A history of NATO

Kate Hudson

Hudson, Chair of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmement (CND), presents a history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was founded in 1949, as a defensive organisation, in the early years of the Cold War. Its initial members were Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the United States. The Warsaw Pact was founded in response, by the then Soviet Union and its allies, in 1955. In the 1950s, Greece, Turkey and West Germany joined, followed by Spain in 1982.

At the end of the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved, but NATO was not. With the disappearance of one superpower, the other did not just fade away and allow a harmonious world to emerge – as we were promised at the time. The US moved to fill the positions vacated by its previous rival. Nowhere is that more clearly demonstrated than with the expansion of NATO.

As the countries of eastern Europe embraced free market economics and multiparty democracy, the US moved rapidly to integrate them into the US sphere of influence via NATO. This was an effective strategy – remember the ‘new Europe’ issue at the time of the war on Iraq – with Poland vigorously backing the US, against the ‘old Europe’ of Germany and France. The first steps towards full-membership were taken via the Partnerships for Peace programme from 1994.

In March 1999, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic were all admitted to full membership. Ten days later they found themselves at war with their neighbour Yugoslavia, as part of NATO’s illegal bombing campaign. But the change at that time was not limited to NATO expansion. 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. The geographical area for action was now defined as the entire 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. This has contributed to international tension as Russia sees itself being surrounded by US and NATO bases, including in the Balkans, the Middle East and central Asia.

Over the last few years, the US drive for global domination has become increasingly active in military terms. NATO has become a vehicle for this process, in particular with the war on Afghanistan. This has been a NATO-led war since 2003, when NATO assumed control of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), established in 2002. By May 2008, there were around 47,000 troops from 40 countries in Afghanistan under the auspices of ISAF, with NATO members providing the core of the force.

Recently, the US has turned its sights on the strategic area of the Black Sea and south-western Asia. This region is very significant in terms of energy production and transportation. The US backed the change of government in Georgia in 2003, which has led to an increasing pro-western orientation. In 2005, Georgia joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace scheme, and Georgia signed an agreement supporting and aiding transit of NATO forces and NATO personnel.

At the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008, Albania and Croatia were invited to join. President Bush called for Georgia to be allowed to join the membership Action Plan, which is the next stage towards full membership. This was rejected due to opposition from several countries, led by Germany and France. But Georgia was assured in a special communique that it would eventually join NATO and a review of the deision has been pledged for December 2008.

NATO is also a nuclear-armed alliance, and US nuclear weapons are stationed in five countries across Europe. There is strong campaigning opposition to the nuclear weapons in those countries. NATO also has a nuclear ‘first use’ policy. This is exceptionally dangerous, particularly at a time of global instability where we are entering a new Cold War.

Further expansion of NATO, to include former Soviet republics like Georgia and the Ukraine, must not take place. Such a step, taken together with the development of the US Missile Defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic, would be highly provocative and destabilsing. We do not want a new world order based on NATO aggression, pursuing the US military agenda.

Bron: Stop the War Coalition, 21/08/2009