As NATO makes a grab for Libya’s oil and reconstruction contracts in an unholy alliance with Islamists and spies, it’s worth looking at where it has come from to be what it is today...
It’s been involved in the bombing of Libya, in North Africa. In the war in Afghanistan, in Asia. In the break-up of Yugoslavia, in Southern Europe. You wouldn’t think, then, that its initials stand for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. So where did it come from, and why?
NATO originated with the Washington Treaty of 4 April 1949, but the ideas that gave rise to NATO go back to the latter months of World War II when the Red Army was demolishing the Nazi war machine. Through Swedish channels, Himmler and Goering sued for peace urging Britain and the US to unite with Germany to fight the ‘real’ enemy, the USSR. Churchill was also concerned at the pace of the Red Army’s advance, and instructed his military planners to come up with a plan to attack the Red Army on July 1 1945. The plan, named “Operation Unthinkable” and dated 22 May 1945, proposed to retake eastern Germany and Poland through a two-pronged attack on Stettin and Poznan with 47 divisions including 14 tank divisions.
Meanwhile, Field Marshall Montgomery was told to stockpile all captured German weapons. The plan’s primary goal was “to impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire”. It envisaged using 100,000 German Wehrmacht prisoners of war and concluded “If we are to embark on war with Russia, we must be prepared to be committed to a total war, which would be both long and costly”. Churchill was aware that the US had atomic bombs and told the Chief of the Army, General Sir Alan Brooke, that “if Stalin failed to listen to the West’s wishes, the US could target Moscow, Stalingrad and then Kiev” (with atomic bombs). Brooke was appalled and privately described the Prime Minister as a warmonger.
However, at the war’s end, bankrupt Britain was in no position to call the tune in terms of the new economic, political and military realities. The USA emerged as the new world power with a mighty navy and surging economy due to the war. The US had seized most of the Japanese empire and controlled the Pacific with its Navy and bases.
The formation of NATO in 1949 was an extension of the Truman doctrine, which sought to create military alliances, controlled by the US and intended to “contain” the Soviet Union, and it put what remained of Europe’s military assets firmly under US control. With Britain, Iceland, Norway, and Italy among NATO’s members providing the US with bases, the US dominated the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The admission of Greece and Turkey to NATO allowed the US to start its encirclement of the Soviet Union.
NATO’s first act was the creation of West Germany from the NATO-occupied zones of old Nazi Germany which claimed to be “the democratic reorganised continuation of the German Reich” laying claim to the Soviet occupied zone and parts of the Soviet Union as well as Poland and Czechoslovakia. The German Democratic Republic was set up in the Soviet-occupied zone months later as a response although the Soviet Union called for a united, neutral disarmed democratic Germany.
Protestors gather in Glasgow city centre on 8 September for their weekly 5pm Thursday rush hour vigil to condemn the ongoing intervention in Libya and the attack on its sovereignty. Model resolutions are being drawn up to put to trade unions that have not considered the issue yet.
In 1955 West Germany joined NATO, vowing to reclaim “lost territories”. Responding to this threat, the GDR and Poland initiated the Warsaw Pact, which was established as the military alliance of Comecon – the socialist economic community – on 1 May 1955. NATO was now the armed wing of capitalism set against the socialist Soviet Union and its allies.
The US and NATO escalated military spending and embargoed the sale of a range of technical products to the Soviet Union, forcing them to waste huge resources on developing high tech weaponry. The US introduced nuclear missiles, targeting the Soviet Union, in bases from South Korea through Canada and the US to NATO European countries.
Similar military alliances to NATO were created to complete the encirclement of the Soviet Union and also China. The Baghdad Pact enjoined the US, Britain, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan but was dealt a severe blow when the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown in 1958 and then a death blow when the Iranian Shah was overthrown. SEATO enjoined US allies in South East Asia, but internal bickering and the Vietnam War ended that.
By the 1960s, the US was mired in its wars in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The European NATO countries were losing their empires to liberation struggles one by one. But the US thought that it was militarily strong enough to take over France’s former Indochinese colonies. It was to be proved wrong. The US tried to bring NATO into this war but failed, turning instead to its SEATO allies in Australia, New Zealand and South Korea. It still failed and suffered a humiliating defeat to popular guerrilla forces.
In the 1980s, US President Ronald Reagan escalated military spending dramatically culminating in the so-called “Star Wars” anti-missile system. He also invaded Grenada, a British Commonwealth country with the British Queen as Head of State, without consulting Thatcher, just to remind NATO allies, including Thatcher, who was in charge
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and most of the eastern bloc, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved. It may have been assumed that NATO would act similarly. But this was an opportunity to expand NATO and the EU in a manner similar to 18th- and 19th -century empires. Most of Eastern Europe was gobbled up by NATO and then required to join the EU on its terms, their industries privatised and taken over by EU and US companies.
Some stood up to this, particularly Belarus and Yugoslavia, the latter paying a heavy price, being bombed by NATO and seeing Warsaw Pact military hardware channelled to Croatia to hasten the break-up of the country. The Serbian Province of Kosovo was occupied by NATO and remains a NATO/EU colony hosting the biggest US base, Camp Bondsteel, in the Balkans, the others being in Bosnia, Romania and Bulgaria. The base houses a detention centre described by the Human Rights envoy of the Council of Europe as “a smaller version of Guantanamo Bay”.
Ten years ago, in 2001, NATO attacked Afghanistan, marking the start of a war without end, and in 2003 some NATO forces, though not under NATO control, invaded Iraq. France had vigorously opposed attacking Iraq and this marked the beginning of a number of splits in NATO. One by one NATO members Poland, Italy, Spain and eventually Britain, began to withdraw their troops from Iraq. But NATO did take on the role of “training” the Iraqi army.
Meanwhile the US-led alliance was busy engineering the “Orange” revolution in Ukraine, the “Rose” revolution in Georgia and the “Tulip” revolution in Kyrgyzstan with the intention of incorporating them into NATO and establishing military bases there. To a degree, they succeeded in Georgia and to a lesser degree in Kyrgyzstan but Ukraine fought back. And, of course, today NATO is bombing Libya.
So what is NATO today? It remains the armed wing of US/EU capitalism, or in fact finance capitalism, under US control. Once the only capitalist game in town, today it has global interests and it would take something big and intercontinental, like Russian and Chinese capitalism, to challenge its hegemony. The US is now reinforcing its military presence in the Pacific to contain China. NATO protects access to oil and other resources by control of central Asia, the Balkans, the Middle East, the Black Sea, the Persian Gulf and shipping lanes from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
But the US economy and political system are failing, the Eurozone is in turmoil, Britain is bankrupt and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are seemingly unwinnable. There’s a NATO east–west split about the attack on Libya: dissatisfied Warsaw, Prague, Bratislava and Budapest have created the Visegrad Group as a Polish-led military alliance within a military alliance, and are seeking to recruit some Balkan states, while Germany flirts with Russia.
NATO is not in good shape but when a beast is wounded or cornered it lashes out. NATO’s appetite for blood will not be satiated by Libya. We can expect more wars around the corner. ■