“Yes to Peace! No to NATO!”

Friday, April 5, 2024

Dr. Liz Payne

This week, at its headquarters in Brussels, NATO will mark the 75th anniversary of the signing of its founding treaty. Celebrations will continue at its summit in Washington DC in July. Signed in that city on 4 April 1949 by the US, Canada, Britain, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Iceland and Norway, it was the first military treaty binding together the US, key imperialist states in Europe and their allies on both sides of the Atlantic to pursue what Winston Churchill had referred to in his Fulton, Missouri speech in 1946 as the US-led “overall strategic concept”. In whatever way it was dressed up, the plan, in which NATO played an absolutely crucial role, was to secure the post-war world for monopoly capitalism, threaten the Soviet Union and socialist countries of Eastern Europe, and crush any green shoots of socialism wherever they might spring up, especially in the heartlands of the West and in countries newly emerging from colonial domination.

Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty provided for mutual assistance should any member country be attacked. The Soviet Union was cast as an existential threat – though its energy was directed towards rapid post-war reconstruction, securing international arms reduction agreements, banning the use of nuclear weapons, and achieving peaceful coexistence. The mass media whipped up fear of communism and of imminent attack through conventional warfare and new weapons of mass destruction to be unleashed by the Kremlin and its Red Army. The treaty and media-induced panic facilitated the moulding of Western Europe as a vast military bloc, the maintenance of huge armies with extensive periods of national conscription, the proliferation of US and other military bases in Britain and elsewhere and the deployment of US troops and warplanes. It also stimulated soaring expenditure on research into evermore lethal warfare, eating up the government science budgets of member countries which could have been directed to meeting people’s manifold needs. It engaged the Soviet Union in an unwanted and economically devastating arms race, forced the formation of the Warsaw Pact alliance for the self-defence of the socialist countries in 1955, and terrorised the whole world with the threat of nuclear annihilation.

In Britain, government spending on science increased from £5m in 1937 to £78m in 1947 to £234m in 1953, 80% of which, £187m (more than £6.5bn in today’s money) was warfare related. This would have gone a very long way if ploughed into the realisation of peaceful developments, especially the provision of public services to meet the needs of the majority of people in a still war-torn country.

The establishment of NATO did not, of course, come out of nowhere. While the war still raged across the continents and people everywhere hoped for peace, democracy and freedom from colonial oppression, imperialism was laying the foundations of a very different world once the current hostilities had ceased.

Winston Churchill was on the case on behalf of the right-wing British establishment before the ink had even time to dry on the document bringing war in Europe to a halt. On 9 May 1945 in Berlin, the German high command formally ratified the instrument of total and unconditional surrender. Duplicitous Churchill told Stalin that the future of humanity depended “on the friendship and understanding between the British and Russian peoples”, to which, on 10 May, Stalin replied, looking forward to “the further successful and happy development in the post-war period of the friendly relations which have grown up between our countries in the period of the war.” But Churchill had no interest in such things. On 12 May he telegraphed US president Harry Truman that an iron curtain was drawn across Europe, that what lay behind it was unknown and that, from behind it, the Soviet Union might advance at any time to the North Sea and Atlantic shores.

He substantially expounded on this theme in his infamous Fulton Missouri speech on 5 March 1946, considered a key opening salvo of the Cold War, accusing the USSR of aspiring to the “indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines” and promoting a proposed ‘special’ relationship between Britain and the US, which he had proposed in his first ever meeting with Truman in Potsdam in July 1945.

On 12 March 1947, the Truman Doctrine announced that the US would provide political, military, and economic assistance to all democratic nations under threat from external or internal authoritarian forces. Truman, of course, had the Soviet threat clearly in mind and thus instigated the equation of communism and totalitarianism and ‘justification’ for US intervention across the globe in any country that did not fall in line with imperialism’s plans.

The truth was that things had not gone entirely as anticipated for the West. During the 1930s, the capitalist powers had expected that Hitler fascism, working in favour of the most reactionary monopoly capital in the world, would obliterate socialist thinking and aspirations, together with the labour and political organisations of the working class in Germany and other European states over which it took control. This had not happened despite all the terror unleashed on communists and left and progressive people everywhere. Moreover, the allies had hoped that the fascist armies would be turned on the socialist Soviet Union and finish it once and for all. But the defeat of fascism by the Red Army in the USSR and Eastern Europe showed that the great tide of revolutionary transformation initiated by the Great October Socialist Revolution could not yet be withstood.

At the same time, the European capitalist heartlands were bombed out and devastated; business, industry and infrastructure were wrecked; international trade was virtually wiped out; economies were in ruins; people were hungry, food could not be produced to feed them, and governments were bankrupt. At the same time, leadership of imperialism was inevitably passing from the once mighty colonial powers to the US, on whom the west European states had by the end of the war come to rely for bank-rolling their economies. The need was mutual. For the US, Europe was crucial for its hegemonic plans, including for the deployment of monopoly finance capital on a massive scale, while exerting military protection of its interests and forcibly halting the spread of socialism.

The Soviet Union characterised the North Atlantic Treaty as an aggressive pact directed at the USSR in contravention of the UN Charter, the Anglo-Soviet alliance of 1942 and the Yalta and Potsdam agreements, whose purpose was Anglo-American world domination. It is ironic that, after all the efforts to create the alliance by the most reactionary forces in Britain, it was the post-war Labour government that took the country into NATO. In April 1949, the Executive of the Communist Party (CPGB) stated categorically that “The Atlantic Pact is not a pact for peace, it is a pact for war. It is the direct continuation of the policy of Churchill’s Fulton speech and the Truman Doctrine – openly directed to the aim of building up a war front against the socialist Soviet Union and the peoples’ democracies of Eastern Europe.”

The British Peace Assembly calls for Britain to come out of NATO, for NATO itself to be disbanded, and for the implementation of a truly international foreign policy of peaceful coexistence. The World Peace Council and all its affiliates, of which the British Peace Assembly is one, must place NATO under the spotlight on its 75th birthday, so that people everywhere know and understand why it says “Yes to Peace! No to NATO!”

And this is what for 42 years it proved to be. After the end of the Cold War in 1991 with the destruction of the Soviet Union, the bringing down of the socialist countries of Eastern and Central Europe and the break-up of the Warsaw Pact, NATO’s articulated raison d’etre ceased to exist. However, the years that followed saw an escalation rather than diminution of the alliance’s reach – with countries ‘strategic’ to imperialism, including the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe, offered full membership.

As NATO expanded eastwards and gained in strength, so its belligerence increased, beginning with its spring 1999 78-day attack on Yugoslavia, the 25th anniversary of which was commemorated by a huge international gathering in Serbia last month, organised by the Belgrade Forum for a World of Equals and the World Peace Council. There the orchestrated terror and devastation inflicted purposefully and mercilessly on the people of that country by the US and its allies, including Blair’s Labour government in Britain and the neo-liberal establishment in whose interests it acted, were remembered with horror.

On the 24 March 1999, the world changed forever. Lines that were crossed unmasked the nature and intent of the most reactionary powers on earth. For the first time force was used against a sovereign state without UN Security Council consent. There were “no boots on the ground” – sole reliance on air power, the most advanced technology and deadly weaponry. Large-scale use of satellite missile-guiding technology made its debut. B2 stealth bombers were first used in live combat. And the scene was set for all the NATO-inflicted horrors to come, down to the present day.

There was, despite the rhetoric, no plausible reason to attack. Events in Kosovo posed no discernible threat to the national security of any NATO country (Article 5, North Atlantic Treaty), yet public opinion was won over on the basis of a sophisticated and highly effective web of lies.

The day before the first bomb fell, prime minister Tony Blair told parliament that Britain would do what it was about to do “to avert […] a humanitarian disaster in Kosovo.” But the aggression was long-planned and nothing Belgrade did or did not do could have changed the mind of NATO’s generals.

US General, Michael C. Short, the chief of the NATO assault on Yugoslavia summed it up in two chilling sentences: “One cannot win a war without destroying the possibility of a normal life for the majority of the population. We must take away from them water, power supply, food and even the normal air to breathe.” It was a herald of the horrific interventions yet to come – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Syria, Ukraine, Sudan, Gaza.

Britain played a full and significant part in Operation Allied Force – in mobilising support for military action from mid-1997 and in detailed planning from then on in. During the campaign, from the outset, B52 bombers and vital tactical military aircraft left from bases in England. HMS Invincible operated Sea Harrier jets and an array of British destroyers, frigates and war planes gave support throughout.

Today, Britain continues to play its role as number one ally of the US. Its bases, once honed for colonial domination of 25% of the world, are now indispensable to US imperialism’s bid to control not only the resources of the Middle East and Africa, but also the vast wealth of the Indo-Pacific. The British Peace Assembly calls unequivocally for the closure of all 145 major military bases and installations in 42 countries. Aggression is cemented in ever more deadly pacts, the likes of AUKUS, while Britain once more plays a full and fearsome imperialist role conducting ever more ‘hot war’ operations and waging Cold War on the People’s Republic of China. The people of Britain must unite to challenge its war-mongering government, expose its crimes, halt its plans, and dissipate its mass media lies.

32 countries now have full membership of NATO, the most recent additions being Finland and Sweden, in 2023 and 2024 respectively. In addition to NATO enlargement of its own full membership ‘club’, other countries are drawn into the militaristic web through its so-called Partnership for Peace, its ‘Mediterranean Dialogue’ and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. To the delight of the military industrial complexes, members and allies of NATO are investing in the latest military hardware and software – missiles, drones, fighter aircraft, bombers and naval vessels, guidance systems for WMDs and ‘shields’ from attack, surveillance apparatus, internal security systems and the means for dealing with mass dissent. The £billions to be had in profit drive the quest for ‘new and better’ means to kill.

NATO’s website defines the organisation as “A community of allies bound together by common values of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.” This is the stuff of nightmares. There is nothing that NATO has done in its first 75 years or plans to do in future decades that gives us any cause to believe that NATO is “working to keep people safe”. The British Peace Assembly calls for Britain to come out of NATO, for NATO itself to be disbanded, and for the implementation of a truly international foreign policy of peaceful coexistence. The World Peace Council and all its affiliates, of which the British Peace Assembly is one, must place NATO under the spotlight on its 75th birthday, so that people everywhere know and understand why it says “Yes to Peace! No to NATO!”

Dr. Liz Payne is the Convenor of the British Peace Assembly and a member of Liberation’s Education Committee.