No to NATO

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is a nuclear-armed military alliance which is an obstacle to a peaceful world and global nuclear disarmament. It currently comprises 30 member states, including the United Kingdom. NATO was first established during the Cold War, and since its inception has expanded both its sphere of influence and the scope of its activity, destabilising international relationships as it does so.

How the alliance developed

NATO was founded in 1949, in the early years of the Cold War, by Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the UK and the USA. The Warsaw pact was established in response by the then Soviet Union and its allies in 1955. In the 1950s, Greece, Turkey and West Germany joined NATO, followed by Spain in 1982. At the end of the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved, but NATO was not. Rather than scaling back its global military presence, the US moved to fill the positions vacated by its previous rival. As the countries of eastern Europe embraced free market economics and multiparty democracy, the US moved rapidly to integrate them into its sphere of influence via NATO. This would prove to be an effective strategy, as witnessed by the support of those countries for the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The 1990s saw NATO developing its regional cooperation forums and inviting new members to join the alliance. In March 1999, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic were all admitted as full members. Ten days later they found themselves at war with their neighbour Yugoslavia, as part of NATO’s illegal bombing campaign. But developments at that time were not limited to expanding its membership. At NATO’s fiftieth anniversary conference in Washington in 1999, a new ‘Strategic Concept’ was adopted. This moved beyond NATO’s previous defensive role to include ‘out of area’ – in other words offensive – operations, anywhere on the Eurasian landmass.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania were admitted to NATO in 2004 – not only former Warsaw Pact members, but also former Soviet republics in the case of the Baltic states. In 2009, Albania and Croatia became members with Montenegro joining in 2017. North Macedonia was confirmed as the newest member in 2020, while Bosnia and Herzegovina is also in negotiations to join the alliance. This scale of expansion has contributed to international tension as Russia sees itself increasingly surrounded by US and NATO bases. The increasing NATO presence in the region has been a contributory factor to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

In the past few years, NATO has exacerbated the situation by announcing new bases in eastern Europe. Deployments – including British troops – arrived in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland during 2017. In addition, the NATO Response Force was expanded in 2014 to include a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, with an ability to deploy at two days’ notice. NATO has also opened a training centre in Georgia and will support the reform of Ukraine’s military.

The alliance will next meet for a formal summit in Spain in 2022.

Out of area activity

A US drive for global domination through military influence was most notable in Afghanistan. NATO assumed control of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan in 2003, marking NATO’s first deployment outside Europe or North America. While NATO officially ended its mission in Afghanistan in 2014, but only started withdrawing troops in May 2021.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, NATO agreed to expand its anti-ISIS training mission in Iraq in 2021 – a decision even though the country’s Parliament voted in 2020 in favour of demanding that foreign troops leave. The number of NATO troops in Iraq will increase from 500 to 4000.

NATO has also undertaken operations in Libya and the Horn of Africa over the last decade.

NATO has even declared space ‘an operational domain’, extending the reach of the alliance still further. In its 2021 summit, the alliance extended the Article 5 collective defence clause to include space attacks.

Global reach?

NATO adopted a new Strategic Concept at its 2010 summit, entitled Active Engagement, Modern Defence. It recommitted to an interventionist military agenda that set back the cause of peace and nuclear disarmament. This included an expansion of its area of work to ‘counterterrorism, cyber-security, and the proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons’. The summit also agreed to integrate the US missile defence system with a European theatre missile defence programme under the auspices of NATO. The Secretary General of NATO has now been tasked with developing the next Strategic Concept.

At its 2012 summit, NATO declared that it had taken successful steps towards establishing a missile defence system. It also announced developments in its air command and control system, as well as plans for improved and more integrated armed forces. Further developments in the system were announced at the 2016 summit. At the Wales summit in 2014 a statement was made that cyber-attacks on any NATO members could warrant a collective response, expanding the scope of circumstances under which military action could be authorised. This is particularly worrying because of the difficulty in determining the source of cyber-attacks and technical evidence of them is rarely shared or clarified.

The NATO summit in Poland in 2016 demonstrated that the alliance is set to continue to promote military intervention and posturing as the way to resolve international differences. Precisely at a time when what is needed between the alliance and Russia is cool-headed diplomacy and a thawing of relations, NATO is instead taking destabilising and provocative steps the other way.

There seems no doubt that there is a long term plan for maintaining and extending NATO’s global influence

Military Spending

NATO expects its members to spend 2% of national income on defence every year. NATO should not be in a position to impose spending guidelines on independent nations, which should be determining their own funding priorities based on genuine need.

Ten NATO countries met this target in 2020, including the UK. At a time when the main threats facing the international community are non-military – including a pandemic and climate change – this is a staggeringly ineffective way of prioritising resources.

NATO 2030

A rebalancing of US foreign policy towards Asia launched by former US President Obama has undoubtedly had repercussions on NATO, raising tensions and helping to militarise the Asia-Pacific region, a part of the world with four nuclear weapon states – India, Pakistan, China and North Korea.

NATO published a new report in 2020, designed to strengthen the ‘political’ dimension of the alliance. ‘NATO 2030: united for a New Era’ talks about the need to adapt with the times and address emerging and disruptive technologies. It also makes specific mention of climate change and pandemics.

The stress on unity and political cohesion brings the document to its chief concern: how to maintain western dominance in a world where China is rising economically? NATO’s answer is to expand its orientation to the Asia Pacific, to deal with the ‘impact’ of the emerging China.

Ahead of the report’s launch, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that China poses ‘important challenges to our security’, adding that China ‘is coming close to us’. The report itself says that NATO should treat China as a ‘full-spectrum systemic rival, rather than a purely economic player.’ The UK’s contribution is sending an aircraft carrier to the Asia Pacific, while the US ramps up its military presence in the region.

A nuclear-armed alliance

NATO is a nuclear-armed alliance and around 150 US B61 nuclear bombs are stationed in five countries across Europe – Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey. There is strong opposition to these weapons, including from the governments of some of the ‘host’ nations. Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands have all, unsuccessfully, called for the removal of US nuclear weapons from their countries. NATO has continuously restated its commitment to being a nuclear alliance and recently announced that the nuclear weapons under its umbrella will be upgraded to make them more usable.

NATO’s nuclear policies conflict with the legal obligations of the signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Articles 1 and 2 of the NPT forbid the transfer of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear weapon states, but US/NATO nuclear weapons in Europe are located in non-nuclear weapons states. The alliance rejects a policy of ‘no first use’ of nuclear weapons and maintains that nuclear capabilities remains a core element of its strategy.

NATO has continuously attacked the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, an agreement banning nuclear weapons that is supported by most of the world’s countries.

The UK’s nuclear weapons system has been assigned to NATO since the 1960s. Ultimately, this means that the UK’s nuclear weapons could be used against a country attacking (or threatening to attack) one of the NATO member states since an attack on one NATO member state is seen as being an attack on all member states.

Expansion into Latin America

NATO and Colombia concluded a partnership agreement in 2018, ‘with a view to strengthening dialogue and cooperation to address security challenges’. This despite the fact that the Latin American states and the Caribbean are a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone under the Tlatelolco Treaty, agreed in 1967.

There has been angry rejection of the NATO agreement from some of Colombia’s neighbours, with Venezuela accusing Colombia of inviting ‘external factors with nuclear capability to gain a foothold’.

The way forward

CND believes that a vital step towards global nuclear disarmament would be achieved with the removal of all US nuclear weapons from European bases. Britain should withdraw from NATO, and all foreign military bases on British soil should be closed.

Working to prevent cold war and war with Russia and China remains a strong focus for our work. The UK should be opting for diplomatic solutions to complex political problems, not participating in an alliance that is backing Russia and China into a corner through military expansionism. This will not help stop a war, instead the danger is it will start one.

NATO should not be expanded but rather disbanded and the influence, resources and funding of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) extended towards a nuclear-free, less militarised and therefore more secure Europe.