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From The Socialist newspaper, 5 June 2009

NATO anniversary: 60 years of aggression and terror

THE NORTH Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) marked 60 years of its existence at the start of April in Strasbourg, France. US president Barack Obama presented himself for photo shoots in front of a carefully selected audience and European politicians crossed the river Rhine for a symbolic handshake on the France-Germany border.
CHRISTIAN BUNKE takes a look beyond these government ceremonies and explains why Nato was created in the first place, and why tens of thousands of protesters assembled to demonsrate their opposition to it.

THE ATMOSPHERE at Nato's Strasbourg birthday party was subdued.

After the collapse of Stalinism in eastern Europe, a period of pro-capitalist triumphalism swept the planet. Alongside this was a shift to the right of trade union and other labour movement leaders and defeats of workers' movements worldwide.

However, the rise of rival powers such as China, and Russia - whose power has diminished but nevertheless is a factor, political events such as 9/11, and the onset of world economic crisis in 2007, as well as other phenomena such as climate change, have stirred a sense of insecurity among western capitalist powers.

In the run-up to the Strasbourg summit, four former leading Nato generals who are now Nato advisers wrote a strategy document which provided the basis for the summit agreement. In this, the generals provide a damning indictment of capitalist policies since capitalism once again declared world supremacy in 1989.

Cold war

They give the impression of wanting to return to the 'good old days' of the cold war: "It is not mere nostalgia to point out that governments then could count on some degree of responsibility from a country and its people. This permitted the use of existential threats as the ultimate tool to achieve a strategy's objectives. Both sides planned for the worst, but could also believe that any opponent would show some respect for what was then customary international law. None of these certainties exist any longer."

Throughout the 1990s, Nato attempted to assist the creation of a neoliberal world order. Thus, where Nato forces invade and conquer, they try to enforce a 'protectorate', in essence a modern colony. The trend has been puppet governments, with trade unions repressed and public services privatised. One example is Kosova, where the establishment of a Nato protectorate under the pretext of supporting the right to self-determination of the population created rising resentment in the population. Low living standards, privatisation and an absence of social rights are being enforced by a draconian, Nato-backed police force.

A more recent example is Afghanistan. Here, the authors of the strategy document Towards a grand strategy for an uncertain age declare: "Nato is at a juncture and runs the risk of failure..... for Nato nations to succeed, they must resource operations properly, share the risks and possess the political will to sustain operations."

Sherard Cowper-Coles, UK ambassador to Afghanistan, shares these sentiments and described the situation in a memo in 2008 as 'bad'. He feared that the Nato-backed government in Afghanistan would immediately collapse should Nato forces withdraw from the country.

Carlo Massala from the Nato defence academy in Rome declared recently: "Protectorates are in..... From Bosnia to Kosovo, from Iraq to Afghanistan, the pattern of western intervention is always the same. After a successful military intervention, the 'conquered' territories are being transformed into protectorates and western governments then attempt to transform them into liberal democratic political systems following a free market model."

That's the theory. In reality, officials from Nato countries have had to admit the limitations of their approach. All the countries mentioned above remain very unstable to this day. Nato argues that all this is a question of will and strategy. Hence, a number of recommendations made by the four former generals have been taken on board at the Strasbourg summit.

Nato wants to move towards a "comprehensive strategy", one that is not just based on military intervention, but also political means, involving civilian organisational structures. This strategy also includes developing Nato beyond its current remit, to strengthen its hand by expanding aggressively towards the east, into the sphere of influence of the former USSR. At the summit, Albania and Croatia were "warmly welcomed" into the alliance.

Meanwhile, there was plenty of sabre rattling against 'rival' powers such as Russia. This involved giving support to neighbouring countries like Georgia. The concluding statement claims: "The Nato-Georgia relationship has deepened substantially in the past year .... We reiterate our continued support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders.... The Alliance has condemned Russia's recognition of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia as independent states".

Natural resources

ONE OF Nato's key aims according to the document written by the former generals, is to achieve access to scarce and sought after energy resources and raw materials for the major capitalist western powers. They openly state that this will mean increasing conflict with rival powers.

It suits Nato to use the 9/11 attacks as an excuse to ram through its imperialist strategy. The four generals write: "In its 2006 Quadrennial Defence Review, the Pentagon called the post-9/11 global conflict the 'Long War' against 'dispersed non-state networks'.... The novelty of this 'global age' is the way in which threats and security challenges are interlinked, e.g. energy security, climate change, information technology, financial capital flows, armed conflict, radical and Islamist terrorism, organised crime, proliferation, scarce resources, and refugee issues".

That interconnectedness, an indirect admission that capitalism is inherently unstable, is the backdrop to the current beefing up of security apparatuses in Nato member states. It leads to an increasing blurring of the lines between the secret services, police and military, and an erosion of civil liberties. The result can be seen in the security operations against protesters at the G8 summit in Germany 2007, that of the G20 in London in April and the Nato summit as well.

Lenin once commented in Imperialism: The highest stage of capitalism, that imperialist powers use their navies as bailiffs to collect debts off other nations. This is still true concerning Nato's struggle to gain access to raw materials including fuels. It is the background to the current deployment of various Nato fleets off the coast of Somalia. Protecting capitalist shipping lanes from piracy (with limited success, it seems) may be part of it, but is linked to the clearly stated objective of maintaining access to oil and minerals.

In the Mediterranean sea, Nato forces regularly hold up and search merchant ships to find out if they have 'illegal immigrants' on board. This is part of Nato's strategy to "manage immigration". It has led to many merchant traders refusing to rescue refugees from drowning because they are afraid they will be accused of people smuggling.

Climate change is given a geopolitical importance. Nato strategists envisage it will dramatically change the landscape of political conflict. Local disputes previously considered to be harmless could develop into major conflicts: "There will also be other geopolitical consequences if climate change allows the northern shore of Russia, currently in a permafrost condition, to be open to shipping. Similarly, what does it mean for shipping and trade with Asia if climate change allows the northern shore of Canada to be open to shipping all year round?

What future military and naval requirements will be needed to protect such new and highly lucrative lines of maritime communication? What will the impact be on American-Canadian relations?"

Here is a clear insight into what Nato is all about. Not about protecting humanity from the ravaging effects of climate change, but ensuring that multinational companies operating from Nato member states can profit from it.

The major capitalist powers in Nato do have disputes with each other. The US demanded at the summit that European powers beef up their militaries, while at the same time acknowledging that they 'cannot go it alone'. Many Nato generals fear that the European governments cannot finance the military machine they deem necessary, due to economic and public pressure against it.

Nevertheless, Nato often remains the weapon of choice for western capitalism to enforce its interests against other powers, and can be held in reserve for attempted use against the working class within Nato member states too.

As with the United Nations, Nato is not an independent body that can rise above the interests of the main capitalist powers that make up its membership. On the contrary, it is a tool of those powers, in particular of the US, and as such it represents free market big business interests.

Nato has given up pretence that it will create a better world for ordinary working class people and the poor, and focuses instead on trying to manage the effects of the evolving crisis of capitalism. It cannot solve any elements of the crisis through its military brutality, because global capitalism is the problem, as is currently displayed in dramatic fashion through the developing world economic crisis.

But capitalist organisations like Nato will only vanish when capitalism itself is abolished, and socialist societies are created through which humanity can democratically and equally plan and distribute the world's wealth and resources. Then, the brutal agression of imperialist tools like Nato will be consigned to the dustbin of history, replaced by international cooperation and real freedom, for the benefit of all. CWI members are fighting worldwide to create such an alternative society.


NATO's murky history

NATO WAS created in 1949 to help establish US global supremacy, to set up an alliance of capitalist powers under US leadership, combat the Stalinist, non-capitalist block containing powers such as the USSR, and last but not least to try to prevent socialist revolutions in capitalist countries. In 1948 George F Kennan, a theoretician working for the US state department formulated the aim as: "to establish a scheme of relationships which can enable us to keep up the position of inequalities."

In their final declaration, the Nato leaders gathered in Strasbourg this year boasted: "We, the Heads of State and Government of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, met today in Strasbourg and Kehl to celebrate the 60th anniversary of our Alliance. We have reaffirmed the values, objectives and obligations of the Washington Treaty which unite Europe with the United States and Canada, and have provided our transatlantic community with an unprecedented era of peace and stability."

In reality though, Nato's history is one of continual aggression and terror. To this day, it maintains a first strike policy with regards to its enormous nuclear weapons capacity. This policy was changed repeatedly during the cold war years. Originally, Nato pursued a policy of massive retaliation. Even small "provocations" from the USSR for example, were to be answered with a full scale nuclear assault.

When the Warsaw pact states (the USSR and its eastern Europe allies) developed their own nuclear arsenal up to a level of "mutually assured destruction", Nato changed its policy to a "flexible response" model which included the use of conventional military and localised nuclear strikes.

Preventing revolution

Nato set up paramilitary 'stay-behind' organisations in every European member state, with the specific aim of derailing socialist revolutions or even reformist left governments or movements. This strategy was started even before Nato formally came into existence.

It included the use of British troops to prevent a socialist revolution in Greece after the second world war, and the working out of plans for military coups against left-wing governments in France and Italy.

This was admitted by the Italian prime minister Andreotti in 1990 after a parliamentary investigation. That investigation alleged the involvement of stay-behind organisations in a number of terrorist bombings throughout the 1970s and 1980s in Italy. In 2000, another parliamentary report specifically stated that the aim of stay-behind organisations was to prevent the Italian Communist Party from forming a government.

Similar structures existed in countries like France and Germany. In Germany, former members of the Nazi Gestapo secret police were recruited into Nato service and paramilitary far-right organisations were given access to military training grounds of both the German and US army in West Germany.

One of those groups, the Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann, orchestrated the Oktoberfest bombing in 1980, killing dozens. This was the worst terrorist atrocity ever committed in post second world war Germany. The state and the capitalist press originally tried to blame the left, but the truth came out because the perpetrator was accidentally killed during the bombing.

The UK government was also implicated. To this day, its military training facilities are being used to train up counter insurgency specialists for Nato partner states, such as Turkey. Plans for using the military against reformist Labour governments were at times openly discussed in the 1970s in the pages of The Times newspaper.


Summit protesters treated brutally

During April's Nato summit, the civil liberties of anti-war protesters were trampled on with an iron heel. Borders were closed against free travel. Hundreds of German left-wing activists were barred from travelling during the time of the summit.

French police indiscriminately tear gassed thousands of peaceful protesters. Tear gas is a nerve gas and its use in war zones is banned by the Geneva conventions. But capitalist governments seem quite happy to use it against demonstrators exercising their right to protest.

One German police officer commented in the run-up to the protests that police would "select" and "sort out" demonstrators. These comments were reminiscent of those made by the London metropolitan police before the anti-G20 protests in London, when they issued statements telling protesters that the police were 'up for the fight'. The result of such tactics was an innocent man lying dead on the streets of London after being attacked from behind by a police officer.

The policing at the London G20 summit and the Strasbourg Nato events may not have much to do with each other at first glance. In reality though, both stem from a "security architecture" designed to safeguard the interests of the major capitalist powers, which Nato has helped to create throughout its 60 year history.

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In The Socialist 5 June 2009:

Action to defend union rights

Visteon pensioners battle on

Vauxhall jobs threat - unions must organise a fightback


Workplace news and analysis

Royal Mail sell-off - Time for action!

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Tube workers vote to strike

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Glasgow care workers' success


Socialist Party election campaign

Prepare now for next election challenge

European elections: Putting forward a workers' alternative

A Question Time carve up

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A Parliament of celebrities and a speaker of integrity


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Sussex University: Save Linguistics campaign

Socialist youth conference and protest

Youth Fight for Jobs: Fortnight of action 27 June to 10 July


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NATO anniversary: 60 years of aggression and terror


Socialist Party review

The Frock-Coated Communist: the revolutionary life of Friedrich Engels


Marxist analysis: history

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