Who Really Needs NATO?

By Smith, Gar | Earth Island Journal, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

Who Really Needs NATO?


Smith, Gar, Earth Island Journal


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 to protect Western Europe from an invasion by the USSR. With the devolution of the USSR, one would expect NATO to follow suit. Instead, NATO is about to be expanded into Eastern Europe -- embracing Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic -- at an estimated cost to US taxpayers of $100 billion. The question is: Why?

In his 1997 State of the Union, President Clinton claimed that NATO expansion was essential to build "an undivided democratic Europe." But, as David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, observes, "the president's statement provided no indication of how NATO expansion would further the goal of 'an undivided democratic Europe,' nor why NATO must be expanded by 1999, nor why countries once our adversaries could not be our allies without being members of NATO."

George Kennan, former US ambassador to the Soviet Union, has called NATO expansion "the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era" and a move that threatens to "have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy."

The Center for Defense Information [CDI, 1500 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20005,(202) 862-0700, fax-0708] warned that expansion "may undercut a decade's worth of arms control treaties." In fact, NATO expansion prompted the Russians to halt progress on the START II nuclear reduction talks. And in May, Russia instated a dangerous new military policy permitting a "first use" of nuclear weapons. (This reversed the November 1993 Gorbachev-era pledge not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries. Russia's policy now mirrors the US-backed policy that NATO employed during the Cold War.)

In a December 23, 1996 Newsweek column, Michael Mandelbaum, professor of foreign policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, observed that expanding NATO "is a rarity in public policy: an initiative that promises no benefits whatsoever." While Mandelbaum agreed that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic "have problems," he noted that "protecting democracy is not one of them." The central European countries are the most unstable, and any potential Russian offensive first would imperil Ukraine and the Baltic states. "Thus, the countries that need NATO won't get it, and the countries that get it don't need it," Mandelbaum marveled.

As Peter Rudolf observed last year in the German foreign affairs journal Aussen-Politik, "The enlargement of NATO is primarily attributable to the interest of the USA in a continuation of its role as a European power, not to any desire for the `neocontainment' of Russia." In Rudolf's analysis, it is simply an extension of the US policy of "benign hegemony."

There are four basic requirements for admission to NATO: democratic institutions, rule of law, free markets and civilian control of the armed forces and secret service. (Under these guidelines, Russia might one day legitimately demand to become a member of NATO. Arguably, the US is ineligible to be a NATO member since the Pentagon's "black budget" activities and many of the intelligence communities' operations lie beyond civilian control.)

There is little evidence that expanding a country's military budget helps preserve free markets or democracy. If anything, the opposite appears to be true.

NATO's War on the Environment

In expectation of its admittance to NATO, the Czech Republic has commented joint military exercises with French forces on Czech soil. Nearly 100 exercises are scheduled this year, with French trucks, tanks, jets and infantry churning up roads, plowing across fields, streaking through the skies and discharging rounds of live ammunition in the woods surrounding Czech villages.

NATO's Committee on Challenges of Modem Society (CCMS) has identified some of the problems caused by more than 25 years of NATO activities.

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