Originally published: 26 March 2011 — Truthout
By Joseph Gerson
Having launched its Libyan regime change war to oust the Qaddafi dictatorship from the United States’ German-based Africa Command, the Obama administration this week arranged to continue its air war under cover of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance. Long understood to be a relatively benign and defensive alliance focused on European security needs, people across Europe and, increasingly, in the United States, are questioning how and why NATO is now focused on waging non-defensive wars beyond Europe.
From the beginning, 1948, NATO was about more than containing the Soviet Union, which in the immediate aftermath of World War II was a devastated nation whose occupation of Eastern Europe was as, George Kennan wrote, primarily designed to ensure a buffer against future invasions from the West. Think in terms of the devastation wrought by Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler.
Like the unequal treaties that defined 19th- and early 21st-century European colonialism in Asia, NATO has served as a fig leaf, providing a degree of legitimacy for the continuing US military occupation and related US political influence across Western Eurasia. Recall that Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser, wrote that US global dominance requires US hegemony of Eurasia, which in turn necessitates that the United States maintain toeholds (or more) on its western, southern, and eastern peripheries.
Twenty-first century NATO isn’t the cold war alliance that many of us grew up with. The collapse of the Soviet Union eliminated NATO’s cold war raison d’etre, thereby undermining the rationales for the foreign deployment of hundreds of thousands of US warriors on hundreds of US and “NATO” bases across Europe. The Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations responded by transforming NATO into a global alliance to reinforce US imperial ambitions and the privileges of sectors of the European elite. Violating President George H.W. Bush’s pledge not to expand NATO a centimeter nearer to Moscow, in exchange for Gorbachev’s blessing of German reunification on Western terms Clinton began the process of expanding NATO to Russia’s borders, along the way creating the foundation for Donald Rumsfeld and company to renew the game of divide and conquer by playing “New Europe” against “Old Europe.” The US now has bases across Eastern Europe, and there will be more to come with “missile defense” deployments. In violation of the UN Charter, the Clinton administration used NATO to fight its war against Serbia, making possible the creation of Kosovo and the rise of its corrupt client political leadership there.
As the cold war wound down, NATO adopted doctrines permitting “out of area operations,” i.e. military interventions in Africa, the Middle East and beyond. With NATO’s role in the Afghan war, “out of area operations” became the alliance’s primary mission. Today, with 22 additional partnerships still more being planned for Japan, Korea and Southeast Asian nations, NATO is also being used to ensure access to the mineral resources of the Global South and to reinforce the encirclement of China, as well as Russia. Thus, we can identify a major reason that NATO is today fighting in support of a ragtag collection of Libyan rebels in that oil-rich nation. And, as a recent edition of Foreign Affairs put it, China’s rise does not inevitably mean it will become the world’s dominant nation. If NATO can be merged with the European Union, the West, it argued, will remain dominant through the 21st century.
During its recent summits in Strasbourg – enforced by massive and brutal police state repression against nonviolent protesters – and Lisbon, and under pressure from the United States, NATO has resolved to remain at war in Afghanistan at least until 2014. It has adopted a new “strategic concept” consolidating and pointing toward the expansion of the global alliance that can serve as a military enforcer for the United Nations or act in violation of the UN Charter. And NATO has been reaffirmed as a nuclear alliance, while its members have been urged to further increase their military spending.
The 2012 summit to be held in the United States, likely in or near Washington, DC, will be used to plan and build support for the continuing Central Asian and Long wars, to continue the “containment” and encirclement of China and Russia, to bolster the Pentagon and its obscene budget and to reinforce President Obama’s re-election campaign.
Western European peace activists and progressives have long opposed NATO. This opposition grew with the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, and it is worth noting that there is anything but unity about NATO’s Libyan war in elite European circles. Even Germany has turned its back on the war, leaving the goal of a united European foreign policy a short-lived dream, while Norway has reversed course, no longer contributing its air force to the war.
At the popular level, growing out of the 2008 International Conference on Afghanistan held in Hanover, Germany, a “No to NATO/No to War” network of leading European and US peace organizations has come into being. It organized counter-summit conferences and protests in both Strasbourg and Lisbon. Its members are rallying to oppose NATO’s Libya war and are planning a major demonstration in Bonn this November, when the tenth anniversary of the creation of the Karzai government there will be celebrated. And, with the next NATO summit to be held in the US in 2012, plans on both sides of the Atlantic pond are gearing up to oppose NATO’s wars, related military spending that is robbing our communities of essential social services and the alliance itself.