NATO, an idea whose time has gone

When NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was founded after World War II, its first secretary general, British general Lord Ismay, succinctly stated its real, original purpose: “To keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” In other words, NATO was supposed to be an instrument not for spreading democracy, but for maintaining geopolitical hegemony in Europe by the Western capitalist states. Very soon, of course, the idea of keeping the Germans “down” was scrapped, and Germany became a major actor in NATO military matters.

But now NATO is being repackaged for the media as a sort of organization of world crusaders for democracy. New NATO members have been recruited from former socialist states and former member states of the Soviet Union, under the slogan of “protecting” those countries’ freedom. NATO participated in the destruction of Yugoslavia and in the Gulf War and Afghanistan, and now may recruit Georgia, which is pretty far from the “North Atlantic.” It is no coincidence that the pattern of new and prospective NATO states forms a close ring around Russia, with an interesting proximity to major oil pipelines also.

While our corporate media paint a pretty picture of NATO, its real history shows it to be much closer to Lord Ismay’s depiction of a grouping aimed at issues of power, not democracy.

A particularly sinister aspect of NATO was what came to be called Operation Gladio (“gladius” means “sword” in Latin), for its Italian manifestation. This was (and probably still is) a NATO-sponsored top secret “stay behind” program, operating under various names in all the NATO countries and in several neutral ones, including Finland, Switzerland and Sweden. The official purpose was that if the USSR and its allies would some day overrun Western Europe (a thing that never happened, and was never going to happen), there would be clandestine networks of military and civil personnel who could disrupt, attack and eventually drive out the Soviet forces.

In reality Operation Gladio became a mechanism whereby fascist and criminal elements could be secretly mobilized, not against a foreign invasion, but against progressive and labor forces within each country. To this day, there has not been a full public airing of just exactly what arrangements were made under Gladio in every NATO country.

But we do know something about what Gladio did in Italy, and it has nothing to do with democracy, freedom or the rule of law.

In Italy, the original Gladio formed its clandestine networks on the basis of old fascists (Mussolini leftovers) and their younger imitators, the Mafia and other criminal organizations, and the extreme right wing of the Roman Catholic Church, including the well known organization Opus Dei. It had a close link to a corrupt Masonic lodge, Propaganda Due (or P2) to which key military and civilian officials belonged. Funding came partly from the CIA.

When Osama bin Laden was just a callow youth, the Gladio-P2 network carried out bombing campaigns which they then blamed on the far left. The idea of this “strategy of tension” was to maintain a high level of fear and uncertainty in the population, which would lead people to reject voting for the then-huge Italian Communist Party (PCI), and that might make a right-wing coup possible. Only the most violent of many such actions was the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan, which killed 17, and the 1980 bombing of the train station in Bologna, in which 85 innocent civilians died. There may have been a connection to the kidnapping and murder of Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978 as well: Moro had been working toward a “grand alliance” of his Christian Democratic Party with the PCI. He was killed by ultra-leftist terrorists, but Gladio sometimes manipulated such people and encouraged their terrorism, because it helped the “strategy of tension.”

The Italian setup metastasized into other countries, building links with dictatorships like that of Argentina’s Jorge Videla and Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, and leading to terrorist actions all over the world.

When the relationship between Propaganda Due and Gladio came to light, in the wake of the huge Vatican banking scandal (Banco Ambrosiano) which forms part of the plot of the movie “Godfather III,” there was a wave of indignation in and beyond Italy. When it was discovered that the CIA was funding much of the Gladio-type activity, and along with Britain’s MI6 was participating in planning functions, Italian authorities asked for clarification from the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations, which to date have not been given.

The NATO “stay behind” networks have been involved in many other undemocratic actions in the NATO countries and beyond, including massacres of leftist protesters in Turkey, the 1967 “colonels’ coup” in Greece, and, possibly, the assassination of African freedom fighters against Portuguese colonialism, Amilcar Cabral and Eduardo Mondlane. In the former West Germany, the U.S. and the Adenauer government did not shrink from working with Gen. Reinhard Gehlen’s secret network of former (?) Nazis when setting up equivalent structures.

We now see NATO incorporating more and more countries which are many long miles from the “North Atlantic” region. The pretext is to defend democracy against outside threats, but the reality is that the point of NATO’s sword is aimed at democratic and left-wing forces within the countries in which it establishes itself, as well as at economic and military rivals.

NATO is not a force for democracy, but its opposite. And far from being an organization for fighting terrorism, NATO itself stands accused of fomenting terrorism. It is time for it to go.

Emile Schepers is a social justice activist in Virginia.