In June of this year, while the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Summit is being held in Madrid, Spain, social and pacifist organisations will hold, on the same days, the Summit for Peace as a way of expressing their opposition to war as well as rejecting the interventionism that has been the practice of this military alliance led by the United States.

By Pablo Ruiz

In the context of a preparatory meeting last January, activists from various organisations gave their views and data on how bad the Atlantic Alliance, NATO, has been for the world.

Jörg Kronauer, a German journalist, noted that “NATO has never been a good force at all. They talk about democracy and human rights, how can you say they stand for democracy and human rights and send aid to Saudi Arabia? The journalist recalls that “NATO was established when the Cold War began. The capitalist countries were against the Eastern countries and NATO wanted, through brutality and threats, to suppress these countries”.

NATO was founded in 1949 with an alliance of 12 countries and today there are 30 member countries. Many believed that with the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Warsaw Pact (founded in 1955 and dissolved in 1991) NATO would disappear but this has not been the case as it continues to expand, fueled by narratives and justifications of supposed threats and the creation of enemies.

It is true that in the early 1990s, the former USSR had a commitment that the US and NATO would not advance towards its borders: “Not one centimeter to the East” was the promise made by US Secretary of State James Baker, but the promise was not kept.

Jörg Kronauer recalls that “in the decades of the Cold War, NATO was simply, and everyone knew it, an anti-communist organisation”. However, he points out, “if NATO were simply anti-communist, it would have been disbanded after the collapse of communist forces in the 1990s; but NATO is still used by Western countries to do their dirty work, to kill, to drop bombs”.

Fiona Edwards of the “No Cold War” platform points out that “the US and NATO have left a trail of destruction. The current situation in Afghanistan, after twenty years of US-led war, is a great test. There are hundreds of thousands of people who have died in this war, killed by US forces, and what they have left there, in these 20 years of war: extreme poverty, it’s a humanitarian disaster”.

The Aukus Alliance

On the other hand, the activist denounces that “the military pact between the US, Britain and Australia against China is threatening stability. We are talking about a new Cold War and it is important to understand that the main priority of the US and US policy is to take down the Chinese government”.

“If we look at the maps and the maps of military bases around China, we can compare them with the bases that China has in the rest of the world, and China has zero military bases in the rest of the world and China is surrounded by military bases around it. China has zero military assets around the US and Europe. We’re talking about zero versus hundreds of military bases,” says Fiona Edwards.

The strategic alliance called AUKUS (an acronym for Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States) has been reported in the press as aiming to “defend the shared interests in the Indo-Pacific” of these governments. The AUKUS Alliance will enable the Royal Australian Navy to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

“What we have is a US war against China and China has made it clear that they don’t want a cold war. They don’t want a war, hot or cold, and they don’t want a nuclear war, which is a great threat to all of humanity,” says Fiona Edwards, adding that “China is asking for peace; and what we need now is for all the resources of humanity to be deployed against real threats, not imaginary threats. The big threat is pandemics, climate change is a big threat. Poverty is another real threat. And this cold war is against the interests of all humanity.

NATO responsible for military spending

Ludo De Brabander, a Belgian peace activist from Vrede, adds that “NATO is responsible for military spending”. He recalls that when the US and NATO launched their campaign in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, the arms budget went through the roof. “The combined arms sales of the world’s 100 largest military services companies and arms producers (SIPRI Top 100) were 531 billion in 2020 compared to 300 billion in 2001.”

“NATO today accounts for more than half of global military spending, and that proportion will surely rise in the coming years, Russia’s military spending is 6%, of what NATO spends, only slightly higher than that of Germany or the UK, so the confrontational politics around Ukraine are driving NATO’s military budget even higher,” he points out.

The activist recalls that “the coup in Kiev and Russia’s annexation of Crimea were used by NATO to agree at the Wales Summit (2014) that NATO member states should spend 2% of GDP on their military apparatus. Twenty per cent of their military expenditure should henceforth be spent on the purchase of military equipment. Since then, NATO’s military budget has risen from $896 billion to $1,049 billion by the middle of last year, an increase of 15%”, and that “NATO’s war industry also dominates the global market. According to CIPRI, the three NATO member states, Germany, France and the US increased their share of the arms market to more than 50 per cent”.

“In recent years, NATO has increased tension with Russia and China whom it has called “systemic rivals” and this is how the war industry can make huge profits at the expense of real security and peace, and of human security and safety,” says the Belgian activist.

Adding that there is not only increased spending and militarisation of NATO member countries but real acts of provocation against countries that are declared enemies. In recent years, NATO aircraft and warships, including nuclear-capable submarines, have conducted military manoeuvres near the borders of China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, and even attempted to penetrate the borders of these countries.

Nuclear weapons

Ludo De Brabander notes that “Rising international tensions are also driving new investment in nuclear weapons arsenals. According to ICAN, the nuclear powers invested $72.9 billion in maintaining and upgrading their nuclear weapons. The US accounts for half of that and, with France and the UK included, 67 per cent of nuclear weapons investment is on behalf of NATO countries”.

For Britain’s Kate Hudson of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, “NATO is an alliance with nuclear weapons states. The US, France and the UK have an estimated 6,000 nuclear weapons in their nuclear arsenals.

“NATO has continuously reiterated its commitment to being a nuclear alliance. Most recently, at the heads of state summit in Brussels last year. In addition to these nuclear arsenals, there are some 150 thermonuclear gravity bombs in Europe. Basically, these are nuclear weapons that are released from aeroplanes. They are located in 5 countries: Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey. And, recently, the US announced that these weapons, under its nuclear umbrella, are going to be upgraded to be more usable,” Hudson points out.

However, there is strong opposition to the existence of nuclear weapons from European social movements and also from the governments of the states that host them.

“It is an issue that has been raised again recently under the new German government with some members of that government who have committed themselves to a nuclear-free Germany. Those weapons could be moved to Poland, which led to an immediate response from Lukashenko offering Russia to bring nuclear weapons into Belarus, which could potentially be an escalation,” says Kate Hudson, adding that “Russia has made a proposal that all nuclear weapons should be in the nuclear weapons state, which would mean removing US B 61 bombs from EU member states, and that is a long-standing demand of the Peace Movement.

The activist recalls from the Non-Proliferation Treaty that “articles 1 and 2 prohibit the transfer of nuclear weapons to states that are not nuclear powers. But US nuclear weapons are located in countries without a nuclear force, making their presence there illegal”.

Climate Crisis

Enrique Quintanilla, a Spaniard and member of Ecologists in Action, says that in “the climate crisis there is an enormous responsibility of NATO, there is no doubt; and if we add to this the responsibility of the rest of the armies, of the rest of the countries, the result reaches terrible proportions”.

“I have been reviewing incidents and incidences of military use and its influence on the climate, and in Spain, I give just two examples: the shooting range in the Bardenas Reales Natural Park is the largest in Western Europe, and the nuclear bombs that fell in Palomares in 1966 still have effects on the environment”.

The activist recommends reading the CentreDelas report “Climate Crisis, Armed Forces: Environmental Impact”; the TNI reports “The Dangers of Militarising the Climate Crisis” and “Climate Change SA”. In the latter report, “the authors meticulously document how armies and corporations, with the consensus of certain political groups, seek to make climate change a big business to profit from, while deepening the exclusion of the dispossessed, exposed to the worst consequences”.

Enrique Quintanilla, from Ecologistas en Acción, denounces NATO’s war machine and points out that “militarism is one of the relevant causes of global warming and the environmental damage that can be observed around the planet”, which is why “we have to demand the suspension of all kinds of troop deployments, all kinds of manoeuvres, exercises, parades and army activities that only serve to show their power, to spend money so that arms companies can continue to make so much profit”.

*Pablo Ruiz, is part of the Observatory for the Closure of the School of the Americas (SOAWatch).