One of many relevant questions the ABC moderators neglected to ask Hillary and Obama in the mid April televised debate: why does NATO continue to exist after the Soviet Union collapsed? Indeed, the entire media accepts NATO as one of the several military axioms that remain from Cold War days.
For those who don’t remember, in April 1949, Washington initiated a military alliance, supposedly to counter Soviet military power, which bound the United States to defend Western Europe against a supposedly imminent Soviet invasion. By the early 1950s, The North Atlantic Treaty had grown far beyond North Atlantic European nations, and included Canada, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Turkey. SAC (Strategic Air Command) bombers flew 24/7 missions with nuclear payloads, turning around when the planes reached the Soviet borders. Land based intercontinental nuclear missiles and submarine based ballistic missiles triangulated NATO’s atomic arsenal. The Soviets relied initially on land based missiles.
By 1954, the Soviets – getting worried — offered to join NATO to dispel invasion fears. Instead of accepting this peace offer, NATO brought West Germany into its fold. In 1955, the Soviets responded by initiating the Warsaw Pact – an alliance of its Eastern European “satellite” states. Thus, the Cold War advanced with two rival military alliances – until one dissolved in 1990 through its own weaknesses.
When the USSR imploded, the entire world saw a pathetic skeleton of an empire with only a military and space program, but no economy or culture with which to spread its influence. Even its many thousands of nuclear weapons may not have worked due to the overall state of disrepair that characterized Soviet society.
By logic, NATO members should also have disbanded their own costly (military spending to stop a Soviet invasion was not cheap) partnership. Instead, the NATO anachronism not only survived the Soviet demise, it expanded – into the former Soviet Republics. Poland, Bulgaria, Romania et. al. might soon be joined by Georgia and Ukraine and other former Communist republics.
In recent meetings, NATO survivalists have declared a new role for the once threatening Germany. Instead of limiting itself to peacekeeping roles, the German military should morph itself into a front line fighting force to meet the new Russian threat as well as the older Taliban and Iranian menaces.
In Bucharest in late March, leaders at a NATO summit meeting tried to convince German leaders that they had serious enemies. The Wehrmacht had not assumed its fair share of the troop burden in Afghanistan. The lion’s share of the Afghan onus had fallen on the poor United States, and the noble Britain, Canada and Holland. Germany, Italy, Spain and other NATOites had refused to place their troops in harm’s way. Didn’t “these cowards” understand the purpose of the NATO alliance, asked a US delegate – off the record – in the corridors? He answered his own question. “Whatever our cause is at any given period we can’t go it alone. Even Bush has learned that even though the neo cons haven’t.”
Six decades ago, American leaders pointed in alarm at the Red Army troops poised to launch a surprise attack on the innocent and righteous Western Europe. (One did not read in the mainstream media in those days facts about how the Soviets had suffered more than 20 million dead, another 40 million wounded, lost 200 major cities, had no housing, little food or boots for their troops. The CIA knew but didn’t make public the fact that the Soviets didn’t coincide their railroad gauges to match the size of those in their satellite countries of Eastern Europe. How would they then stage a rapid and surprise offensive? They would have had to unload their supply trains, transfer the arms and other material to trucks, drive them across borders and re-load them on trains.) The Soviet threat – despite facts to the contrary — became the axiom for the Cold War and the justification for NATO.
Now, US alarmists point to “the rise of China as a great power, combined with a resurgent Russia across Eurasia,” and demand “an American-European alliance.” (Robert Kaplan, NY Times op-ed March 27, 2008) It’s as if the arm chair war intellectuals fear that terrorism might prove a fleeting phenomenon and they need a real nation to justify the permanent military economy and culture.
For the time being, NATO serves as the acceptable and unchallenged world military force, an international police agency that the United States tried to drive into its fights. But the 26 Members will not easily get drawn into nasty affairs like front line fights in Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington will as usual take the military leadership, but expects other NATO nations to buy its useless and very expensive aircraft and other modern weapons. And all NATO nations have some presence in Afghanistan. But they have directed their national interests rightfully in the more important issues like environment and climate change and the maintenance of economic stability in Europe.
Europeans remain intimidated by US power, but an Italian Senator (Green) wondered howi Saddam Hussein or the Taliban posed offensive threats to Western Europe. To the extent that such forces, and those in the Iranian theocracy did alarm European, the best response would not be a missile defense, which US leaders insist on.
In early April, Bush spoke to the assembled NATO audience and told them they had to add Darfur to the list of urgent issues NATO had to deal with. “It is no longer a static alliance focused on defending Europe from a Soviet tank invasion,” Bush explained. “It is now an expeditionary alliance that is sending its forces across the world to help secure a future of freedom and peace for millions.” According to a friend who was present, a French observer remarked: “Perhaps NATO should send a contingent to rebuild New Orleans.”
As the US empire struggles to keep afloat in Iraq and Afghanistan while those wars bleed its Treasury, it demands from Europe similar commitments for global military escapades.
Think of a world in which European, Canadian, Australian and US forces engage native fighters in the various “Stans” as well as in Palestine, the Congo, Somalia, Darfur, Yemen, and Sri Lanka. Terrorism holds more promise for real fighting than communism ever did. The only problem with such a scenario is the public. In Europe it doesn’t buy into such plans.
As columnist William Pfaff aptly concluded: “They also won’t agree because the effort simply is not serious. It is constructed on political fantasies and counter-verities, and half-baked ideas. It’s like George Bush’s announcement before leaving Washington that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s sending his national army to Basra was “a defining moment in the history of free Iraq,” restoring central government authority in Basra and ridding it of “criminal elements.”
NATO has become absurd in the post Cold War world, with global warming and food shortages transcending the antiquated security notions associated with armies. But so has the US military budget. It’s time to revive the warning of an old communist. “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” Eisenhower’s farewell words should resonate ever more loudly so the media might occasionally repeat his alert and offer some antidote to its poisonous fascination with flag tie pins and the sound of the word “bitter.”
SAUL LANDAU was awarded the Bernardo O’Higgins decoration by the government of Chile. He is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow, author of CounterPunch press’ A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD and filmmaker WE DON’T PLAY GOLF HERE – email email@example.com