NATO vs. democracy

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO. It is also the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, who is often quoted as having said: “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”

The many people who protested in Strasbourg, France, and Baden-Baden, Germany, where the NATO festivities took place, as well as around the world, aim to make sure that Lincoln’s saying is validated. For NATO has been, throughout its existence, an entity which has tried to fool the world by operating under the false flag of “protecting” its member countries’ freedom against an imaginary “red menace,” while in reality it has served to crush the freedom of people not only in countries outside NATO, but within the NATO countries themselves.

This was shown by the fact that within a short period, NATO’s structures began to participate in activities within many of the member countries and beyond that were in direct opposition to any meaningful notions of democracy and freedom.

Under the guise of creating clandestine “stay behind” structures to combat an (imaginary) impending Soviet invasion, NATO provided the cover for new and old fascists to organize against member countries’ workers’ and people’s movements and to destabilize left-leaning democratic and bourgeois democratic governments by carrying out acts of sabotage and terrorism which would then be blamed on the left. Especially in Italy, this involved the “strategy of tension” in which right-wing forces committed multiple acts of terrorism against the civil population which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. The purpose was to keep the Italian Communist Party from getting a foothold in the Italian government.

If and when all NATO’s files are opened, it will be very interesting to find exactly what the links were between NATO structures and the fascist colonels’ coup in Greece, the Grey Wolves organization in Turkey, and many other such shadowy groupings in the NATO countries, as well as exactly how deeply involved the CIA and Britain’s MI-5 were in these crimes.

Also a matter for future historians is the relationship of NATO’s structures to the stoking of ethnic or national tensions within the USSR and the Eastern European countries. In the United States, vast amounts of taxpayers’ money were handed over to various expatriate right-wing figures from national minorities in the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the other socialist countries for the purpose of inciting ethnic tensions that would threaten the unity and integrity of these countries.

Keeping the Cold War going

The idea that NATO was a defensive alliance against the USSR and the Warsaw Pact was immediately shown to be a lie when, instead of dissolving or shrinking NATO when the Warsaw Pact disappeared, its state sponsors moved speedily to vastly increase it and expand its geographical scope.

NATO’s U.S. and Western European sponsors quickly began recruiting new members from former constituent republics of the Soviet Union and former socialist Eastern European states. By 2008, NATO had 26 member states. At present there is debate about Ukraine and Georgia being incorporated into NATO, which Russia sees as a hostile move.

Thus NATO, an instrument of fighting the Cold War from 1949 to 1991, became, thereafter, a mechanism for keeping the Cold War going when the supposed rationale for its existence had disappeared.

This was shown in the NATO intervention in the Balkans, especially in the case of the Kosovo war. In an article in the People’s Voice, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Canada, Rick Rozoff reminds us of the role played by the NATO alliance in destroying socialist and multi-ethnic Yugoslavia and especially the willingness of U.S. imperialism and NATO to work hand in hand with outright fascist and criminal elements of Albanian Kosovar separatism. The damage has been huge.

As Rozoff says, “At the beginning of 1991, Yugoslavia was a unified country, a member and founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, with no foreign bases on its soil and no troops stationed abroad. In the intervening 18 years it has been torn to pieces and its fragments turned into little better than NATO military occupation zones and recruiting grounds for foreign war — the prototype for what awaits much of the world if the developments of 1991 aren’t soon halted and reversed.”

Imperialism quickly found that NATO could also be useful for doing end-runs around the United Nations and international law. Using NATO as a sort of substitute UN, the U.S. government, especially under George W. Bush, has been able to conceal from many of its own citizens that its actions in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan are of an illegal, rogue nature. Public opinion surveys in the U.S. show a high level of support for the United Nations, and a worry about the U.S. barging into other countries without international support and the sanction of international law. NATO gives a “multilateralist” fig leaf to brutal buccaneering expeditions.

Bush went on to promote a truly grandiose concept of NATO that would have expanded its role to encompass the entire planet, and whose mission was now not to repel foreign invasions but to assure imperialism’s control of the world’s major supplies of vital resources, especially energy from natural gas and oil.

Conn Hallinan, in an article originally published on the Foreign Policy in Focus website and reprinted in the People’s Weekly World last year, quotes Bush, speaking at a NATO conclave, as saying “NATO … is no longer a static alliance focused on defending Europe from a Soviet tank invasion. It is now an expeditionary alliance that is sending its forces across the world to help secure a future of freedom and peace for millions.”

There has even been talk of extending NATO’s operations into the South Pacific and the Western Hemisphere.

NATO in Afghanistan

The U.S. public is told that the reason the United States is interested in getting more U.S. and NATO troops into Afghanistan is to protect the Afghani people against a return to power by the reactionary Taliban, and to stop Al Qaeda from building up its strength through its social base in the Pashtun-speaking areas of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Bad as the Taliban and Al Qaeda are, defeating them was certainly not the real, only or major purpose of the Bush administration’s push to expand NATO operations into Central Asia. Rather, the vital importance of the oil resources of the Caspian Sea area, and of pipeline projects to bring this oil to Western markets through Turkey, is the clue. The efforts by Bush to isolate Iran by blocking Iranian-Indian cooperation on pipeline development reveal this.

The people will reject NATO expansion

Fortunately, the idea that NATO should become the expeditionary army of the U.S. and the European Union is being rejected, both by the non-NATO countries and by wider and wider mass segments within the NATO countries, including the U.S.

Furthermore, countries threatened by the NATO expansion are organizing responses. The Shanghai Cooperative Organization, Hallinan tells us, is among other things a counter-organization that brings together Russia and China, as well as the former Soviet Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The Collective Security Treaty Organization interlocks with it and adds Armenia and Belarus to a potential alliance. Although these interlocking blocks are not explicitly anti-NATO, they effectively bar the way to further NATO expansion in Central Asia.

NATO and the U.S. working class and left

The two questions about NATO that face the left and the working class in the United States are:

* What will be the policy of the Obama administration toward the aggressive expansion of NATO, as well as specific NATO involvements in Afghanistan and other present conflict situations?

* What is the best strategy to following in combating NATO-based imperialism?

Obama’s election was made possible by the rejection, by the majority of the U.S. working class and people, of the Bush policies both in both domestic and foreign affairs. Public anger over the exploding financial crisis and disgust with the Bush war policy in Iraq were major factors.

Obama is faced with a looming economic catastrophe, and his first moves have been to use the money-raising power of the U.S. government to rescue businesses, small property owners and workers from the enormous interlocked mortgage, financial, stock market and general economic crises. To this end, he has won support for an economic stimulus package of unprecedented size. This represents a sharp turn away from the neo-liberal policies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, and in a sense a return to the policies of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s and 1940s.

finds himself in a classic “guns or butter” dilemma, and this opens up possibilities for the left to demand drastic cuts in the military budget, including the part that goes for overseas adventures with or without NATO cover. The parallel political demand is for NATO to be dissolved, starting with an end to its expansion and moving quickly to its withdrawal from countries into which it has been pushed since 1991, including especially Iraq and Afghanistan.

On military policy, Obama has announced a withdrawal of most combat forces from Iraq in 2010, and almost all the rest in the following year.

On Afghanistan, as soon as Obama took power the generals demanded that he commit to sending 30,000 new U.S. troops. So far, he has agreed to send 17,000, but many people in the U.S. do not want him to send any. Most recently Obama has said that he does not want a long-term occupation. It is clear that there will be ongoing rethinking of the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, with pressure on the Obama administration from both left and right.

During last year’s election campaign, much of the U.S. left, including the Communist Party USA, while supporting Obama as a great improvement over Bush, strongly opposed his idea of increasing U.S. — and NATO — intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As an editorial in this newspaper put it:

“Sending more U.S. troops is like pouring gasoline on a raging fire. Three decades ago Washington laid the foundations of Al Qaeda and the Taliban when it built up Afghanistan’s most backward, violent elements, destroying a progressive government in its rush to counter Soviet influence in this strategic region. The civil war that followed pitted extremist against extremist and turned to ashes the faint green shoots of democracy, women’s rights and economic and social development. … Prompt withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces, and ending air strikes on Afghan and Pakistani targets, would be a good start.”

The Obama administration says it wants to move toward a multilateral approach toward solving world problems. But “working with our NATO allies” is not a form of multilateralism at all, but rather an enhanced unilateralism. We must fight for an approach that includes all nations and peoples and strengthens rather than undermines the United Nations and other genuine international organizations, as well as international law.

There are some positive developments in Europe. The Obama administration has been cautiously moving away from Bush’s plan to place anti-ballistic missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, which Bush promoted with the pretext of protecting Europe from a supposed Iranian nuclear threat, but which most of the world sees as an anti-Russian geopolitical maneuver. Now the reactionary Czech government has fallen, and its replacement is likely to oppose such bases.

The world situation is very different now from what it was in 1991, when NATO was seen as a mechanism for world conquest under U.S. leadership. In the United States’ own “backyard,” there is a full scale rebellion against imperialism, which has encompassed the popular masses — workers, peasants, indigenous people, urban poor and intellectuals — in every Latin American country (and Cuba is still socialist!).

Humanity is writing a new chapter, as it always does, and NATO will eventually end up as a tiny footnote.