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No to Nato

BY JOHN NEWSHAM 28/02/2016

This weekend, largely ignored by the mainstream media, thousands of people took to the streets of London to oppose the renewal of Trident- Britain’s £100 billion nuclear warhead system. Not only was the march the biggest anti-nuclear demonstration in a generation, it saw the leaders of the Labour Party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru address the crowds. Despite the media’s silence, it is clear that the political climate in Britain and elsewhere is starting to reject the costly drive to militarism of bygone days.


The arguments against renewing Trident are well known: the inability to justify outrageous costs in a time of austerity; the hypocrisy of demanding a nuclear-free world whilst remaining one of only nine countries to possess such weapons; the expensive impracticality of a weapon which will never be used. Yet the tide of political thought is not just turning against this cold-war relic, it is also turning against another. NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, fails to pass many of the same arguments as Trident. This article will explore a few of them.


The history of NATO is one of imperialism under the guise of defence. Established in 1949, purportedly to uphold the safety of member states in the face of Soviet aggression, sources from the time tell a different story. President Eisenhower was clear from the start that there was no perceived military threat from the USSR. The role of NATO, according to him, was simply to ‘convey a feeling of confidencepolitically, in opposition to Communist inroads’.


NATO did not officially carry out any military operations until the end of the Cold War, and is now popularly represented as having been the deterrent for all- out war. In reality, member states simply relied on each other to support common, covert objectives in poorer, weaker parts of the world.


In one of many such examples kept classified for years, as long ago as 1957 the US and its allies were attempting covert regime change in Syria. Spurred on by Syria’s neutral stance, a US attempt to overthrow the socialist government in the country was intercepted, eventually driving Syria to ally itself with the Soviets. This discrete action was carried out after Eisenhower declared as the primary objective of US foreign policy to help the “enslaved  resist the oppressor until his hold can be gradually weakened and loosened from within.” Such justifications for western action are very familiar today.


After the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe NATO should, according to its own stated aims, have become redundant. Instead, with the US realising it could now be used to support its foreign policy goals unopposed, the role of NATO was quickly re-classified. Continuing to operate and indeed expand after the collapse of its reason for existing, NATO effectively admitted that its previous forty years were built upon deception. As Noam Chomsky wrote ‘the end of the Cold War brings its problems new enemies have to be invented’.


Throughout the nineties, NATO began to present itself as the moral policeman of the former Soviet Union. Following its UN backed presence to help end the appalling atrocities of the Bosnian war, the global military dominance of NATO members was dressed up in a cloak of good intentions, and left to go unchallenged.


In 1999, knowing its actions would be vetoed by Russia and China, NATO bypassed the UN Security Council to bomb Yugoslavia, a fellow UN state. This was widely represented in the west as having been a crusade in pursuit of peace. In reality the networks in place for a potential peaceful solution were not pursued, NATO members preferring to exert their military muscle. How would the west have responded had the Cold War ended differently, with the Soviet Union acting this way around the world?


Today, NATO accounts for 70% of the world’s total spending on the military. Unsurprisingly, it is the US which makes up the largest share, having invested $582 billion (£400 billion) in 2014. Yet it is Britain which holds the second largest share, having spent $55 billion (£36 billion) in the same year. Has that money really made us safer?


Article 5 of NATO, which compels all member states to support an attacked country in taking military action, has been required just once- in response to the attacks of September 11th. As recent history has shown, the nature of the enemy in the modern day is such as to render the subsequent NATO action costly and counter-productive. Terrorist attacks have happened again; the countries we spent billions on invading had little connection to the attackers.


If September 11th prompted an attack on Afghanistan with the justification of finding a Saudi who was hiding in Pakistan, more recent justification for Britain’s bombing of Syria was retaliation for the actions of French and Belgian terrorists in Paris. Clearly the old Cold War propaganda machine is working its magic in the 21st century. How else could NATO member states lull their populations into spending billions attacking some of the poorest, most militarily weak nations on earth? It is no coincidence that these nations were also amongst the Cold War targets of the USA.


So what does this mean for Britain in 2016? A country in the midst of a decade of austerity continues to spend billions on an outdated alliance whilst there is no state on earth providing a realistic threat to us. The nature of any potential attackers to the UK today- small factions of extremists, many using western militarism as a justification for their actions- is such that any international military alliance is likely to only prove counter-productive. NATO, like trident, is an expensive and outdated relic of the previous century.