Relaying Views of US’s Top General, Newsweek Sees No Need for Countervailing Facts

1 October 2019 — FAIR

by Joshua Cho

Newsweek: NATO Superiority Over Russia Has 'Eroded,' Forcing Alliance to Create New Strategy, U.S. General Says

Newsweek (9/18/19) reports NATO is losing “superiority” over Russia, without mentioning that the alliance’s combined military budget is 17 times that of Russia.

Lazy, one-sided reports like Newsweek’s “NATO Superiority Over Russia Has ‘Eroded,’ Forcing Alliance to Create New Strategy, US General Says” (9/18/19), by David Brennan, are a major reason why US officials are still taken seriously when they demand further investments in the military/industrial complex and the strengthening of an unnecessary military alliance like NATO.

If it weren’t for the serious possibility that this unproductive brinkmanship could lead to nuclear war, accidental or otherwise (Guardian, 10/15/12; CounterPunch, 1/9/18), it would be funny how easily Newsweek’s report is undermined by earlier reporting from Newsweek.

The report featured warnings by Gen. Joseph Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (and thus the highest-ranking officer in the US military), on the “multitude of threats from malign powers” facing the US, and how NATO must “revamp its strategy to contain a resurgent Kremlin” because “NATO military superiority over an increasingly aggressive Russia” has “eroded in recent years.”

It’s clear that Noam Chomsky’s explanation of US media presuming ownership of the worldis still relevant, given how Newsweek has internalized and amplified the perspective of American empire when it laments over the possible end of “unquestioned US global dominance.” Newsweek characterizes as threatening—and in need of containment—something as banal as nation-states’ willingness to use military force to defend their strategic interests and spheres of influence, because it assumes only the US is entitled to those things:

A belligerent Russia and strengthening China has left world leaders once again thinking in terms of great power competition. The post-Soviet years of unquestioned US global dominance is coming to an end, and the transatlantic alliance has been forced to pivot to this new reality.

The most pressing threat has been Russia. In Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, Moscow has displayed a willingness to use military force to defend its strategic interests and retain what it considers its sphere of influence. Often, these interests are in direct opposition to American and NATO goals.

Is “containment” an accurate description of US foreign policy towards other countries like Russia and China, and has it ever been? Noam Chomsky (in Understanding Power) pointed out that US scholarship on Cold War relations presumes that “containment” was the correct framework because US leaders perceived their own actions as defensive, regardless of factual accuracy:

Suppose somebody wrote a book saying: “Look, the Nazi leadership perceived themselves as taking a defensive stance against external and internal aggression; it’s true it begs some questions, but we’ll proceed that way—now we’ll talk about how they defended themselves against the Jews by building Auschwitz, and how they defended themselves against the Czechs by invading Czechoslovakia, how they defended themselves against the Poles, and so on.” If anybody tried to do that, you wouldn’t even bother to laugh—but about the United States, that’s the only thing you can say: It’s not just that it’s acceptable, it’s that anything else is unacceptable.

Countries With US Military Bases(map: Wikimedia)

Despite Newsweek’s claims of there being “great power competition,” there really is no competition. An earlier Newsweek report (6/3/18) found that Russia operates “at least 21 significant military facilities overseas,” compared to the US having between “600 and 900 military ‘sites’ on foreign soil,” likely more foreign military bases than any nation in history. China, meanwhile, currently only has one overseas base, in Djibouti, though the Pentagon accuses it of planning to building more (Guardian, 5/2/19).

Contrary to Newsweek’s echoing of conventional accounts of Russian aggression and NATO weakness (FAIR.org, 7/26/18), one can more accurately characterize the US policy of “containment” as imperialist expansion towards Russian borders in Georgia and Ukraine. Such encroachment violates Western leaders’ promises to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev not to expand NATO “one inch eastward” (National Security Archives, 12/12/17).

Brennan’s report uncritically transmitted Dunford’s complaints of Russia fielding “capabilities that are not compliant with the [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty,” without mentioning the surely relevant information, which Brennan himself has reported (Newsweek, 8/2/19), that Trump has already unilaterally renounced that treaty (FAIR.org, 7/12/19).

Pie chart showing military expenditure by country(chart: Wikimedia)

Newsweek also ignores previous statements from Russian and Chinese officials on their wanting to avoid an arms race, since the US has a military budget more than twice as large as Russia and China’s combined (Newsweek, 1/18/19; FAIR.org, 12/20/18).

And it amplifies Dunford’s claims of Russia and China trying to “develop technologies and strategies that can exploit American weaknesses,” without explaining why. Perhaps Russia and China are pursuing this strategy because the US is refusing their efforts to prevent an arms race in outer space (Newsweek, 3/20/19; FAIR.org, 5/17/19)? Or because Washington keeps ignoring Moscow’s proposals for a mutual pledge not to use nuclear weapons (Newsweek, 6/11/19)? Maybe China isn’t interested in an arms control treaty with the US because the US keeps violating them by building up its own nuclear forces, and trying to deploy land-based intermediate-range missile systems near Chinese borders (Newsweek, 5/20/198/14/19)?

To be fair to Brennan, his later report, “Russian Defense Chief Says US Could Cut Military Budget if It Stopped Attacking Other Nations” (9/23/19), does compare Russian and US military budgets, and contains assurances from Russian Defense Chief Sergey Shoigu that Russia’s military budget is “proportionate to its foreign policy goals”: “Does Russia really need five to ten aircraft carrier strike groups, considering that we do not intend to attack anyone?”

But that piece also includes sharp criticisms of Russian security strategy, including charges that Moscow has “repeatedly meddled in the domestic affairs of its neighboring nations,” and allegations of “a variety of war crimes, including air strikes against civilian targets.” Those exact points could be made just as easily about Washington, of course (FAIR.org, 6/6/187/19/17)—but when relaying the opinions of its own nation’s top military officials, Newsweek feels no obligation to provide any countervailing facts.


Messages to Newsweek can be sent here (or via Twitter: @Newsweek). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread of this post.

Featured image: Screenshot from Newsweek video, “How Strong Is Russia’s Military?” (7/17/17)

Joshua Cho

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