In the first week of April NATO held a summit on both sides of the Rhine. The leaders of this organisation, real imperialist brigands, with Obama, Merkel and Sarkozy at the top, were able to pose in front of the obliging cameras on the bridge between Baden-Baden in Germany and Strasbourg in France. Once again, we were asked to admire the great cordiality and togetherness which supposedly reigns between all these sharks. This summit was being held sixty years after NATO was founded. What was the reason it was created? What use has it been over the decades? Since it was founded the world has moved on and global imperialist relations have profoundly changed. However, NATO is still there. And, what's more, a growing number of countries are asking to join it. So what function does it serve today? To reply to these questions, we have to go beyond the official view put over by the bourgeois media.
The new American president, the very democratic Obama, declared that the priority for US foreign and anti-terrorist policy was to strengthen military intervention in Afghanistan. The US has decided to send 21,000 additional soldiers and, with this in mind, NATO is looking for four new brigades. On the opening day of the summit, the American president gave the keynote for the new tactic of American imperialism, its ‘open hand policy'. It was asserted loud and clear that America does not intend to deal on its own with the Taliban and the nebulous al-Qaida, asking the Europeans in particular to make a particular effort. But the latter remained rather discreet on the sending of new troops, preferring to talk hypocritically about giving aid for reconstruction, and the Afghan police and army. Only Sarkozy revealed his decision to send new French troops in exchange for France returning to the unified NATO command, which it left in 1966 under the de Gaulle presidency in order to express France's desire not to submit passively to American hegemony. In fact, France's return to the unified command is taking place at the moment when the USA is seeing a steady weakening of its world leadership. This summit was itself a clear expression of this loss of influence, even in an essentially military organisation which has always been an instrument of its imperialist domination.
The role of NATO during the Cold War
At the end of the Second World War in 1945, the bourgeoisies of all the most developed countries wanted to get the entire working class, which had been through five years of generalised slaughter, to believe that the world was now entering a period of peace and prosperity. It was simply a question of rolling up your sleeves and getting down to work. Only the world now saw a new period of sharpening imperialist tensions. Once it had completed the military crushing of Germany and Japan, the belligerent opposition between the fascist imperialist powers and those who claimed to be for anti-fascism and democracy was over. But a new antagonism instantly appeared and would provide the framework for the incessant wars which marked the period up to 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet bloc. The world was now divided into two imperialist blocs. On the one hand, there was the western bloc headed by the American superpower, seconded by all the countries of western Europe; on the other side stood the Soviet bloc. This was led by Stalin's USSR and the Russian bourgeoisie, who had taken control of the eastern and part of central Europe. For more than 40 years, these two imperialist blocs would confront each other in battles between client states or local bourgeois armies fighting for control of their own countries. A whole series of conflicts ravaged large sections of the planet during this period - the wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East, Africa, wars and massacres used, orchestrated and sometimes directly organised by the two blocs. Altogether these conflicts led to more deaths than the Second World War.
But maintaining cohesion within each bloc called for a great deal of discipline, and thus for each country within the bloc to align itself behind the bloc leader, On the one hand, the USSR imposed the Warsaw pact on all the countries under its heel. On the other hand, the USA, which had emerged as the all-powerful victor of the world war, did the same thing via NATO. The latter was a political-military organisation officially formed in 1949 and is now made up of 28 member countries. At first the declared objective of this organisation was clearly expressed in its article number 3. This enabled the US to aid the military development of Europe, as it was also doing at the economic level. For America it was a question of creating a barrier between the Soviet bloc and Western Europe. But the role of NATO evolved rapidly and on 4 April 1949 the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in Washington. This military pact stipulated that any attack on one of the members of this organisation would immediately result in action by all the member states. The treaty was thus aimed at binding the member states behind the USA. The USSR was not taken in and affirmed from the start that the treaty was an instrument of American imperialism. West Germany joined in 1955. To square up to the Soviet bloc, massive military forces were stationed in many regions of the world - land, naval, and air forces, not to mention the massive nuclear arsenal pointed at the USSR. This was the exact meaning of the numerous NATO troops stationed in Europe and above all in West Germany. The alliance was therefore formed as the armed wing of the western bloc and effectively under US command, and it existed as such until 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet bloc.
The evolution of NATO since the disappearance of the blocs
Faced with the loss of a common enemy, the western bloc itself fell apart: in effect, it had lost its reason for existence. Like its counterpart the Warsaw pact, you might have expected NATO to simply disappear. But this organisation has maintained itself and has been reinforced by former countries of the eastern bloc such as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, or new regions like Eastern Germany. In 2004, seven new countries joined NATO: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. And today countries like Georgia, Ukraine Albania and Croatia are posing their candidature. Most of these countries are former vassals of the old USSR. For them, the main problem is to protect themselves from the still menacing presence of the Russian bear after the experience of forty years of ferocious Soviet domination. But the decline of the political-military role of NATO has still been spectacular and irreversible.
From the second Iraq war in 2003, the weakening of American leadership has been increasingly obvious. The consequence is that each imperialist power has been more and more contesting the USA and its domination. This has been especially true for France and Germany. For the US, maintaining its control over NATO is therefore a necessity, above all because its authority is now regularly defied at the UN. And because China, a potential rival, has strengthened itself considerably at the imperialist level in the last few years and Russia, even if it can no longer be the power it was in the days of the USSR, still remains a by no means negligible imperialist power. The US is thus forced to keep NATO alive because it is through this organisation that it can continue to put pressure on the European countries and drag them behind it in its wars, as in the case of Afghanistan today.
But even with the control they do exert over NATO, created by them and for them (it's an "American machine" as de Gaulle called it) this organisation is also weakening irredeemably. More and more, each power tries to use NATO for its own ends or to go against American interests. The most dramatic example of this, before the present war in Afghanistan, was the 1999 NATO intervention in the Balkans, which led to the USA, France, Germany and Britain all sending in their military forces, each one aiming to defend their specific imperialist interests.
Each one of these countries, including the USA, strode into the Balkans quagmire without any real capacity for stabilising or reconstructing this region. This war, like the one in Afghanistan today, concretised the weakening of NATO and of US leadership. This process was further exhibited in the recent summit by the problems involved in naming the pro-American Rasmussen, the former Danish president, as NATO secretary given the opposition from Turkey. This general dynamic can only accelerate and deepen in the future, turning this organisation more and more into a theatre of conflict between all the big imperialist sharks, with a mounting challenge to America's imperialist domination.