Chris Nineham looks at Nato’s interventionist history and its deranged bid to expand operations to every corner of the world
NATO is not a force for peace or stability as some claim. It has been central to the US imperial project ever since it was set up in close collaboration with the British Labour government in the spring of 1949.
Donald Trump likes to pose as a disrupter, a leader who doesn’t do alliances. But when he comes to the London Nato summit next week he is going to be demanding more money for Nato and a wider remit so that Nato can pursue more wars and interventions out of its traditional area of operations. Boris Johnson will be his most loyal supporter.
From the start Nato played a number of useful roles for the US. It was designed to limit Russian influence in Europe but it also helped to ensure US dominance of Europe.
In the words of British General Hasting Ismay, Nato’s first general secretary, it purpose was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” Britain was enthusiastic because it wanted to be the US’s closest European ally.
At the end of the cold war Nato faced a crisis. Its public rationale had been the defence of the West against the Soviet Union. The US had emerged as the unchallenged world power but its leaders knew it had to continue to deploy force to stay in place.
Nato was needed to sustain US influence in Europe and to keep its competitors down — so a new mission for it was needed.
"Trump will be using the London summit to try and bolster US control over the alliance so that it continues to pursue US interests around the world"
The result was a push for a wider global role for Nato. “Out of area or out of business” was US leaders’ private mantra. In 1994 Nato aircraft were involved in operations in Bosnia, shooting down Serbian planes in one of its first aggressive actions. Its first major intervention was against Serbia in 1999. This, the first of the modern “humanitarian wars,” involved a murderous 78-day bombing spree.
One month before the attack on Serbia, Nato expanded eastwards to incorporate Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, taking it right to the borders of Russia.
Despite promises to the Russians in 1991 that this would never happen, eastward expansion continued. By this year, 13 Eastern European and Balkan countries had joined Nato, three more were candidates for membership and twelve new Nato bases had been built east of Germany.
Nato played a central role in the War on Terror. It took over the West’s war in Afghanistan in the summer of 2003 and played an important supporting role in the invasion of Iraq. It moved centre stage when it headed up the Western attack on Libya in 2011.
Once again we were told this would be a humanitarian operation but it turned into a seven-month-long assault on the country which led to regime change and the killing of Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi. Libya was left devastated and dysfunctional.
"Turkey is demanding support for its attack on the Kurds in north-eastern Syria"
The push for a global role goes on. In Central Asia, Nato is working closely with Georgia and deepening co-operation with other states to the south of Russia. It is also participating in the “pivot to the East” designed to block China’s military ambitions. It has forged a new alliance with Japan and a similar pact with Australia.
Nato is also involved in efforts to maintain its control over Latin America where opposition to US economic influence is growing. Colombia, one of the countries now experiencing mass protest against neoliberalism, has become Nato’s first official partner in Latin America.
Building on the experience of the Libyan operation in 2011, plans have been pursued for an Arab Nato. This is proving difficult however as the US position in the Middle East has been so weakened by the series of wars since 2003.
At the London summit there will be tensions about the direction Nato should take. Turkey is demanding support for its attack on the Kurds in north-eastern Syria and is threatening to block a Nato “defence” plan for Poland and the Baltics until it gets its way.
French President Macron is urging less confrontation with Russia and China and calling for intervention in the Sahel region of Africa, where the French have a long record of colonial intervention.
These divisions speak to the declining power of the US. They take place against the background of growing Chinese influence in large parts of the globe, growing Russian militarisation and the spread of protests against governments in Latin America and the Middle East.
With Boris Johnson’s help, Trump will be using the London summit to try and bolster US control over the alliance so that it continues to pursue US interests around the world.
The wars of the last 18 years have made the world an infinitely more dangerous place and Nato has been at the heart of the war effort. It is time it was dismantled.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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