As Nato leaders gather this week in Wales, JEREMY CORBYN explores how the military alliance finds ever new ways to justify its seemingly endless expansion
Looking at government websites about the forthcoming Nato leaders’ conference at the Celtic Manor golf club, one could be forgiven for assuming it was some sort of gourmet festival.
The leaders of 60 nations will descend on Celtic Manor hotel, be treated to a sumptuous dinner at Cardiff Castle hosted by Prince Charles, visit a warship in Cardiff Bay and enjoy all the best hospitality on offer.
The chef has been named, the roads closed, the security fences built and demonstrations planned. To counter this (presumably unwelcome) intrusion there will be Nato-themed exhibitions and culinary delights.
There is no encouragement of the BBC or other media to discuss the actual role and purpose of Nato, its effects on our foreign and defence policy or its role in conflicts around the world.
To get the whole mood off to a good start there was a big display of Nato photos in Parliament which was designed to encourage MPs to better understand the peaceful role and purpose of Nato. This curious display of images of planes and ships was designed to assure everyone of military alliance’s commitment to peace and democracy.
It would be nice if instead of this superficial pastiche of reality there was serious debate about the organisation and its real purpose.
Let us look back to 1945 and the end of WWII and the start of the cold war. The United States was somewhere between isolationism and a continuation of the anti-Soviet obsession that began with the Russian revolution and the Western interventions to try to prop up the ailing Tsarist forces.
The military success of the nazis in western Europe in 1940, the subsequent invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and the entry of the US into the war led to the alliance of the US with the USSR and Britain to defeat their common enemy. In parallel there was an even closer alliance of Britain and the US as Churchill and Roosevelt discussed the post-war world.
The United Nations was founded with its curious structure giving veto powers to the big five in order to ensure that they all remained members.
Three years later the cold war was in full swing with the Berlin standoff setting the Western powers against the Soviet Union in central Europe. Nato was established to cement a transatlantic anti-communist alliance centred in western Europe and strongly supported by the British Labour foreign secretary Ernie Bevin.
For all its magnificent achievements on the domestic front, the Attlee government was pursuing neo-colonial wars in south-east Asia, cracking down on growing independence movements in African colonies and secretly developing its own nuclear weapons.
The Nato charter of 1949 heavily draws on the role of the United Nations but has the crucial and clinching Article 5 by which an attack on any one of its member states is an attack on all. It did however limit operations to the north Atlantic and European areas north of the tropics.
This cold war military alliance was met with the establishment of the Warsaw Pact in 1955 and thus Europe and the world embarked firmly on another 35 years of an ever-ratcheting arms race.
The original member states of the US and western Europe — including the dictatorship in Portugal — were joined in 1952 by Turkey and Greece which both suffered periods of military rule and abuse of human rights of their citizens. Undeterred by this minor inconvenience to the rhetoric of being a democratic alliance their membership was unchallenged.
By the end of the cold war in 1990, Nato had 16 members having being controversially joined by Spain in 1982. The end of the cold war should have been the decade of peace as the Warsaw Pact wound up and the possibility of demilitarising Europe was, for a short time, a real possibility.
However, taking advantage of the unipolar world of the 1990s, Nato and the US cast around for new opportunities, and potential enemies to justify this vast military expenditure.
For all his image as a Vietnam war opponent president Bill Clinton was the main force behind the Nato strategy of the 1990s. Many in Europe wanted a reduction in the US military presence and of Nato. The French government at that time favoured a closer relationship with eastern Europe and Russia.
Clinton had other ideas. On his first trip to Europe he announced that Nato enlargement was “no longer a question of whether but when and how.”
A few days later with its normal abuse of language the leaders launched the Partnership for Peace programme to entice central European counties to join Nato. It soon became apparent what kind of peace they had in mind.
Not long after this the war in former Yugoslavia and the atrocities at Srebrenica enabled Nato to supplant the UN forces and become embroiled in a 78-day bombardment of Serbia.
At the end of that conflict, in 2001, Noam Chomsky analysed the whole war and concluded that the real “winners” were Western arms manufacturers and that “the US was able to enforce its domination over the strategic Balkans region, displacing EU initiatives at least temporarily, a primary reason for the insistence that the operation be in the hands of Nato, a US subsidiary.”
Not long afterwards the then UN secretary-general Kofi Annan observed that the Nato action represented a threat to the “very core of the international security system” that the UN charter was designed to support.
Nato grew rapidly and within eight years had been joined by a further 12 central European and Balkan states.
ithout too much fanfare Nato went global post-2001 in the wake of September 11. Initially it coyly described its involvement in Afghanistan as “out of area” and justified because it was the source of the problems faced by its members.
The Nato-created force Isaf is still very much in operation and after 13 years of occupation Afghanistan remains desperately poor for most people and deeply unstable.
This untenable logic — with Nato involved in an occupation thousands of miles from Europe — was corrected at the fateful 2010 Lisbon summit.
In a massive 54-clause statement of intent Nato became a high-spending, global military alliance that gave itself the authority to intervene anywhere in the world to further its members’ “security” and energy interests. It also continued to press for former parts of the Soviet Union to become Nato members.
Prior to Lisbon there was a requirement that all member states spend at least 2 per cent of GDP on “defence.” At that time only the US, Britain, Greece and Estonia met that figure. Now the Nato average is 3 per cent but most comes from the US. Total military spending by Nato member states is well over $1 trillion (£603 billion).
As they meet in the opulent surroundings of Celtic Manor, the heads of government will be greeted with a letter from David Cameron in which he opens with a request that relations with Russia be “reviewed.”
No talk here of the problem of Nato’s eastward expansion which had so angered Russia and caused President Putin to claim he had been lied to about Nato’s long-term intentions.
Not to be deterred Cameron then goes on to support the need to offer “defence capability” to Afghanistan.
His core proposal is that Nato should develop a global security network that “promotes freedom, democracy and the rule of law” and invites 33 other countries to attend and become partners.
Seemingly oblivious to the huge social spending needs of all member states Cameron once again asks that all governments spend more on defence.
This weekend there will be a demonstration in Newport on Saturday and a counter conference in Cardiff City Hall on Sunday.
Surely the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Syria and Ukraine are a signal not for more military spending but for the need to look at the causes of conflict, the denials of human rights and the global grab for oil and other resources.
More spending by an alliance that already has enough nuclear weapons to destroy our whole planet is the last thing the world needs.
Nato has been very adept at endlessly reinventing itself as some sort of force for peace. The reality is the opposite as the people of Afghanistan have found out to their cost.