of the much-anticipated Ukrainian counter-offensive have produced zero results. They have only snuffed out another estimated 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers, this time mostly drawn from the shrinking pool of forced – and barely trained – conscripts.
Promises are one thing, but as they say, “if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” Or, adapted for our times, the US may be able to print money, but it cannot print weapons.
Thus when President Biden was asked right after agreeing to send Ukraine a tranche of ghastly cluster bombs why he did so, he replied, “we’ve run out of ammunition.” It was an incredible admission, particularly considering the massive increase in already astronomical US military spending.
As astute military analyst William Schryver aptly observed, with Biden’s admission…
…the great myth of overwhelming US armaments supremacy has been exposed as little more than a modestly scaled boutique enterprise utterly ill-suited and ill-prepared to prosecute industrial warfare against a peer adversary.
Americans might want to know how their government can spend a trillion dollars per year on “defense” and in addition add another hundred billion or so for Ukraine and end up with…no ammo. Where did it go?
Likewise for Ukraine the Vilnius summit was a hard dose of reality. Nowhere was this captured more poignantly than in this photograph from the summit, where the other NATO leaders were seen dressed appropriately and gleefully enjoying living lives of the elites while Zelensky, doing his best impression of Fidel Castro, looked on dejected and desperately out of place. As one might expect, the meme artists had a field day with the photo.
While many – especially in Kiev – expected some kind of concrete signal from NATO that Ukraine had a clear path to join the club, blunderbuss NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg could only muster language even more watered down (see final sentence in paragraph 11) than that served up after the Bucharest NATO summit of 2008. Not only was no invitation given, the path to membership was made more vague than ever. To add insult to injury, Stoltenberg remarked that a perhaps mortally-wounded Ukraine must win the war with Russia before NATO membership could even be considered.
Biden himself painfully drove that death sentence for Ukraine home, remarking that, “no one can join NATO while a war is going on.” Message clear: go back and keep dying and if you win let us know and we’ll talk about it.
One can certainly feel for Zelensky. Like Saddam, Gaddafi, Noriega, and so many others before him, he believed the lies and pomps of his neocon interlocutors. “We will do WHATEVER IT TAKES to see Ukraine prevail!” they promised him endlessly. But as has so often happened, those promises proved to be hollow when measured up against reality: NATO and its US chief backer never had any intention to go to war with Russia over Ukraine. They would test the red lines in the hopes of, as Senator Lindsey Graham blurted out, killing as many Russians as possible. But there was never any question of sacrificing Washington or New York for Kiev.
Now that is painfully clear to everyone who dreamed otherwise.
There is a lesson there for the yapping Baltic chihuahuas as well. Estonia has approximately 7,000 men under arms. What really is the value of NATO’s Article 5 guarantee in light of NATO’s tossing Ukraine under the membership bus? Recall that Article 5 itself carries with it no obligation to automatically go to war on behalf of another NATO ally, but only that each member state take “such action as it deems necessary” should a fellow member be attacked.
Will any American Administration be willing to sacrifice tens of millions of its citizens for a country that still celebrates the SS? Vilnius would not make me sleep any easier in Tallinn.
So at the end of the day, the seemingly unremarkable Vilnius summit was in fact quite illuminating. Regimes fall slowly and then suddenly and we are seeing that process clearly in place with NATO. Ukraine has been hung out to dry, even as the dark lords of war will continue to spend billions shipping weapons to Kiev’s ghost army. After all, there is money to be made from this and everyone’s in on it.
Is NATO finally experiencing its own death throes? As neocon icon Michael Ledeen might say…”faster please.”