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NATO: An Instrument for Democracy and Freedom, or US Domination?
by Gary Porter - Over its 74 years of existence NATO has never won freedom or democracy for anyone, ever, anywhere. A secretive alliance Canadians never voted to join, that requires this country to defend faraway lands and funnel ever greater resources to warfare is presented as a tool of democracy. And pro-NATO propagandists ignore how the alliance once helped oust a Canadian government and its ties to undemocratic regimes.
As a result of a decision made at a private NATO get-together a decade ago, Canadians have been told incessantly that we must spend ever more public resources on the war machine. At the demand of the US, NATO has determined the 2% of GDP threshold should now be considered the “floor” for military spending. Why should a war alliance dictate Canada’s spending priorities?
For three quarters of a century Canada has deployed troops abroad nearly constantly to fulfill its “obligations” under the permanent war alliance. NATO is why Ottawa recently announced plans to double its forces in Latvia, another provocation against Russia. Over 42 years 100,000 Canadian troops have been stationed in Western Europe. Two years after that deployment ended in 1993, a significant contingent of Canadian troops was deployed to the Balkans on a NATO mission, which climaxed with the 78-day bombing of Serbia in 1999.
Even further afield, Canadian troops occupied Afghanistan for 13 years to fulfill our “duty” to the alliance. They’ve also recently been deployed to Libya and Iraq to mete out NATO violence, there killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and reducing those countries to chaos, warring factions, and gangs of terrorists. This is not democracy. This is not freedom. This is aggression, subjugation, and death. These are the products of NATO.
Discussion on this alliance began in March 1948 when Lester Pearson represented Canada at top-secret talks with British and US officials on the possibility of creating a North Atlantic alliance. The Anglo-Saxon triumvirate still operates as a hyper-aggressive cabal. A year later NATO came into existence with 12 founding members. No referendum or election was held about joining the militarist conspiracy.
Canadians were never asked if they wanted to be duty-bound to protect Portugal’s fascist government. For two decades António Salazar ruled that founding NATO member country and between 1967 and 1974 another alliance member was led by a military junta that usurped power from Greece’s left. In 1997 the Czech Republic was set to hold a referendum on joining NATO, but it was scrapped when the “no” vote looked set to win. Two years later NATO officials accepted that country into the alliance without a vote.
The two real purposes of NATO were to confront the Soviet Union with a US-led combined military force in Europe, and secondly, to dominate Europe with the occupation forces of the United States and their chief allies, Canada and the UK.
As NATO expanded during the 1990s, Canadians never voted on whether they wanted to be treaty-bound to defend more faraway lands. Nor did Members of Parliament. The government simply agreed to defend evermore countries without any debate in parliament.
When NATO invited Ukraine to join the alliance in 2008, most Ukrainians opposed joining. Subsequently, NATO countries, especially the US with the connivance of the UK and Canada, engineered and supported the ouster of elected president Viktor Yanukovych who passed legislation codifying Ukrainian neutrality. Over the past 18 months Canadians have given more than $8 billion to Ukraine partly because of these disastrous decisions.
Internally, NATO was employed by Washington to help topple a Canadian government. John Diefenbaker didn’t provide unconditional support during the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis, so President John F. Kennedy used NATO as part of a multifaceted effort to precipitate the downfall of his minority Conservative government. On January 3, 1963, the outgoing commander of NATO, US General Lauris Norstad, came to Ottawa on an unplanned visit in which he claimed Canada would not be fulfilling her commitments to the alliance if the country did not acquire nuclear warheads. It was part of a series of moves by the Kennedy administration to weaken Diefenbaker, which led to the fall of his minority government. During the subsequent election campaign, Kennedy’s top pollster, Lou Harris, helped long-time external affairs official Lester Pearson defeat Diefenbaker.
Complaining that NATO determined “all” of Canada’s defence and foreign policy, new Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau initiated a review of Canadian foreign policy that questioned participation in the alliance. Horrified, Pearson immediately asked to discuss the issue with Trudeau and External Affairs Minister Mitchell Sharp. It was the only time the NATO instigator and insider in Washington got involved in government business after retiring and no government has openly questioned the alliance since.
Within the CCF/NDP there has been little democracy on the subject of NATO. Over many years, party officials sought to suppress members pushing for withdrawal. On one occasion, MJ Coldwell threatened to resign as CCF leader if members did not support the North Atlantic treaty. Sadly, Coldwell prevailed. When a group of Manitoba CCF members, including provincial legislators, organized an anti-NATO group, the provincial secretary blocked their access to the party’s mailing list. Federal MP and future party leader Stanley Knowles also intervened to pressure the Manitoba CCF to punish prominent opponents of NATO and the provincial party expelled two former members of the Manitoba legislature for campaigning against the North Atlantic accord.
After two decades of seeking to forbid grassroots criticism, NDP members finally overcame the brass at the 1969 convention, winning a resolution calling on Ottawa to withdraw from NATO. But, without any vote, this position was partially reversed by the 1980s. When members have submitted resolutions critical of NATO at recent NDP conventions, the motions have been buried.
Today, critics of NATO are derided as “Russian stooges”, “pro-Putin”, or simply not understanding the purely “defensive” role of NATO.
NATO’s record demonstrates that it is not a consensual, popular alliance to defend democracy. In fact, NATO never submits to democracy and is accountable to no one except the US government because they write the big cheques. NATO is not only a hazard to peace; it is a deadly threat to democracy.
Promoters of NATO say that it is a “defensive alliance that has never provoked conflict”. This is a lie. Over the last 30 years, NATO has zealously participated in aggressive military action in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Libya all with catastrophic results for the workers in those countries.
At the same time, it has continually expanded eastwards towards Russia, surrounding the country with troops and military equipment.
It is a military alliance, which gets three-quarters of its funding from the USA; and which says that if one member is attacked, then every other member must respond with force.
NATO was formed precisely to confront the Soviet Union. But after the latter collapsed, far from being wound up, NATO was expanded into Eastern Europe, taking it right up to the frontier of Russia.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian economy entered freefall. Under the pro-western drunk, Boris Yeltsin, chaos reigned, and Russia was on its knees. The western imperialists seized the opportunity to expand their markets and spheres of influence eastwards. NATO has been a key part of this destructive and hostile policy toward Russia.
In 1999, former Warsaw Pact countries Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined NATO. In 2004, they were joined by Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Slowly but surely, Russia’s borders were being ringed by members of a hostile military alliance.
Washington describes Russia as “the aggressor” and a “bully”. But which of NATO and Russia has forced its way into the markets and territories of the other’s former allies? Which has been placing troops and military hardware on the borders of the other for many years?
NATO’s provocations towards Russia continued. In 2003, a rabidly pro-US government was brought to power in Georgia. US advisers helped train the Georgian army and encouraged them to test the limits of Russia’s defensive capability.
At a 2008 summit in Bucharest, NATO members agreed that Georgia and Ukraine, both bordering Russia, would join the alliance in the future.
Encouraged by these US actions, Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili attacked the autonomous region of South Ossetia in 2008, where over 90% of the population are Russian citizens.
This marked a turning point. With this attack, US imperialism had overreached, and had underestimated the strength of Russian capitalism, which had been rebuilt since the year 2000.
The Russians counter-attacked, decisively defeating the US-trained Georgian army. NATO members – who were tied up in unpopular and fruitless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – could only watch from the sidelines as their ally was crushed by Russia’s capable military.
Then came Ukraine. In 2014, when the Ukrainian president Yanukovich signed a deal with Russia instead of the EU, western imperialism played an important role in the outcome of the subsequent ‘Euromaidan’ protest movement.
US senator John McCain spoke at rallies in Kyiv, and the US Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, admitted having spent $5bn to get US policies implemented in Ukraine.
Thanks in large part to the machinations of US imperialism, the pro-Russian Yanukovich government was overthrown. It was replaced by a government of pro-western bourgeois parties, including the far-right party Svoboda, which also extended an invitation to the neo-Nazi Right Sector fascists to participate in the administration.
This new government aligned itself explicitly with its NATO backers while clamping down on and attacking Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east of the country. When Russian speakers in Eastern Ukraine objected, seeking autonomy in the face of the illegal coup in Kyiv, they were attacked and bombed.
Again, Russia responded to the provocation – annexing Crimea, where Russia has an important naval base. NATO members fumed but could do nothing in response.
In both Georgia and Ukraine, the Russian regime drew lines in the sand and told NATO: ‘This far and no further.’
Today, NATO has never been weaker. In 2015, during the Syrian war, Russian warplanes repeatedly violated the airspace of Turkey, a NATO member. Turkey appealed for help from its NATO allies. The alliance responded with nothing more than strongly worded statements.
In 2008, Russia dealt western imperialism a humiliating blow when it rebuffed the military aggression of the regime in Georgia. Since then, it has annexed Crimea in the wake of the Maidan movement in Ukraine and intervened in Syria to prop up Assad. In each case, the West could do little more than complain from the sidelines.
In 2016, NATO deployed a measly 4,000 troops to Poland and the Baltic states as a ‘sign’ of its support for Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, the Pentagon reported that only a deployment of at least 30,000-40,000 troops would be able to prevent the Russian army overrunning the Baltic states in a matter of days, should the Kremlin decide to do so.
Wave after wave of capitalist crises over the last 15 years have seen a rise in protectionism, pitting national cliques of capitalists against each other. The crisis has paved the way for a rise in class struggle and political turmoil. None of this is conducive to maintaining a 30-state military alliance.
The Putin regime has understood the weakness of NATO, and Washington’s focus on China as its main enemy. As a result, Putin has seized the moment to reverse three decades of NATO’s encirclement and isolation policy towards Russia, sending troops into Ukraine.
This has provoked howls of protest from a rogues’ gallery of apologists for western imperialism, including Kier Starmer, leader of the British Labour Party; Paul Mason, a labour journalist; and assorted middle-class liberals (some of whom even pose as socialists).
These scoundrels clothe their cringing support for western imperialism with rhetoric about ‘defending democracy’ and ‘the right of nations to self-determination’. “The integrity of a sovereign nation on our continent of Europe stands in peril,” writes Starmer about Ukraine. But that self-determination was cancelled by US intervention in 2014 and Ukraine remains under US domination. Only when the US and NATO withdraw from Ukraine will there be a possibility of independence for Ukrainians. The Russians in Ukraine are now a part of the Russian Federation, which they chose freely in referenda.
Where was this concern for Ukrainian sovereignty when US imperialism was spending billions of dollars supporting fascist gangs overthrowing an elected Ukrainian government which didn’t do its bidding?
The US, UK and Canadian regimes consist of corrupt and law-breaking governments, discredited police forces, and a media that is either state-run or billionaire-owned – all of which are united in crushing the living standards of working-class people.
The US, Britain, and Canada describe themselves as “free nations”, claiming that their dictatorships of big business owners somehow have a God-given right to admonish others and throw their weight around on the international stage.
This attempt to align the interests of workers in these countries leading NATO with those of their ruling classes is blind patriotism. It is just jingoism and warmongering on behalf of the establishment and western domination – the better to enrich the billionaires.
In contrast to this apology for imperialism, socialist internationalists recognise that the western imperialists – armed to the teeth – have provoked a fight with the kremlin, who is now hitting back.
Social Democrats like Jagmeet Singh, leader of the NDP, work to drag the labour movement into supporting the Canadian ruling class. Instead, workers in Canada should take their inspiration from the dockers in Le Havre, Genoa, and Marseille, who in 2019 refused to load a shipment of weapons destined for use in Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen.
In this power struggle over markets and profits, it will be working-class people in the USA, Britain, Canada, Ukraine, and Russia who lose out.
We must not let the Canadian ruling class – or its lapdog Jagmeet Singh – pull us into supporting western imperialism with honeyed lies about democracy and freedom. Neither, however, should we fall into the trap of supporting the Russian ruling clique against NATO.
Instead of joining in with this deafening establishment chorus and their hysterical denunciations of foreign regimes, the primary task of the left and the labour movement in Canada is to aim our fire at our own belligerent, corrupt ruling class, and the western imperialist interests that they defend and serve.
Socialists have no faith in imperialist blocs to solve the problems faced by the working class, at home or abroad. This includes the threat and destruction of war.
Only the united action of, and solidarity between, the workers of the world can achieve peace and prosperity for all. CANADA OUT OF NATO, NATO OUT OF UKRAINE, ABOLISH NATO.
Photo: President Joe Biden speaks about the Russian invasion of Ukraine during a news conference after a NATO summit and Group of Seven meeting at NATO headquarters, Thursday, March 24, 2022, in Brussels. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Source)