Why oppose NATO? With the military alliance’s next summit looming over Newport, Wales, and plans being made for a week of action against the summit from August 30th to September 5th, the question has added urgency for people in the UK this summer. Even for some who oppose NATO’s war in Afghanistan, it might seem like going too far to take a stand against the organization. Didn’t they do some good in places like Kosovo? And aren’t they now necessary to contain Putin’s imperial ambitions?
The MP for Newport West, Paul Flynn, certainly thinks this way. Flynn is one of the few MPs who took a stand against the Afghan war. But when it comes to the coming protests, he has the following to say:
The ‘No to NATO’ slogan is foolish. NATO has had 65 years of life that generally has served the world well. It was a bulwark against Stalinist communism in 1949. It has been a refuge and shield for the Baltic States and other former Russian satellites nations after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. These countries are under a new threat from Putin after Chechnya, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Eastern Ukraine. He has terrorized opposition in Russia and murdered some of his own people. Putin now has an expansionist agenda that threatens small nations, some, like Estonia, smaller than Wales.
He adds that “[t]here is no bulwark to protect the independence of these nations except NATO.” He rounds this off by claiming that the No to NATO campaign is effectively a “Yes to Putin” campaign.
Despite his pro-NATO stance, when he was dropped from the program of an anti-NATO counter-summit last week he complained about the “peevish intolerance” of the organisers who in his view “dodged debate,” going as far as to say that No to NATO Newport (NNN) were “trying to gag my legitimate views”.
After being spurned, Flynn was at pains to make it clear that he never really liked these people anyway:
The ludicrous posturing of anarchists and latter-day born again Marxists was off-putting… I shall not miss the tedium of staring at the ceiling while the anarchists emote. It’s a shame the organisers did not stick to a good idea. Instead of yelling slogans in street, an intelligent debate could present coherent views.
This was his only response to the arguments of anti-NATO campaigners.
Since Flynn’s main complaint is the stifling of debate, it is only fair to provide him with some “coherent views” here in the online forum, of which he himself was an early pioneer among MPs.
Serving the world well?
On the statement that NATO has “generally served the world well,” Flynn would presumably make an exception of the bloody Afghan war. On the other hand he has argued that the NATO intervention in Kosovo saved vast numbers. Kosovo is often held up as the gold standard for NATO’s humanitarian role in the world, and so it is a good place to begin. From his comments it is not clear if Flynn is familiar with the arguments of those he criticises, so as an aid to the debate I have taken the liberty of sending him a copy of the book Web of Deceit by historian Mark Curtis. Chapter 6 of this book is a good source on Kosovo, and he can read it in a sitting. Other sources include The New Military Humanism: Lessons From Kosovoby the well-known scholar (and, yes, anarchist) Noam Chomsky (whose arguments are summarised here and here).
Relying on a wealth of meticulously cited source material, Curtis’ conclusion is that “the claim that the war was fought in defence of human rights is so absurd as to defy belief”. In fact, the NATO bombing not only did not prevent, but actually precipitated, large-scale ethnic cleansing, while directly causing hundreds of deaths in Serbia through the bombing campaign.
To mention a small selection of the evidence on which Curtis builds his case, a UN special envoy has commented that, “before the bombing, Albanians were not driven away on the basis of an ethic principle” as NATO claimed, but rather they were “the victims of the brutal war between the Yugoslav army and the Kosovo Liberation Army”. While before the bombing this war had already created 70 000 refugees according to the British government, after the bombing began, over ten times that number were forced over borders according to Human Rights Watch (here and here). This was a predictable outcome of NATO’s air campaign. The chairman of NATO’s Military Committee in 1999 admitted that the atrocities “may have been accelerated by NATO”, and numerous other sources give evidence that the NATO powers were fully aware beforehand that their actions were likely to lead to this disastrous outcome. As one US diplomat who worked on the Kosovo issue has stated, “There was no humanitarian crisis until NATO began to bomb… everybody knew that a humanitarian crisis would arise if NATO started to bomb.”
There is a mass of further evidence that there was never any intention of resolving a humanitarian disaster by the air war. The Guardian reported a source in Britain’s Ministry of Defence as saying that the airs strikes “will not stop Serbs from Killing Albanians in Kosovo” while Wesley Clarke himself said that the operation “was not designed as a means of blocking Serb ethic cleansing… there was never any intent to do that.” NATO forces also broke numerous international laws, for instance by bombing civilian targets like Radio Stations and heating plants, as documented by Human Rights Watch. Furthermore, HRW showed that bombing killed at least 500 Yugoslav civilians and devastated civilian infrastructure.
Flynn follows the official propaganda of his party here. In contrast, the historical record shows that it is nonsense to portray the Kosovo campaign as saving, or even attempting to save, thousands of lives. So, what was at stake? As Curtis explains, there were “obvious Western strategic objectives at the time, such as expanding NATO eastward and organising Eastern European economies to benefit Western business.” The US ambassador to NATO at the time, Alexander Vershbow, commented that one of the purposes of NATO membership was “reassuring investors that these are stable countries worthy of long-term investment”. Also, to use Chomsky’s analogy, Western powers often behave like Mafia Dons: in order to discourage others from leaving their protection racket, they need to make sure that no-one can be seen to be thumbing their nose at them without receiving punishment, an issue euphemistically referred to as NATO “credibility”.
Milosevic’s real crime in the eyes of Western planners was not aggression in Kosovo but rather refusing to follow the neo-liberal economic agenda. This is the real pattern that we see in the military activity of Western powers again and again, over countless bloody interventions, documented for example in Killing Hope by Richard Blum or Year 501 by Chomsky (and in this brief summary).
From these sources, it is clear that the main aim of the US and its military alliance during the cold war was to crush any type of independent nationalism that threatened US economic interests, rather than containing the USSR per se. So NATO was hardly “serving the world well” even in this period.
Flynn asks to debate those who oppose NATO, but presents them as having no arguments beyond “emoting” and “ludicrous posturing”. Perhaps he would like to explain how the facts are consistent with his view of NATO’s noble intensions and achievements in Kosovo and elsewhere.
Who said “yes to Putin”?
Flynn claims that saying “no” to NATO is equivalent to saying “yes” to Putin. Because this in itself is clearly not an argument, it would be good to see some more evidence for this supposed pro-Putin stance. Flynn mentions Putin’s murderous atrocities in Chechnya when making his case, and the attitudes taken back when these horrors were occurring would be particularly telling. If, for instance, an anti-NATO campaigner was on record as saying “I would like to pay tribute to the strength and leadership of President Putin at this time” or claiming that the UK’s relationship to Russia should be one of “a partner and a friend,” this would be disturbing. If they claimed to have a “strong personal relationship, which I greatly value” with Putin, well, that would surely be the nail in the coffin.
As readers may have already guessed, these statements were actually made by the former leader of Flynn’s own party (you know, the one with the “ethical foreign policy”), at the very same time that Putin’s army was rounding up and slaughtering civilians en masse, and levelling an entire city. As for the noble NATO, their Secretary General Lord Robertson stated that “we have certainly come to see the scourge of terrorism in Chechnya with different eyes” after 9/11, and that Russia and NATO were “trusting friends and brothers in arms”. Beyond the cosy personal friendship between the two war criminals, Blair’s government encouraged diplomatic and trade links as well as closer ties between NATO and Russia. Protests made by NATO powers amounted to little more than calls for “proportionate” response – this while Russia filled Chechnya with 16 soldiers for every 100 members of the population and bombed Grozny to dust.
At that time it was obvious that Putin was a mass murderer. However, as in a laundry list of other cases (see Blum’s book), this did not matter. He was our mass murderer. He was apparently willing to participate in converting Russia into part of the Western economy, hence the fawning of leading members of Flynn’s party towards him. The British Government was keen to ensure that Russia was “open to the West, attracting Western investment and working together to solve regional conflicts,” and saw Putin as the man to achieve this. But as NATO has expanded its power in Eastern Europe, Putin’s agenda began to conflict with the demands US global hegemony, and very predictably, Western attitudes have since changed.
Flynn’s following of the new party line on the atrocities of Chechnya fails to face up to the real record of Labour’s complicity with these crimes. Here Flynn need not purchase any more books, as chapter 7 of Curtis’ should suffice as an introduction, and the facts above are easily checked independently in most cases. Perhaps he can explain how the documented “yes to Putin” attitudes of NATO and his own party during the period of Putin’s worst crimes are consistent with NATO’s current propaganda.
More recently, president Yanukovich of the Ukraine decided to forego an IMF deal last December. The US National Endowment for Democracy (along with others such as USAID) has poured millions into opposition groups, with their president noting that, as far as free trade agreements in the region are concerned, the Ukraine is “the biggest prize.” Following the time-honoured pattern, Yanukovich was deposed and replaced by an interim government, who, economist Jack Rasmus notes, “stated before negotiations with the IMF began this past week [March 17, 2014] that they would accept whatever offer the IMF and the EU made.” In a leaked telephone call a top State Department official frankly discusses in ins-and-outs of how to organise the new government, including a role for the leader of the neo-Nazi Svoboda party (see also here). The director of the CIA has since visited the country. It is uncontroversial that fascist groups played a prominent role in all this, and Svoboda now holds a powerful place in the new government.
Unlike Western powers, the population of the Ukraine is not united in appreciation of their unelected leaders. Rasmus notes that “83% of the Crimea’s eligible voters have voted by 97% to secede from Ukraine and join Russia” in an election that, while imperfect, clearly roughly reflected the will of Crimeans.
Comparing to dozens of previous coups provably planned in Washington, one has to question how all this came about, and whose aggression is really at the root of the problem. The idea that NATO is protecting the “independence,” as Flynn puts it, of small states is laughable in view of their record. Rather, they are working to maintain their dependence on the United States and their allies, as any country that opposes their agenda quickly finds out. Despite their claims, NATO leaders’ recent opposition to Putin has nothing to do with his terrible humanitarian record, as their previous attitudes, not to mention their favourable attitudes towards many other oppressive regimes, prove.
Gagging the opposition?
All this demonstrates that the arguments of the anti-NATO protestors go beyond “posturing” and “emoting.” Instead, they rely on a body of rational arguments and evidence that needs to be directly taken on if any real debate is to occur.
Having established that, let us go back to Flynn’s complaints about the suppression of debate. While claiming that he has been “gagged,” he also comments that he still has “the best platform in the country for my views”. Exactly so. If he really wants a level playing field for debate, perhaps he could attempt to persuade his bosses to fork over half of the £1,647,500 that John Mills donated to the Labour party, only the largest of many such donations from the super-rich. This seems like a pretty mild demand. Even the sum of all these large donations does not truly reveal the massive benefits that political parties receive as a result of their supine attitude to big business (see e.g. this book, especially p.353).
In any case, if he is conversant with the latest research, he will be aware that “representative democracy” currently does a better job of representing the interests of big business than voters. The research of Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University, or of Thomas Ferguson of University of Massachusetts Boston, is hard to dismiss as “ludicrous posturing”. The evidence there is clear, and its critics have not been able to make any really substantial arguments against it.
On a similar point, I wonder if Flynn is familiar with the work of Chomsky and Hermann (amongstothers) on the ways in which the corporate media (and the BBC in Britain) effectively suppresses dissenting voices. All this detailed research on the realities of modern politics and media makes a mockery of the idea that he is the one effectively being “gagged”.
Thankfully, history shows that there are ways to get a message across besides voting, and ways to change the world besides appealing to leaders. Those who have a well-informed understanding of NATO’s true role will make use of them in Newport during the week of action, organised by No to NATO Newport (NNN) and Stop NATO Cymru. As well as “yelling slogans in street,” some will take the opportunity to bring down real costs on those who want to come to Wales to discuss their imperialistic agendas. Some have already started, with direct action being taken across the country.
A growing number of people have slipped the net of government misrepresentation. But grasping the facts about NATO is only the first step – real change comes when action is taken. We have a lot to look forward to during the week of action in Newport this summer.