Is NATO Teetering?

Two news items in the last two weeks, the coup in Turkey and statements by candidate Donald Trump, point to trouble for the US-led military alliance known as NATO.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, is a major instrument of Washington for waging wars when the choice is made to do so with help. Washington founded NATO in 1949, with some World War II allies and others, as part of the Cold War that President Truman declared against former ally Russia. Greece joined NATO after US-backed forces defeated former anti-Nazi partisans in a civil war (1946-1949). Secret interventions executed with NATO’s participation or cover included the 1967 coup in Greece that established a military dictatorship until 1974, and the 1980 coup in Turkey, in which US military and CIA participation has been well documented.

NATO has provided cover most recently for US intervention in Ukraine, and was the umbrella for the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the bombing of Libya in 2011 that created chaos in that country. The NATO story is current as we write, because this week Washington launched a series of bombings of the Libyan city of Sirte.

Washington has risked war with Russia in two places in the last three years: Ukraine and Syria. Russia has naval bases by treaty both in Syria and in Crimea (part of Ukraine until 2014, but ethnically a separate country, and the location of the Russian base). It annexed Crimea in 2014 and sent aid to the government of Syria to fight off rebels funded by Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia.

The treaty of NATO commits all members to actively side with any member that are attacked by a non-NATO country. Candidate Donald Trump declared July 20 that, for him, this commitment would depend on NATO members’ contributions, shocking journalists and political leaders everywhere. In doing so, he placed in doubt a central piece of US foreign policy and ideology – that Washington is part of an unbreakable mutual alliance with many countries in Europe and that it reliably sides with US-allied European countries in any conflicts with Russia.

Turkey is the country in NATO with the second-largest military, after the US. Its military forces coordinate closely with the US military. On July 15, the Turkish state was deeply shaken by an attempted coup d’etat in which military units participated and 250 persons died. The current Turkish president, Tayyip Erdogan, has accused the US of protecting the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who allegedly instigated last month’s coup. Turkey’s close coordination with NATO, and the strength and unity of its military, may now be in question.

Trump’s hedging on his commitment to NATO, similarly, can only shake the alliance and put in question 70 years of US European policy. Most striking, the public response to Trump has been mild. Trump’s supporters, like most people in the US, are wary of waging risky aggressive wars. The spin that Trump puts on this war weariness is “America First!”

By moving NATO forces to the border of Russia and by financing military forces fighting Russian forces in Syria, the US has pursued a high-risk policy. That policy is closely associated with candidate Hillary Clinton, who was Secretary of State during some of the events described here. (She was also Secretary of State during the 2009 coup in Honduras, which Washington embraced after the fact, if not before.) The fact that candidate Clinton offers a more aggressive warlike stance, on NATO and Ukraine, than candidate Trump, may remind some Bernie Sanders followers that “Stop Trump At All Costs” is a risky slogan to follow, when it leads to endorsement of the Democrats’ war platform.

The Republican Party sought to promote this adventurism further by advocating, until July, arming the fascist-installed government of Ukraine, which is at war with rebels said to be Russian-backed. At its recent convention in Cleveland, the GOP dropped this plank. It seems likely that the Democratic candidate now has a more aggressively militaristic foreign policy than the Republicans.

Socialists, including members of the Socialist Party USA, trust neither of the capitalist parties and expect wars to follow the election of either major candidate. During this presidential election season, the Mimi Soltysik and Angela Nicole Walker Campaign advocates for public protest against acts of militarism, whether in the name of NATO or US hegemony in the Mideast, Africa, Asia, or the Americas.


David Keil

is a member of the Editorial Board of "The Socialist" and of the Boston Area local of the Socialist Party.

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