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Q. What do President Obama and the NATO heads of state hope to achieve at this summit?
A. Their primary goals are 1) to win acceptance for the continued presence of U.S. and NATO military forces in Afghanistan through and possibly beyond 2024, 2) to increase European military expenditures and raise greater financial support for the Karzai government, 3) to reaffirm NATO’s “New Strategic Concept” for “out of area” wars like Afghanistan and Libya, and 4) to announce the interim operational capability of U.S. “missile defenses” in Europe, thereby greatly increasing tensions with Russia. Moscow perceives “missile defenses” as a shield designed to reinforce U.S. first strike nuclear weapons, and thus as a grave threat to its security.
Q. Don’t we need NATO to defend Europe?
A. NATO was never an entirely defensive alliance. When WWII ended, the Soviet Union was a devastated nation, having lost 20 million people during the war. At the Yalta Summit, President Roosevelt and Stalin agreed to share influence in divided Europe, with occupied Eastern Europe envisioned as a buffer against possible invasion from the West. NATO served to legitimize the U.S. military presence in Western Europe with which it hoped to dominate the Eurasian continent. Since the Cold War ended, NATO has not focused on Europe, but on “out of area” operations like the Afghan and Libyan Wars and on creating “partnerships” from Mauritania to Turkistan, with more to come from Latin America to East Asia.
Q. With the Cold War long over, is NATO still a nuclear alliance?
A. Yes. The U.S., Britain and France still have 10,000 nuclear weapons between them, and the alliance maintains its “first use” nuclear war fighting policies. A related major concern for many in Europe is the continued deployment of U.S. as many as 480 so-called “tactical” nuclear weapons on bases in five European nations. Greece, The Netherlands, Turkey, Italy and Belgium have “nuclear sharing” arrangements with the U.S. which provides for possible wartime use of many of these U.S. -owned and controlled nuclear weapons based in their countries. Earlier this month it was reported that NATO is preparing to replace aging nuclear-capable aircraft and free-fall nuclear bombs with modern aircraft and precision-guided nuclear warheads.
Q. Don’t we need to keep troops in Afghanistan to protect ourselves from Al Qaeda?
A. Osama Bin Laden was killed a year ago, on May 2, 2011. The CIA estimates there are fewer than 100 Al Qaeda operatives still active in Afghanistan. Since “getting Bin Laden” and defeating Al Qaeda were the stated reasons for the war in Afghanistan, President Obama should have used this opportunity to announce a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops. Instead, the security agreement recently signed by Presidents Obama and Karzai is designed to keep tens of thousands of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan until 2024.
Q. Why are we still at war in Afghanistan?
A. There are many reasons. Afghanistan has geostrategic importance. Having U.S. troops and bases there reinforces U.S./NATO military encirclement of both China and Iran. It provides the gateway to the oil- and gas-rich Caspian Sea region, and planning continues to build a pipeline to carry these energy resources from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and to the sea via Pakistan.
The Pentagon’s secret history of decision making during the Vietnam War documents that in the war’s final years, 85 percent of the reason for continuing the war was to maintain U.S. prestige. This is a factor in Afghanistan. Further, no president wants to lose a war on his watch, certainly not in the months preceding a presidential election. Finally, as was the case with Vietnam, many in the U.S. government and Pentagon believe that “coercive diplomacy,” bombing the Taliban to the negotiating table, can lead to the creation of a U.S.-oriented Afghan government.
Q. Does President Obama plan to submit the new U.S.-Afghan Security Agreement to Congress for approval?
A .No such commitment has been made. The current Agreement, which President Kazai will submit to the Afghan parliament for approval has been read by many as a treaty requiring Senate ratification. At the very least, it should be seriously scrutinized and rejected by Congress. The military/security agreement to be negotiated between the U.S. and Afghanistan within a year is another matter. It will certainly be a functional treaty.
Q. By staying until 2024, can U.S. and NATO forces bring peace and stability to Afghanistan?
A. This phase of the Afghan war has been fought for eleven years – the longest war in U.S. history. There is little to show for it. The Karzai government’s influence extends barely beyond the city limits of the national capital, Kabul. In recent months a growing number of U.S. and NATO forces have been killed in “blue on green” shootings by members of the Afghan Army and police. We’ve spent roughly $523 billion on the war – a major source of the national deficit. Almost 2000 U.S. troops have been killed, with another 15,300 wounded. One thousand NATO troops have lost their lives. And thousands of civilians continue to suffer while longing for the war to end.
Q. Do a majority of the U.S. people really want to bring all our troops home from Afghanistan?
A. About two-thirds of Obama supporters, and almost as many swing voters (who make up nearly a quarter of the electorate) want a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops, while Mitt Romney supporters are split just about evenly according to recent polls.
Q. Are members of Congress doing anything to end the war?
A. Many Democratic and Republican members of the House of Representatives recently sent a bi-partisan letter to the president calling for a swift withdrawal timeline. They understand that there is no military solution in Afghanistan, and that the war can only end through diplomacy and negotiations. With votes on Afghanistan policy in the Defense Authorization bill members of Congress are working to end the war.
U.S. ECONOMY AND PROTESTS:
Q. Given our economic crisis, doesn’t spending for the military create jobs and boost the economy?
A. Study after study finds that investing in health care, education, transportation and repairing and modernizing our deteriorating infrastructure creates far more jobs than building capital-intensive high-tech weapons, including unnecessary jet fighters at half a billion dollars each, or than maintaining the Pentagon’s estimated 1,000 foreign military bases and installations. Spending $1.2 million a year for each soldier or marine the U.S. stations in Afghanistan is no way to create jobs or to revitalize the economy.
Q. What’s the point of organizing a Counter-Summit and holding protest marches?
A. They give voice to the country’s pro-peace majority. It’s time for some much-needed democracy in American foreign policy. The people want to bring the troops home. The policy-makers need to follow their lead. The May 18-19 Counter-Summit provides a means for peace and justice advocates to deepen our understandings of our many crises. It provides forums to develop campaigns to bring our troops home from Afghanistan, to reorient our society toward peace, and to reinvigorate our economy by moving the money from the Pentagon to job creation, building a 21st century infrastructure in the U.S., and ensuring the continuation of essential social services.
Prepared by the Network for a NATO-Free Future, www.natofreefuture.org