In this post I want to address what the point of NATO is and why I’m critical of it.
NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – is one of those sacred cows of the West, so I realise that many readers may not have really thought too much about NATO and whether it is good or bad. It’s just there, and has been there for most of us all of our lives, so the implicit assumption is that it is inherently a good thing. And the Trump regime even pulled off the magic trick of convincing many liberals (in the American sense) and progressives that NATO is something good to be defended against the uncouth Trump.
So, what, exactly is NATO?
At its core, NATO is a military alliance formed in the aftermath of World War II by the USA and Western European nations. It came into existence in 1949, however its precursor was the 1947 Treaty of Dunkirk, which was a military alliance between the UK and France against either a resurgent Germany or a hostile USSR. This then developed into the Western Union by incorporating Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg in 1948. This military alliance was then enlarged to incorporate the USA, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark and Iceland as NATO.
Now, there are 14 articles to the Treaty that gave birth and underpins NATO. Of these, the key one is Article 5 which concerns collective defense – “…an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all…”.
What’s not stated in the Treaty but was articulated by the first Secretary General of NATO, General Hastings Lionel Ismay, is the raison d’etre of NATO, when he said that NATO was created to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the German’s down”. The ‘in’ in question is understood to be Western Europe and the North Atlantic. This position was further underlined when, despite NATO being in theory open to any State, it rejected an application from the USSR to join in 1954. The response to this was to describe the USSR as “an unrepentant burglar trying to join the police force” – making it abundantly clear to the USSR that the purpose of NATO was to oppose the USSR. It was in a response to this that the Warsaw Pact was formed in 1955.
Incidentally, the communique from the USSR about joining NATO raises some interesting points – warning about how antagonistic military alliances resulted in WWI and WWII and we should avoid this; and noting Soviet concerns that Nazi Generals had been incorporated into NATO, including command of NATO’s Central European Forces.
An updated version of Ismay’s famous dictum on the purpose of NATO for the 21st Century would no doubt read “keep the Chinese out, the Americans in, and the Russian’s down”.
The end of the Cold War, with the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, effectively ended the entire point of NATO as originally conceived and operated up until that point. There was an opportunity for NATO to dissolve and for the huge sums of monies invested in its military and weapons of mass destruction to instead be invested into peaceful purposes – such as healthcare, education, science, eradicating inequality. As we know, this didn’t happen, with American triumphant launching the first Gulf War and ushering in an era of unchecked American imperialism, from the dismantling of Yugoslavia through to the War on Terror.
In the closing days of the Cold War, in discussions concerning the reunification of Germany, NATO gave assurances to the weakened USSR that NATO troops would not go further east than Germany. At least that was certainly the understanding in Moscow. As the USSR collapsed and the former Warsaw Pact countries were weakened under the Katastroika, the USA saw an opportunity to ‘keep Russia down’ and the EU weak, and began it’s eastward expansion, preying on weakened economies and the rise of ethno-nationalism that accompanied the Soviet retreat.
As a tool of the American empire, NATO played a pivotal role in (a) preventing the emergence of a rival power in the form of the EU; and (b) keeping a former rival down. Additionally, it played a key part in the imperial adventurism of the War on Terror, be it Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. And, with the increasing rise of a rival power in the form of China, NATO is being pivoted to contain the Chinese threat to American hegemony – as well as strengthen American power in Latin America.
As the New Internationalist rather neatly states:
“NATO is the instrument of choice when the US wants to avoid the political complexities of UN peacekeeping. No worries about Security Council vetoes or embarrassing defeats in the General Assembly. As an organization shrouded in military secrecy, most NATO debates take place behind closed doors and political agreements involve only the consent of fairly like-minded politicians. If there is disagreement, US political and economic pressure is usually enough to bend the governing council to its will.”
Time To Say No To NATO
Ultimately, NATO should never have been created in the first place. Ostensibly set up to defend Western Europe against a Soviet invasion that was extremely unlikely – the Soviets had been devastated by the Nazi offensive, with its industrial capacity and cities in ruins, millions of citizens dead and an exhausted military, the last thing the Soviets wanted was another war. Especially against an ascendant nuclear armed USA. And with the end of the Cold War even that excuse was gone and there was no real purpose for NATO.
NATO instead marched on as a tool of American imperialism and the military-industrial complex. And to sustain itself it constantly creates new enemies through its militarism and provocations – be it China, Russia or the War on Terror. We see this today with the crisis over Ukraine, where both Russia and NATO feed off each other to justify their build up and arms trade. It’s time to terminate NATO and hold its members accountable for their war crimes over multiple wars such as Yugoslavia, Libya and Afghanistan.
In place of NATO we can finally have the peace dividend that the end of the Cold War promised – and even dismantling NATO in the first place will go a significant way to addressing two of the most pressing problems of the 21st Century – militarism and climate change!