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 29 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.

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 April 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.

In March 2004, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania were admitted to NATO – not only former Warsaw Pact members, but also former Soviet republics in the case of the Baltic states. In 2009, Albania and Croatia also became members. Montenegro was confirmed as the 29th member in June 2017. Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are 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.

NATO has recently 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.

Out of area activity

A US drive for global domination through military influence is 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, it has since launched a new ‘non-combat Resolute Support’ operation, meaning that thousands of NATO troops will remain in the country for the foreseeable future.

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

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.

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, a target which the UK government has pledged to meet. 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.

Only five NATO countries met this target in 2016. There has been increasing pressure on countries to spend more, most notably from new US President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly said the US expects others to pay their ‘fair share’. The 2017 NATO summit had increased military spending as one of the main themes of the meeting, reflecting the growing demands on member states to spend more on the military, rather than their health, education and housing needs.

Asian Pivot

Former US President Obama’s rebalancing of US foreign policy towards Asia has undoubtedly had repercussions on NATO. This ‘pivot’ is already 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’s closest partners – Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea – are based in the region. It remains to be seen how the election of President Donald Trump will affect this pivot, but in the early stages of his presidency, he has already threatened military action in North Korea.

With more US involvement in the Asia-Pacific, NATO could follow suit and deepen its cooperation with its partners there on perceived threats such as cyber-attacks and terrorism, possibly antagonising further relations with China.

 A nuclear-armed alliance

NATO is a nuclear-armed alliance and around 180 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 recently restated its commitment to being a nuclear alliance and 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.

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.

Brussels Summit 2017

 The NATO summit in Brussels in 2017 focussed on increasing NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism. The alliance launched an action plan, pledging more air support and more information-sharing. A new terrorism intelligence cell will be established at NATO headquarters, and a NATO coordinator appointed.

Increased military action in an already volatile region, even indirectly, threatens to exacerbate a conflict that already seems impossible to resolve. Innocent civilians will inevitably be caught in the crossfire of attacks on terrorist groups.  The next NATO summit will also take place in Brussels, in July 2018.

 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 also withdraw from NATO, and all foreign military bases on British soil should be closed. 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.