It has not always been so hard to map the frontiers of North Atlantic Treaty Organization country foreign policy beyond which US imperialism goes it alone. Nor, until now, have NATO countries’ relations with Israel encroached so blatantly on the enduring symbiosis between Israel’s militarist aggression and the US government’s militarist imperialism. If it is clear by now that US power and influence is less than it was even ten years ago, what might be the implications for how NATO is used and abused in terms of shifting international economic relations and, in particular, the diverse processes of corporate globalization?
A banal anecdote may help set those questions in some kind of manageable framework. Back in 1993, the Irish government, like many other Western European governments got on the transparency and participation bandwagon prior to that year’s UN Human Rights Conference in Vienna. So a bunch of NGOs working on a broad range of human rights matters were invited to a preparatory meeting in Iveagh House, the Department of Foreign Affairs’ building on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin. We all sat about a large conference table along with various DFA staff and an avuncular guy informally dressed who turned out to be an important member of the Irish government delegation to the United Nations.
While some of the discussion turned around the terms and logistics of Irish government funding to send a few representatives from Irish NGOs to the Vienna conference, much of it turned around the realities of Irish diplomatic policy, especially its policy within the UN. People anxious about Irish collusion with the United States and the NATO bloc pointed out that, in the early 1980s, Ireland and France were the only Western European countries to recognize the FMLN in El Salvador as a legitimate belligerent force. Many of us naively hoped it might be possible to resume and sustain such independence from NATO bloc foreign policy.
The fellow from the Irish delegation to the UN scotched that with a couple of points. Firstly, he pointed out that Ireland’s broad economic and political relations set Ireland irrevocably within what he called the Western Bloc of countries that shared common interests and generally worked together at the UN. Someone’s observation that Ireland perhaps had at least as much in common with other former colonies, now members of the Non-Aligned Movement, was met with the argument that times had changed since Ireland’s membership of the European Economic Community in the 1970s. The second point the member of Ireland’s UN delegation made was that small countries like Ireland could work most effectively from within the system, lobbying, essentially, to secure the least worst outcome on any given issue.
Those were the days of the New World Order when a peace dividend was supposedly going to transform international relations after the end of the Cold War. But even then that meeting itself revealed an important part of what was in fact going on. The main Western powers were co-opting smaller countries with aid and trade benefits. Ireland received over 8bn Euros from 1993 onwards from the European Union Structural and Cohesion Funds. On the back of that massive inward infrastructure and social investment, US multinationals piled into Ireland to take advantage of a well-educated, English-speaking workforce inside the European Union, at the time cheaper to locate into than the United Kingdom. Cue : Irish economic miracle.
And within countries like Ireland, as also in the wealthier European NATO member countries – former colonial powers like Britain, France, Holland, Belgium – an internal process of co-option was under way bringing NGOs on board to serve more than ever as the soft arm of Western Bloc and NATO country foreign policy. All that "aid" that never seems to change much but gives a warm humanitarian gloss to anti-humanitarian NATO country economic and financial exploitation of their former colonies. It has often been noted, but it bears repeating, that if one looks at many, especially the larger, of these so-called "non-governmental" organizations much of their funding, sometimes even the majority of it, comes directly from governmental sources, national development cooperation programmes for example, or the various budget lines of outfits like the European Commission.
It may be worth adding as a kind of footnote that the UN Vienna Human Rights Conference took place as planned and issued its declaration. That declaration was almost immediately negated just about anywhere one cared to look. It tended to be ignored in high profile crises from Iraq and East Timor, to Rwanda and the Congo, the former Yugoslavia, Palestine. On a more mundane level, its ratification of the Right to Development has been ignominiously junked. Reading it again reminds one of how far aspirations have fallen in just fifteen years. Now we regard it as a victory if some court in a Western Bloc country reaffirms the illegality of torture or the primacy of habeas corpus.
So then, knowing that in the early 1990s those processes were going on, one can trace their development to the present day. Now a country like Ireland offers untrammelled passage via Shannon airport to US military torturers and mass-murderers en route to and from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and other countries whose peoples have fallen victim to the bogus global war on terror. Various EU country governments collaborated secretly for years in CIA torture flights. Recently NATO country member Greece, gave Israel permission to use its airspace for major military refuelling manoeuvres involving around 100 aircraft, preparatory to a possible strike against Iran.
The European Union recently upgraded its relations with Israel with a view to Israel’s future integration into the European Single Market. This comes at a time when the European Union has deliberately collaborated in the collective punishment of the population of Gaza and the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank. The military forces of its NATO country members are in southern Lebanon, in effect defending what Israel defines as its northern borders against Hizbollah. All this indicates that the European Union is at least as committed as the United States government to defending whatever abuse of the Palestinians’ fundamental rights Israel chooses to inflict.
It probably does not matter whether they are doing that on principle or in response to possible nuclear blackmail by Israel, along the lines of "ratify our land-grab aggression against the Palestinians or we’ll go crazy and use nuclear weapons against our enemies". The motive is insignificant compared to the continuing catastrophe being inflicted on a people supposedly under the protection of the United Nations. The very powers legally obliged to protect the Palestinians are collaborating in their slow destruction and rewarding their destroyers with economic, social and cultural incentives.
Likewise in the case of Iran one is constantly presented with a mid-Atlantic dramatic confection whereby EU "good cop" Javier Solana cajoles and coaxes the recalcitrant suspect, Iran, while "bad cop" Dick Cheney fumes and seethes out in the corridor waiting to use special interrogation techniques, like bombing the country to smithereens. The Israeli government is regularly cast as the wicked vizier, cynically egging on a supposedly reluctant US government to this act of potential self-destruction. The many similarities with the prequel to Iraq are very disturbing.
But remember that when President Jean Bertrand Aristide was deposed in Haiti in 2004, that coup was managed by Canada, France and the United States – all NATO countries – with diplomatic backing from all the Western Bloc countries at the UN. When Pedro "the Brief" Carmona staged his abortive coup in Venezuela in April 2002, US ships offered supportive observation of the move from Dutch bases in Aruba and Curaçao. Spain gave immediate diplomatic support. Plan Balboa, military maneuvers carried out in 2001 in which a country identical to Venezuela is invaded in support of a country identical to Colombia, was a NATO exercise.
NATO is supplementing US forces in Afghanistan. The International Security Assistance force is led by NATO and had 53,000 troops in Afghanistan in June this year in addition to over 14,000 US troops under a separate command. NATO’s presence in Afghanistan is part of the process of transforming its role from one of European defence into one of global intervention. It is hard to see that role as anything other than one of military enforcement not just of US imperialism but of Western Bloc imperialism of which corporate globalization is the commercial and economic engine via Free Trade Treaties with the United States and Economic Partnership Agreements with the European Union.
Occasionally one comes across articles on economic competition between the US and the European Union or about conflicts over monetary policy between the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank. Superficial spats over specific policy issues indeed exist. But it is unlikely that the US and the European Union are not collaborating intimately in every sphere not just to keep their corporate consumer capitalist system from failing but to reinforce it as an enduringly dominant corporate global presence. That, after all, is surely the point of the endless G7 liasion and coordination which goes on all year round in committees, punctuated by periodic summits.
If one looks at money supply, for example, the US monetary system is devaluing the dollar by issuing money and credit at a rate of over 16% a year. The ECB, Bank of Japan and the Bank of England are all helping keep their currencies in a steady relationship with the US dollar, issuing money and credit at about 10%-11% a year. Money velocity in the economic areas concerned may mitigate devaluation effects, but the inflationary consequences of such policies must surely be contributing to the general price inflation being experienced internationally.
Another area where US and EU policy is in harmony is migration. Widespread rejection and condemnation greeted news that the European Parliament had approved the Return Directive, applying harsh Europe-wide rules to illegal immigrants. President Ignacio da Silva of Brazil remarked of the measure, "The cold wind of xenophobia is again bringing false solutions to the challenges of the economy and society." In the US, steadily more restrictive measures are being applied to illegal immigrants across the country. Immigration policy there is symbolised by well-received proposals for a 2000 mile long anti-immigration barrier along the US border with Mexico.
So while the rich countries that promote corporate globalization demand poorer countries give big multinational corporations greater market access on extremely advantageous investment terms, people in poorer countries are denied the chance to exploit one of the few valuable resources they have – their labour. Capital must be free to move wherever it likes. But its victims had better stay put. Here, class meets race. Middle-class and working-class people in rich countries resent poor immigrants desperate to improve their families’ lives back in countries out of whose ruthless exploitation the rich countries historically accrued their current advantage in the first place.
It may well be time to start taking NATO’s role as an aspiring global enforcer of Western Bloc economic strategy more seriously. However true it may be to argue that it is still the United States government that makes the running, the US is less and less able to do so without the willing support of its allies. Their joint global military activity can well be interpreted as an effort to compensate for the growing discomfort they feel at the increasing power and influence of other countries like China and Russia, globally, and Iran and Venezuela regionally.
If Israel does strike targets alleged to be nuclear sites in Iran it will do so not just in a context of US government support. The European Union and NATO clearly support Israel’s provocative military preparations, as the maneuvers in Greek airspace indicate. Similarly, in the Caribbean Both the European Union and the United States are hostile to the ALBA countries led by Venezuela and Cuba. It may be that Iran and Venezuela are viewed with hostility by the United States and the European Union for different reasons. Iran for its uncompromising insistence on legitimate development of its nuclear programme and Venezuela for its uncompromising insistence on a fair deal from US and European energy multinationals.
But it may equally be that Venezuela, Cuba and Iran are regarded with hostility for the very same reasons. Firstly because they are all relatively vulnerable countries, compared to China and Russia, that reject Western Bloc economic domination. Secondly because Iran and Venezuela are important energy suppliers to Western Bloc competitors like China and India whom the United States and its European Union allies want to pressure one way or another into doing what they want. While Cuba’s health and education worldwide cooperation programmes put Western Bloc "aid" to shame.
On that wider view, a global view of the kind that the major multinational corporations and their political front persons perhaps take, then the respective roles of the United States, of the European Union countries who are also members of NATO, of NATO’s Pacific allies like Australia and Japan, of Israel, look less clearcut. And if such reasoning is accurate then any strike by Israel against Iran will be one that has been negotiated not just with the Bush regime but with the leaders of the European Union too.
The Venezuelan government may well react to any conflict resulting from an Israeli strike against Iran with oil sanctions against the United States. If it does, then the recently reactivated US Fourth Fleet is likely to be mobilised along with the US Southern Command’s other extensive regional resources against Venezuela in support of whatever contingency plans the United States and its NATO allies have already worked out with the Venezuelan opposition and the Colombian government along the lines of Plan Balboa. Cuba too would become a more vulnerable target. All of this would certainly be supported by Western Bloc countries against the futile opposition of the UN General Assembly.
This stuff of nightmares may seem completely far-fetched and improbable. The murder of 1000 Lebanese by Israeli airpower with the acquiescence of the Western Bloc powers seemed improbable in 2006. The death of over one million Iraqis and the displacement of another 2 million with the acquiescence of the Western Bloc powers seemed improbable in 2003. The collusion of the Western Bloc powers in 4 million deaths in the Congo may seem improbable to anyone who has not read the numbingly horrifying accounts of that conflict and its context. Western Bloc collusion in the destruction of a whole people dragged out for over 60 years in Palestine might have seemed improbable once upon a time. But it is all true.
toni writes for tortillaconsal.com