Katrina vanden Heuvel on NATO military spending & avoiding Cold War nuclear catastrophe with Russia

“I would argue that the bipartisan establishment consensus is bankrupt. … We believe you can have secure elections and avoid nuclear catastrophe.”

SOURCEDemocracy Now!

At the NATO summit, President Trump called on member states to double their military spending to 4 percent of gross domestic product, and hailed the meeting as a success. He is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday. Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, joins us to discuss NATO, the militarization of U.S. foreign policy and avoiding a second Cold War with Russia over allegations of election meddling. “I would argue that the bipartisan establishment consensus is bankrupt. … We believe you can have secure elections and avoid nuclear catastrophe,” said vanden Heuvel. The Nation has just published an open letter, “Common Ground: For Secure Elections and True National Security,” co-signed by Daniel Ellsberg, Gloria Steinem, Noam Chomsky, Governor Bill Richardson, Rev. Dr. William Barber and Michael Moore, among others.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: President Trump has called on NATO member states to increase their military spending to 4 percent of gross domestic product, doubling his previous demand that they meet targets of 2 percent by January. Trump’s comments, made during a tense NATO summit in Brussels, reportedly prompted the military alliance to call an emergency session to respond to the demands. The Washington Post reports Trump said the U.S. was prepared to, quote, “go it alone,” and threatened to, quote, “do his own thing,” unless the target was met. On Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg downplayed reports of tensions with Trump, even as he said NATO members were prepared to increase military spending.

SECRETARY GENERAL JENS STOLTENBERG: Of course, President Trump has a very direct language and message on defense spending, but fundamentally we all agree.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking to reporters as NATO talks wrapped up today, Trump touted the visit as a success and boasted about future weapons sales to NATO allies.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The United States makes by far the best military equipment in the world – the best jets, the best missiles, the best guns, the best everything. We make, by far – I mean, that’s one thing – I guess I assumed it prior to taking office, but I really learned, since being president, our equipment is so much better than anybody else’s equipment, when you look at our companies – Lockheed and Boeing and Grumman. What the material – the equipment that we make is so far superior, everybody wants to buy our equipment. In fact, it’s a question: Can they make it? Because they are doing very well. Can they make it for so many people? So we are helping some of those countries get online and buy the best equipment.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, antiwar groups protested outside the NATO meeting.

SARAH READER: We are protesting the growing militarism of the EU and NATO member states’ role in fueling conflict and repression against the – around the world. We also want to see the U.S. take back its nuclear weapons that have been hosted on Belgium soil for the last six years and for the Belgian government to sign the nuclear ban treaty that was ratified last year in the United Nations.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump is now flying to Britain, where he faces mass protests, and then will then go to Scotland and meet on Monday in Finland with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

To talk more about all of this, about President Trump, NATO and Russia, we’re joined by Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation magazine, also co-signer of a new open letter published Wednesday in The Nation headlined “Common Ground: For Secure Elections and True National Security.” The letter is also signed by Daniel Ellsberg, Gloria Steinem, Noam Chomsky, Governor Bill Richardson, the Reverend Dr. William Barber, Michael Moore, among others.

Katrina, welcome back to Democracy Now!

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL:Thank you, Amy. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what you’re calling for. And then we’ll talk about your assessment of this NATO meeting.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: So, in this toxic political and media environment, our open letter is calling for secure elections and an end to the spiraling escalation of conflict with Russia. We believe you can have secure elections and avoid nuclear catastrophe. U.S.-Russian relations, Amy – and this relates to the NATO discussion – are at their lowest point perhaps in 30 years. And I think, in this country, the talk of Russia as a hostile power, as declaring war on us, I find this hyperbolic. I think we are a resilient nation, and I think some of the gravest dangers to our election system have come from the pollution of dark money, voter suppression, gerrymandering. So we need to focus on securing our elections. Let us have cyber treaties that both deal with that and, as well, with command and control.

But I also think that we need – and this is neither pro-Trump nor pro-Putin, it is simply common sense – that we need a working relationship with Russia, to dial down nuclear peril, to resolve the Ukrainian crisis, to try and bring some humanitarian assistance to Syria. There are a whole set of issues, but the nuclear issue, I think, has been forgotten by many as a truly perilous one. Daniel Ellsberg’s book, The Doomsday Machine, speaks to that. Former Clinton Defense Secretary William Perry has said this is the most perilous nuclear moment he’s ever seen. And The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, as you may know, moved the Doomsday Clock – I think it was earlier this year – to suggest this is the most dangerous nuclear moment between the two superpowers, nuclear superpowers. So I think our letter is an intervention by those who don’t necessarily agree on all but understand that there is a perilous moment we need to address.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, some might be surprised that you’re saying that the U.S. is at an all-time low – well, 30-year low – with relations with Russia –


AMY GOODMAN: – that what you’re describing as seeing him then as the enemy is much more what the Democrats are doing, and that what President Trump has done now, you know, saying he is not the enemy, Putin, he perhaps is a competitor, has made the NATO allies the enemy.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: So, it’s a complicated moment, as you well know. We need to keep our bearings, it seems to me, as progressives, as people of the left, as people opposed to militarism as a response to threats or challenges. And I think what Trump has done – and you see it with NATO – it is a false – his impulsive belligerence is to be, you know, kind of – I mean, he looks like America’s arms salesman as he speaks in Brussels. But at the same time, I would argue that the establishment – bipartisan establishment consensus is bankrupt.

And NATO is a military alliance in search of a mission. For example, the misadventures, to speak mildly, in Afghanistan, our longest-running war, or in Libya – regime change should not be America’s foreign policy. This is what an institution, a military institution, not a coffee klatch, went in search of at the end of the first Cold War. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the Berlin wall came down, George H.W. Bush promised then-Russian leader Gorbachev NATO would not expand one inch eastward. It has expanded to Russia’s borders over these last years. It has been counterproductive. It has been provocative. And instead of creating a defensive alliance, what Europe, the United States did with NATO was seek new misadventures.

I would argue right now the most important thing coming out of the NATO summit is not a 4 percent increase, which is more militarization, leaving us less to deal with catastrophic climate change or global inequality, but put a moratorium on NATO expansion. Ukraine and Georgia’s independence should be assured. Build down NATO forces on Russia’s border. Suspend these military exercises, which are not only provocative, but are dangerous, in that they could lead to accidental confrontation – nuclear, in fact. So that there are a whole series of measures that I think could come out of this NATO summit.

What’s tragic is that we have a president who is calling for an increase in military funding, at a time when we know the challenges of our time demand far different approaches. So, we need to find a way to both criticize the bipartisan failed establishment, to criticize Trump, and to understand that it’s a false choice, as the mainstream media often posits, that he’s calling for isolationism. It’s a false choice. It’s not isolationism or a failed consensus. It’s a different path, which this program, The Nation, many people are trying to find, amidst a lockdown of bipartisan establishment thinking.

Because the thinking on Russia, Amy, Nermeen, is just – I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve been studying, reporting from Russia for 30, 35 years. I’ve been editor of The Nation for almost 25. At least have a debate about what a U.S.-Russian relationship would be. But I think what’s happened is that – it’s not fully the reason, but in the post-2016 disaster, many people wanted to locate the Democratic Party’s loss, not in some of the issues I talked about – dark money, voter suppression, Comey’s letter – but really solely in Russian intervention. Let the investigations proceed. Let us learn what we can. I think it’s a corruption investigation. I think Mueller, in the end, may well drain the swamp that needs draining in Washington. But the language about Putin – you know, Jonathan Chait’s piece in New York magazine this past week, where it’s “Is Trump meeting his counterpart—or his handler?” Every day there’s talk of Trump is a Putin asset.

I’ll end by saying I speak to Russian independent, anti-Putin, oppositionist journalists quite a bit. They are astounded by the journalism in this coverage, the one-note, one-hand clapping, that is toxic, that leads people in Russia to rally behind Putin even more, and that makes Putin seem a mastermind and omnipotent, when they see close up, in their reporting, that’s not the case.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, in that context, though, Katrina, what do you make of the fact that Trump lashed out at Germany in the way he did, saying at the NATO summit that Germany is controlled by Russia and it’s a very bad thing because of its reliance on gas from Russia, 60 to 70 percent, he said, which is obviously false, that “it’s a very bad thing for NATO, and I don’t think it should have happened.” So, he’s saying that any relationship with Russia compromises NATO, or that’s what he’s suggesting.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: There is an impulsive, incoherent belligerence, which I don’t fully understand. But there’s something serious, I think, in what he did. He’s trying to get the monkey off his back. He’s attacking Angela Merkel, who’s been, you know, someone who’s standing up for other values. But I think, above all, look at his arms sale hucksterism. He’s also a huckster and a salesman for natural gas. I mean, he wants U.S. natural gas to come in there. He’s not really talking about dialing back the relationship with Russia. I really truly think it had more to do with that.

It has been a concern on the part of – I mean, of people in Europe, that there is a dependence on Russian gas and oil. And that’s not to be denied. But, hey, who is really dialing back dependence on that? That’s what we should be looking at, so that there isn’t. You know, let’s do renewables and all of that that we talk about. I do think this is an opening, but I don’t think they’ll seize it. It would be very helpful, healthy and hopeful if Europe could find its own way at this moment. It’s the perfect opportunity. NATO, you know, was designed to keep Germany down, Russia out and the U.S. in. And to a large extent, NATO remains U.S.-led. Military, U.S.-led hegemonic alliance. And it would be very healthy for Europe to find a less militarized approach to dealing with its problems on the continent, which was on offer.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, here you have President Trump talking about his friend Putin, and at the same time, with the NATO allies, demanding that they double their own military spending and, of course, buy those weapons from the United States.


AMY GOODMAN: So, Bill Hartung –


AMY GOODMAN:  – talked about the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute—


AMY GOODMAN: – SIPRI, saying the 29 members of NATO spent a cumulative $900 billion on their militaries in 2017. This is compared to $66 billion by Russia. So, close to a trillion dollars compared to $66 billion by Russia. So NATO spent over 13 times what Russia spent. Also, while the U.S. is the biggest spender in NATO, just four European countries – France, the U.K., Germany and Italy – already together spend more than twice what Russia does. Of course, Bill Hartung, director of –


AMY GOODMAN:  – the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Bill Hartung is a sober, rational, well-informed person. What’s gone on in this country is that Russia has assumed a power and a weight that is not commensurate with the reality. I mean, in fact, Putin cut Russia’s military budget in the last months. The United States spends one-third of the world’s military spending. We have so much invested in our military, we are impregnable, if that’s how one thinks of the world. We are printable, if that is how one thinks of the world. So, I think one needs to take into account those numbers, Amy.

But again, what we’re witnessing in this country is people losing their bearings, I think. I mean, and you can’t fault people – I don’t – because Trump is so cruel, is so odious, that what he says taints the possibility often of real debate. I see this with NATO. We had a very good piece the other day at TheNation.com: Let’s disrupt NATO. But it’s difficult to do when Trump is trying to disrupt NATO, because you have to step back and say, “This is our way of disruption.”

AMY GOODMAN: Should NATO be abolished?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: So, you know, I – in principle, I think NATO should have been abolished at the end of the first Cold War. I think at this stage what it needs to do is be redirected, redirected to be less militarized, to find different engagement.

AMY GOODMAN: Should Russia be a part of it?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Let me go back to what could have been. It’s a great squandered opportunity, what happened at the end of the Cold War. Gorbachev spoke of a zone of peace, from Vladivostok to Lisbon, to demilitarize. The Warsaw Pact, the – Russia’s military alliance, was dissolved.

And I think, at a minimum, what – I think we should begin to see a different kind of funding structure for NATO. We should commit to no NATO expansion, no further NATO expansion, as I said earlier, and end those provocative NATO military exercises on Russia’s border. You know, one article in The Nation yesterday does call for its abolition. Reform is not enough. Let’s work toward it. It’s not on the radar right now, but, you know, these are aspirations and fights we should have.

And I think that the security of Europe and the United States and globally should increasingly be demilitarized and moved into different institutions. The kind of fetish for this post-World War II liberal international order is, again, what I’m talking about as part of the bipartisan establishment. Many of those institutions didn’t work that well, in my view—you know, WTO, IMF, NATO. The U.N. needs to be rebuilt, as well. I think that is an institution committed to peace, at its best. But, you know, I think we’re at a moment where I think this country is open to a different engagement with the world. It’s not antiwar, but it’s against the endless wars that NATO has been part of, that too many administrations have waged. And I think it’s time to have a major reset.

And I also think that we are at grave risk if we continue down this path of ascribing to Russia the pathologies. We have uniquely American pathologies. It seems to me that in ascribing these to Russia – for example, Russia is sowing discord. Well, you know, the best activists do that. They sow discord. Is that what we’re really frightened of? Are we not a strong nation? So, I think we lose ourselves if we go down this rabbit hole of blaming Russia for what are uniquely American pathologies, and I would include Donald Trump as one of those.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But what do you expect to happen at the summit next week –


NERMEEN SHAIKH:  – the meeting between Putin on Monday –

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: I expect it will be a small-step summit. The atmosphere, the relationship is at such a low ebb. But I do think we’ll see steps on arms control, at a minimum. You could see the extension of the START arms control treaty. Now, Trump has “if Obama did it, I’m going to wreck it” mentality. But he should remember that Republican presidents have extended arms control treaties, six Republican secretaries of state. I think that will be the main step forward. I don’t see – I mean, you could see the United States joining the Minsk II accords to kind of begin to dial down violence in Ukraine and bring autonomy to eastern Ukraine. But I think it’s going to be arms control, arms control, as any steps that could be taken should be taken.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, the Democrats taking the position both on North Korea and on Russia, being the ones to say, “Stop this. Don’t push for peace. Don’t try to make agreements”?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: I know. This is where, Amy, I think the hyperpoliticization is so painful to watch, because – there are some Democrats. Ro Khanna is one who has really spoken for restraint and realism, tried to keep his head and bearings. He has an interesting amendment coming, I think this week.

AMY GOODMAN: The Silicon Valley congressmember from California.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: The Silicon Valley congressman, first term. But about trying to ensure that the United States doesn’t interfere in other countries’ elections, something we haven’t talked about. I mean, we’ve done a lot. I mean, 80 countries since 1945, not counting Iran and Chile. But that the Democratic Party is becoming the party of Cold War, of opposing dialogue and diplomacy, is, I think, something that needs to have a real reset, moving forward into the 2018, 2020 elections.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and we’re going to go to Britain, but we’d like to ask you to stay with us –


AMY GOODMAN:  – because by the end of the program, I hope we can talk with George Monbiot about his observation of U.S. politics, and particularly a progressive wave that he’s seeing across the pond, from his perspective in Britain, looking at the United States. Katrina vanden Heuvel is our guest, editor and publisher of The Nation. We will link to the letter that she and a number of others signed, including Noam Chomsky and Dan Ellsberg and Gloria Steinem, calling for a reassessment of the U.S.-Russia relationship. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to Britain. Stay with us.


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