Ahead of the Nato Summit in London on 3 December, Sweta Choudhury busts the myths that portray Nato as a force for peace
On 3rd-4th December, in the run-up to one of the most important General Elections in British history, London is preparing to host the 70th anniversary Nato summit. Donald Trump, a keen warmonger and the de facto headman of Nato is scheduled to arrive in London on 2nd December, just 10 days before the GE. It is therefore an important and timely moment to question Britain’s membership of Nato, the political and financial implications that come with the membership and the purpose of the alliance itself.
British foreign policy has been, for many decades, dominated by US foreign policy. The UK-US ‘special relationship’ has been the most important bilateral partnership in the coalition fostering the War on Terror, and both Johnson and Trump are eager to maintain this partnership. Trump has openly expressed his support for Boris Johnson’s GE2019 campaign, and Farage’s election pact with him. He will undoubtedly try to use this summit as a platform to further strengthen his ties with Boris Johnson, reinforce the UK-US ‘special relationship’ and impose U.S. imperialist ambitions on Britain via the Nato war machine just as Brexit threatens to weaken the UK’s influence on EU decision-making within Nato.
Despite some claims that Trump isn’t enthusiastic about the US’s membership to Nato, he has clearly expressed in his official statement for the summit that he will "emphasize the need for the Nato alliance to ensure its readiness for the threats of tomorrow” and "review the alliance's unprecedented progress on burden-sharing, including adding more than $100bn (£76bn) in new defence spending since 2016." There has already been a huge surge in the UK’s defence spending in the last 9 years under the Tory government while massive cuts have been made on vital public services including the NHS.
This surge would be set to continue under a Johnson government. Just days before the GE2019 election was called, Boris Johnson committed to double the defence spending from £800 million to £1.6 billion in a bid to please Donald Trump. This massive increase in defence spending would allow him to claim at the upcoming summit that the UK has not just met the Nato benchmark of spending 2% of GDP on defence but has in fact exceeded the target. This would automatically boost the transatlantic relation between the UK and US, with or without our membership of the EU.
Britain’s membership of Nato has dragged the country into several major wars in the past few decades. Based on the theory of collective security, Nato was established in 1949 in the aftermath of the Second World War. Its purpose: to counter and deter military attacks from the Soviet Union during the Cold War era. Although in its early years Nato did not play a direct role in any military conflicts, Operation Able Archer conducted by the US and Nato allies in 1983 massively alarmed the Russians and paved the way for them to believe that a nuclear strike was on its way. This Nato operation not only heightened international tensions between East and West but also almost pushed the world to the brink of a nuclear war.
Almost thirty years after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and contrary to the International Relations theory that alliances should disintegrate when the threats that occasioned their formation disappear, Nato not only continues to exist and operate but does so in a manner which has deflected from its original purpose, alarmingly expanding its military bases. During the same period, Nato increased its membership from 12 to 29 member states, has developed new policies, updating its integrated military structure and strategic concept, and undertaken new military activities including joint military planning, training, and exercises. It has played a leading role in facilitating several armed conflicts including the disastrous and illegal military intervention in Yugoslavia in 1999 following the political unrest in the region, which was catastrophic for the people of both Serbia and Bosnia. Since then, it has played a big part, in one way or another, in every Western war and military intervention that followed, and Britain has inevitably been part of every single one of them.
The 9/11 attacks opened a new opportunity for Nato members to take a key role in the War on Terror, a failed operation that continues to this day. Nato was given a central role in the military operations carried out by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, of which it took command in 2003. The alliance gradually expanded the reach of its mission and covered all of Afghanistan. Nato members and allied nations were required to send troops to ISAF regularly and the total number of troops increased from 5000 to a staggering 130000 at its height. Far from eradicating terrorism, the 12-year long U.S led, Nato facilitated invasion made Afghanistan one of the most heavily militarised countries in the world. It failed to bring stability and peace to the country, and instead brought a resilient insurgency resulting in the resurgence of the Taliban, and a corrupt and weak government. Not to mention the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians including soldiers. At the time of its withdrawal in 2014, the Afghan mission was Nato’s largest operation to date.
Nato also played an important military role in Iraq. In 2004, a year after the illegal invasion of Iraq by Bush and Blair, Nato forces set up the Nato Training Mission-Iraq (NTM-I) to provide non-combatant training to the Iraqi armed forces. Many member states sent their forces to bordering countries including, Turkey and Kuwait, thus playing an important background role in the war that killed a million plus Iraqis and destabilising the entire region. As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq raged on, Nato continued to expand its reach. Increasing to a point where it had troops on the shores of North Africa playing a central role in the war in Libya in 2011; yet another disastrous invasion that killed tens of thousands of civilians, destabilised the entire country and region, and led to an ongoing civil war.
Nato also massively contributed to the war in Syria, which began as a civil war in 2011 and became a full-fledged proxy war between the Western powers and Russia. In particular, the US-led coalition that intervened in the Syrian civil war involved several Nato members (UK, France and Turkey, plus regional allies of Israel and the Arab league). They heavily prioritised the use of force over diplomatic solutions. The consequence was an uncontrolled, unending cycle of violence and death.
The existence of Nato as a peacekeeping alliance is highly tangential. Most recently we witnessed its lack of peacekeeping during the Turkish led offensive against Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria. Nato allies stood back and watched as Turkish troops moved into the Kurdish territory. Nato’s overall military strategy is defensive and reactive while it pushes its members towards increasingly offensive operations. The ‘requirement’ for there to be a direct threat to a Nato-allied country before military action is taken has been entirely forgotten.
Since the end of the Cold War, Nato has expanded into Eastern Europe and beyond. It has played a central role in many aggressive and unnecessary wars. Nato members very often use the ‘War on Terror’ as a cover for supporting the West’s illegal wars and invasions, especially in the Middle East. It continues to demand member states to increase defence spending, and as its political and military strongholds are being pushed into the Far East and Latin America, we must challenge its belligerence and question its enthusiasm for militarism and war. Nato is nothing but a war machine to further the West’s imperialist agenda, and as the December summit gets closer, we need to recognise that a new approach to foreign policy and international relations is needed and Nato has no place in any such approach.