back to front: fresh blood


THERE WAS some footage of Tony Blair in Budapest last month, walking on his own up some steps, looking for a banquet. He appeared to be a little lost, as if unsure about where he was, or why. In fact, he was taking part in the NATO meeting that granted membership to a string of Eastern European countries: Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.

Just this once, Blair might be forgiven for being a little confused. Actually, the whole of the sane world found the event confusing. Why should NATO be extended to include these countries? What exactly is their role in defending Western Europe, and from whom? (Come to that, why have NATO at all?)

As if membership itself were not bad enough, it emerged later that the US (to give NATO its proper title) is insisting that these countries modernise their armies, and spend a lot more of their GDP doing it. (Broke Lithuania has been told it must spend $240 million a year.)

Now, no one with even a passing acquaintance with the history of Europe can fail to be puzzled as to why anyone would want the armies of Estonia and Lithuania, for example, to be modernised.

These states, dragged into the modern era by the Soviet Union, briefly allowed to subside into feudal barbarity during the Second World War (in Lithuania, they did not wait for the advancing Germans to start massacring Jews), now freed from the Soviet "yoke", are bywords for reaction and oppression. Who are they to fight against (if not their own people)?

Slowly, answers are emerging. Modernisation – as ever, it seems – is the key. These countries must buy modern military hardware, that is, hardware from Boeing, Lockheed and the rest of the US military—industrial complex. If you want to join NATO, you must buy American. (Coincidence: the president of the US’s committee on NATO is a former vice president of Lockheed…) But there is also a blood price.

NATO was set up half a century ago to unite capitalist Europe against the Soviet Union. For most of its life it claimed to be "keeping the peace in Europe". And there was peace in Europe, though this was not the result of NATO.

The peace in Europe was actually kept by the Soviet Union. Anyone who doubts this should reflect on what happened in Europe, the wars that erupted, after the downfall of the Soviet Union.

And with that downfall, NATO has claimed a new role, that of the US’s global policeman – or rather, global private security agency. When there are wars to be fought around the world, the US wants other countries’ young men to die for it. Now it has a nice little source of fresh Eastern European blood.

How anyone could pronounce themselves pleased with the NATO expansion is beyond belief, but Blair managed it. Did Blair really know what he was doing in Budapest? Perhaps the fact that Bush wanted it was enough for him. For the rest of us, the whole saga should make us ashamed that we ever let Blair go abroad to represent us.