After the end of World War II, a group of nations in the north Atlantic established NATO to impede Russian influence over the reconstruction of Europe. The result was that it facilitated the United States’ influence: according to a 2009 article by Georgetown professor David S. Painter in the journal Cold War History, the economic blueprint begun under the Marshall Plan and continued with NATO was a process where European member countries shifted their energy dependency from coal to oil. This came at a time when the U.S. was the world’s leading oil producer. A graph included in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s 2011 Transportation Energy Data Book shows that before 1960, the U.S. used to supply more than a third of worldwide crude oil production from within its own borders. In addition, U.S. oil companies enjoyed effective control over vast petroleum reserves in Venezuela, which they had wrested away from Britain a few decades earlier. The entire arrangement ensured that these companies would stand to make a fortune, setting a high price to fulfill Western Europe’s manufactured demand.
After the Cold War ended, the U.S. rebranded NATO and extended its mandate as the supposed defender of liberty in regions far beyond the north Atlantic. Seeing military action as a suitable solution to various global conflicts, it has had the effect of sowing discord and violence instead of alleviating these problems.
In Kosovo, NATO claimed that bombing the countryside would stop Yugoslav forces from invading homes and practicing summarily executing Kosovars. Instead, the New York Times reported on May 29, 1999 that Belgrade’s atrocities at ground level had “kicked into high gear,” as was widely predicted by international aid workers, described in the Washington Post on April 11 as “the only remaining brake on Yugoslav troops” and who were forced to leave their host villages when NATO commenced aerial bombing. Years later, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia would issue an indictment against Slobodan Milosevic on 17 Kosovo-related war crimes, 16 of which happened after NATO’s entry into the conflict.
In Libya, the scene following the NATO-enabled civil war has been a chaotic mix of factional battles with various anti-Gaddafi militias who refuse to disband. According to Reuters, on Jan. 21, 2012, Libyan veterans were attacked with tear gas while protesting outside the Benghazi headquarters of the ruling NTC party, the site of a near-attack on the country’s Vice President days earlier. They charged into the building and seized it while party officials fled. Widespread torture of alleged Gaddafi loyalists has caused a vicious humanitarian catastrophe, prompting the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders to tell The Canadian Press on Jan 26 that they would abandon the mission in Misrata because “detainees were brought for care only to make them fit for further interrogation.” NATO continues to insist that its actions have prevented political repression and have promoted freedom and democratic change, despite ample evidence to the contrary.
In Afghanistan, NATO has been the overseer, since 2003, of the criminal bombardment and invasion of a small nation, one which has not initiated hostilities, by a vast superpower employing devastating and overwhelming weaponry. This war began to exceed the death toll of 9-11, civilian life for civilian life, in only the first few months, and over the last decade, the death toll has continued to mount. A report released in February of this year by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan noted a sharp rise in the proportion of civilians killed that were women and children. The negligence of NATO was especially glaring from July-December of 2011, during which time aerial strikes killed triple the number of women and children who were killed over the corresponding period of the previous year. Chillingly, NATO has looked at the Colombian government’s devastating and prolonged war against the FARC as a model for staying the course in Afghanistan. This can’t fly. The scandals and crimes carried out by NATO troops and the detestable official apologies devoid of real solutions illustrate that each day the war continues will mean a continuing humanitarian disaster for Afghan people.
Those who participate in the May actions to shed light on this deranged historical trend will not just be protesting NATO, but will also be proposing a different agenda for the nations who convene under NATO’s banner. Instead of pursuing a partnership agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, which would authorize the war up until the year 2024 or beyond, the powerful nations of the world should be meeting to discuss ending drone strikes immediately, pulling combat forces out Afghanistan, and ending their manipulation of Afghan democracy— propping up Hamid Karzai and the warlords in the National Assembly. Secondly, they must take responsibility for their past criminality by providing reparations, to be dispersed by an independent body such as the UN general assembly. Reparations would fund projects decided on by local communities and might take the form of food aid, water filtration, housing construction, soil renewal, sanitation, mine disarmament medical brigades, etc. It is crucial that we walk, march, picket, and speak out to demand these real solutions.