What is NATO?

by April Knutson

[This article is the first of a series on NATO by WAMM and Antiwar Committee members, first presented at a forum on NATO on April 7, 2012.]

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is now the largest military alliance the world has ever known, but NATO began in 1949 has an alliance of 12 capitalist powers to block further expansion of the Soviet bloc of socialist countries.  This was the stated mission, but it seems to be an overreaction when we consider  the devastation of the Soviet Union during the Second World War which had ended just four years earlier. 

Just compare the casualties of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. : The U.S. lost 417,000 military personnel and 1,700 civilians—a total of 0.32% of its 1940 population; the U.S.S.R. lost 9 million military personnel and 14 million civilians—a total of 13.9% of its 1940 population.  In addition, all the major cities of the Soviet Union had been bombed.

The original 12 members were the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland. Turkey and Greece were added in 1951. The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) joined in 1955.

In the summer of 1963, De Gaulle, after years of policy and personal  disputes with Great Britain and the United States, announced that France would leave NATO. De Gaulle ordered all U.S. military personnel to leave France, and France developed her own nuclear weapon. In opposition to the Vietnam War, De Gaulle also called back France’s representatives from SEATO (the South Asia Treaty Organization). In 1964, France recognized Communist China. France finally rejoined NATO when Sarkozy became President in 2006.

I can remember some very scary times when NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries, led by the Soviet Union, confronted each other, each military bloc armed with a nuclear arsenal large enough to destroy the planet many times over. The first was the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The second was the 1981 decision of the Reagan administration to install a new series of Pershing II tactical missiles in Europe, in West Germany, on its border with East Germany.

In 1983, Reagan announced that the U.S. would start building the Strategic Defense Initiative, dubbed Star Wars, a missile defense shield that would shoot down Soviet missiles before they could reach their targets. This missile defense shield is still in the works, and Russia opposes it as vehemently as the Soviet Union did in the 1980s.

 NATO grew exponentially after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in 1991.  A sane person might have thought that with the end of the socialist powers in Europe, NATO could be dissolved and the northern/western powers could redirect all that military spending and personnel to solve social problems and make a better world.

But there was no peace dividend. Military spending kept increasing and the NATO countries now number 28, with many of the new members coming from the territory of the former Soviet Union. Russia is now surrounded by NATO,  and NATO also has partnerships and agreements with over a third of the nations on the planet.

As Rick Rozoff, one of the organizers of the NATO protests in Chicago, writes:

“When the U.S.-dominated bloc was founded 63 years ago it consisted of 12 nations, all bordering the North Atlantic Ocean except for Italy. Of the 16 countries that have been brought into NATO in the interim only two, Germany and Spain, are in the Atlantic region. Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Turkey are not. The name, then, like most everything else that the alliance says about itself, is false.”  (http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/)

April Knutson is a retired professor who has worked for justice and peace in many different arenas, both local and international, for many years.  She is a member of WAMM.

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