NATO’s Wars Versus Human Survival

By David Swanson, World BEYOND War, July 6, 2024
Remarks at http://nonatoyespeace.org

The NATO of the popular imagination is an assembly of representatives of democratic nations who commit to making the world more peaceful, including by militarily defending each other if one of them is attacked. There could hardly exist a more grave collection of lies. NATO is in fact an institution devoted primarily to the increased sale of weaponry to governments of every type — neither its members nor its often openly dictatorial partners acting at the bidding of any populace — and devoted secondarily to doing the will of one government, that based here in Washington, D.C., which is represented by over 900 military bases outside its borders. NATO’s wars have never involved defending one of its members from a foreign invasion. Only once ever has NATO even claimed to be calling its members to collective defense, and that was for the idiotic, mass-murderous, environmentally catastrophic, counter-productive on its own terms, 20-year war on the distant, impoverished nation of Afghanistan, waged principally for U.S. political reasons following terrorist attacks — even though terrorist attacks have not been used as a justification for NATO wars when they have happened in any other NATO member country — and waged by NATO only following the individual U.S. attack on Afghanistan that overthrew a government made up of people who, with a few tweaks, would have fit in well a couple of blocks from here on the U.S. Supreme Court. Every other NATO war has lacked even the ridiculous pretense of defensiveness, and often even any agreement among NATO members, so that one could debate what has or has not been a NATO war, were one to ignore the fact that the staff and infrastructure of NATO have been used to launch, continue, or escalate the wars on Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, and Gaza. Not a single one of these has been legal — neither before nor during NATO involvement. NATO has no power to legalize anything. Even the NATO of popular imagination would be a criminal enterprise even during a war of popular imagination involving an angelically innocent nation invaded out of the blue by subhuman monsters. There is nothing in the UN Charter about good Samaritan mass-murder machines joining in an authorized war. There is much in actual human history to suggest the value of negotiation, diplomacy, demilitarization, unarmed civilian defense, and an actual law-based order, and to suggest that these alternatives are damaged by heavy investment in institutions dedicated to the structures and the cultures that drive weapons sales.

In Bosnia and Serbia, NATO first went to war, and did so against a nation that had not attacked or even threatened any NATO member, and despite some NATO members wanting to work for peace. The United States went to war without approval from the UN or even the U.S. Congress, but with the new law-unto-itself NATO proclamation of Humanitarian War. In the U.S. government those wanting more wars had discovered that they could justify them by bringing vassal states along — like a shoplifter discovering that if he dragged along 10 buddies the cops would help them all fill their pockets. In Congress it was discovered that particular horrors in wars wouldn’t need to be investigated if they could be labeled NATO’s — and NATO doesn’t have any government to investigate it because it’s not a nation — it just plays one on TV sending its unelected leader around the world to joint press conferences with prime ministers and presidents. The biggest discovery, however, was that there needed be no end-of-cold-war peace dividend. In fact, there needed be no end to the cold war. War, it was discovered, could be an endless humanitarian public service fending off an array of ineliminable threats from terrorists to pirates to China to Russia to various governments buying their weapons from the wrong places — horrible governments to be sure, but no more horrible than many of those buying their weapons from the right places. And, of course, wars kill a lot more than governments and generally don’t kill governments at all.

NATO’s grandest accomplishment thus far is the destruction of Afghanistan, the deforestation and poisoning of the land, the killing of hundreds of thousands, the making homeless of millions, the diversion of trillions of badly needed dollars into massive devastation, and the defeat of the vast majority of the world’s militaries by an impoverished and divided people reduced to stealing the invaders’ equipment and selling the invaders drugs to finance a successful resistance — not to mention the propaganda accomplishment which takes no notice of any of this reality, namely the merging of the criminal and nonsensical Humanitarian War with the criminal and nonsensical War of Revenge. In U.S. culture a war as horrific as that on Afghanistan can be transformed into a glowing model of goodness and wonder simply by launching another war that’s even worse. Once the war on Iraq was despised enough to require people like Barack Obama to pretend to oppose it, the war on Afghanistan had to be a good war in the manner in which World War II had become the ultimate good war during the war on Vietnam. And yet, quite shamelessly and openly, what makes Afghanistan a good war is in part that it was a war of revenge — a justification present in no law or treaty whatsoever, but absent from almost no Hollywood movie in my lifetime. Somebody had stepped out of line. Somebody had disrespected NATO and that little sliver of the world’s population called The International Community, and therefore the people who lived in a place those criminals had spent some time in needed to pay with their lives. And because the last moments of the war were as violent as the previous 20 years, the problem is now understood as not what the war did but how it was ended — even that it was ended.

Of course Tony Blair, humanitarian Middle East expert, had told George W. Bush, famous portrait painter and masters’ class instructor, that it would be OK to attack Iraq if they attacked Afghanistan first — because revenge. And attack Iraq they did — without formal NATO involvement, which is part of what has left NATO with a reputation of being more law-abiding than your average Congress Member. But NATO militaries were bullied into helping. And eventually Iraq became the site of a NATO training mission that was a bit hard to distinguish from a U.S.-led occupation (the same U.S. generals in charge of both), and which persists, in a newer version, to this day despite Iraqi demands to Nexit, if you’ll allow that word.

In 2003, there were moves in a Belgian court to prosecute General Tommy Franks, the commander of the U.S. troops in Iraq, for using cluster bombs in civilian areas. U.S. Secretary of so-called Defense Donald Rumsfeld dealt with that problem at a NATO meeting by warning Belgium that the United States would not fund NATO’s headquarters in Belgium, and would not take part in meetings in Belgium, leaving the impression that NATO headquarters would be moved elsewhere. Instead of shouting “Good riddance! And take your illegal nuclear weapons with you!,” Belgium fell in line, a tool in the Tools Based Order. The prosecution quickly disappeared, while the war on Iraq rolled on unchanged.

In 2011, NATO decided to attack Libya. It lied about threats to Libyans and pretended that a UN resolution on protecting Libyans was an authorization for a war, the bombing of the country, and the overthrow of the government — leaving chaos and mountains of weapons spreading across the region for years afterwards, not to mention open-air slave markets. The excuse for the war was even called genocide prevention — this was back before genocide facilitation became the respectable order of the day here on Capitol Hill. To its credit, the U.S. Congress, like the UN, like all laws and treaties, and like much of the world, opposed the war. To its shame, Congress did nothing about it. Once a president does something, especially if it’s under the banner of NATO, that means it’s not illegal. This was effectively true when Richard Nixon said it and has been ever more true up until the Supreme Court recently said it.

You’re going to hear from other speakers about Ukraine and Gaza and the South China Sea. I just want to comment briefly on Ukraine because it is the lie that half the U.S. public believes, because it is the foundation of support for NATO, and because — in one of the weirdest developments I can recall — it is, in U.S. (and European) politics, rightwing racist militarist fascistic figures who are most open to ending this particular war, albeit in order to focus on other wars.

The facts suggest that Ukraine is harmed, not helped, by endless weapons shipments. In December 2021 Russia proposed an agreement focused on Ukraine not joining NATO, and the U.S. rejected it. The criminal murderous inexcusable Russian invasion that followed was motivated, according to the Secretary General of NATO, by NATO’s refusal to exclude Ukraine. Just after the invasion, in March 2022, after negotiations mediated by Turkey, it appeared that Russia was ready to withdraw from Ukraine if Ukraine would commit to not joining NATO and that Ukraine was prepared to agree. We’ll never know for sure, but do know that well-sourced news reports show that the U.S. and UK told Ukraine to refuse the deal and keep the war going. Even now, after all the slaughter and destruction, the U.S. could allow Ukraine to sit down and negotiate with Russia, could indicate that there is a limit to the supply of free weapons. But the Secretary General of NATO has publicly told the U.S. government to allow Ukraine to use U.S. weapons to attack inside Russia, and the U.S. government has agreed. The plan is escalation, not negotiation.

NATO bragged last year that it had trained 800 Ukrainians to be as corruption-free as a U.S. politician, and yet after dumping unlimited unaccountable weapons and dollars into the place and insisting on war for years, Ukraine is still too corrupt for NATO, according to NATO. Or, rather, NATO still can’t corrupt all of its members into inviting Ukraine to join, but it can move many of them to make bilateral commitments to Ukraine, it can militarize the whole region, and it can prepare the West culturally for World War III. After all, how much preparation do you need to say goodbye to everything?

When top scientists and observers keep warning that we are closer than ever to a nuclear war — a threat to all life on Earth — what ever one does to increase that risk makes one an opponent of humanity. While Ukrainians and Russians are exactly as valuable as everyone else, most everyone else gets forgotten and treated as worthless if we consider a nuclear-risking war in only local terms. What happens in Ukraine does not stay in Ukraine.

NATO calls itself a “nuclear alliance” and maintains a “Nuclear Planning Group” for all of its members—those with and those without nuclear weapons—to discuss the launching of the sort of war that puts all life on Earth at risk, and to coordinate rehearsals or “war games” practicing for the use of nuclear weapons in Europe, where the U.S. uses NATO as cover to illegally proliferate nuclear weapons to six nations, and Russia now follows suit.

We’re in trouble and need a radical reversal, not because NATO is a good idea that’s gone bad, not because NATO could be a good idea if some other countries did it, not because NATO must be a good idea because we imagine — rightly or wrongly — that certain odious individuals oppose it for their own quirky reasons, but because the enemy of life on Earth is the institutionalization of war, the establishment of, normalization of, and acceptance of mass murder as a public service.

On this fourth of July weekend, let us recall that the United States was born out of war, a war for power, empire, and slavery, as well as limited freedoms for limited numbers of people. There have been few moments of peace for the U.S. military ever since. Nations that lend their names and respectability to a war addict are not its friends. The friendly thing to do would be to cut it off and take an independent stand for peace.

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