By Gwynne Dyer
Another fifteen million people joined the NATO alliance on Tuesday. Finland and Sweden, formerly neutral countries but near to Russia, gave in to Turkish blackmail, and that cleared the way for them to join the western alliance. (Turkey, like every NATO member, has a veto on new members joining.)
The circumstances were a bit squalid, since both Sweden and Finland abandoned their support for Turkey’s oppressed Kurdish minority in order to unblock their own path to NATO membership. Russia is not planning to invade them at the moment, but as soon as Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, both Scandinavian countries were knocking at NATO’s door.
The problem is nuclear weapons. The two Baltic countries have no nukes of their own, and now President Vladimir Putin hints at nuclear strikes every time anything goes wrong with his war against Ukraine.
The only way Finland and Sweden can get protection from Russian nuclear blackmail is to join NATO. Since all NATO members are pledged to protect any member under attack, and the United States, Britain and France all have nuclear weapons, that effectively gives the Swedes and Finns a nuclear guarantee.
The usual sources have issued the usual warnings that letting these two countries into NATO will make the Russians even more paranoid and therefore more prone to attack their neighbours, but this is sheer nonsense.
The Russians are indeed paranoid, but that is a state of being, not a response to some particular act they interpret as aggressive. They come by their paranoia honestly: they have been invaded by the ‘A team’ of world conquerors (the Mongols, Napoleon, Hitler), and live in a country with no ‘natural’ frontiers.
But it is paranoia, and it will be there whatever other people do. The Russians put their own people into power in all the eastern European countries and turn them into ‘satellites’ after the Second World War. That was ‘defensive’ in their own minds, but it felt like aggression to everybody else.
After forty years of Soviet military occupation, therefore, it was inevitable that those eastern European countries would seek shelter in an expanded NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And NATO had to take those countries in, because otherwise they would have tried to build their own defences against Russia.
Historical might-have-beens are usually highly debatable, but if Poland had not been able to join NATO and come under its nuclear guarantee, it would certainly be an independent nuclear power by now. Given the country’s long history of subjugation and brutalisation by Russia, any other course would have been seen as sheer madness.
Yes, that choice ‘provoked’ Moscow, but when you are dealing with a career paranoiac there is no choice. The fact is that at no time since 1945 have the Western military powers had the military strength to invade Russia successfully on the ground, and since about 1960 they have not had the capacity to win a nuclear war against Russia either.
The Russians aren’t stupid. They are paranoid because of their history, but they can count. So they have unreasonable fears, but they also know how to use the known fact of their paranoia to justify aggressive actions of their own.
In the hands of a man like Vladimir Putin this can be a powerful diplomatic tool, and the only sensible way to counter it is to refuse to enter into that intellectual swamp at all. Just stop psychologising about the Russians, and do whatever seems reasonable and necessary.