Why protest NATO?

“The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is not a benevolent organization. NATO is not about the North Atlantic and it’s not about our collective defense.

NATO is a cost-sharing organization that finances aggressive military action. By hiding behind the claim that the organization provides for “common defense,” NATO allows us to wage wars of choice under the guise of international peacekeeping. The most recent example was the unconstitutional war in Libya where NATO, operating under a United Nations mandate to protect civilians, instead backed one side in a civil war and pursued a policy of regime change.”

                                                                                                                                         —Former U.S. congressman, Dennis Kucinich

“What do you call it when the full force of a US/NATO aerial bombardment is coupled with political support for a ragtag rebel group that, when victorious, promises to hand over its oil resources to its Western backers? A war for oil.

Don’t believe for one moment that the US backing for Libya’s opposition was about freedom.”  

—Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation

“When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you’re a military alliance, every problem looks like it requires a military solution. NATO is a giant, big hammer. The problem is: Afghanistan is not a nail; Libya is not a nail. These are political problems that need to be dealt with politically. And by empowering . . . a military alliance, NATO is really serving to undermine the goal of the United Nations Charter, which speaks of the importance of regional organizations, in political terms, for nonviolent resolution of disputes, not to put such a primacy and privilege on military regional institutions that really reflect the most powerful parts of the world.”

Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies

NATO’s 25th summit meeting, its largest to date, took place on May 20-21, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The official purpose of the meeting was to discuss the future of Afghanistan and plans to end the war, but according to former congressman Kucinich, they met to discuss how to finance the next phase of the occupation.

Outside, thousands protested. The “official” count was 2,000, but a Guardian reporter estimated the crowd was closer to 5,000. Protest organizers said 10,000. So, why were they protesting NATO, and its so-called “humanitarian missions?”

A little history of NATO, from a progressive perspective

In 1949, European nations and the United States formed The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to counteract and contain the political, economic and military aspirations of the Soviet Union. It was created to defend the North Atlantic countries from Soviet invasion, to protect the growth of capitalism in reconstructed Europe, and to serve the interests of Western corporations and governments. Under the Marshall Plan, and then under NATO, European countries shifted their energy use from coal to oil at a time when the United States was the leading oil producer in the world thus greatly boosting U.S. power and influence as well as the fortunes of U.S. oil companies.

After the Cold War ended, and the Soviet Union—the original threat for the North Atlantic countries—dissolved, the U.S. rebranded NATO and extended its mandate to regions far and wide. It became the “military hammer” for corporations, and U.S. and western nations, to have their way under the guise of conducting “humanitarian missions” to solve various “global conflicts.” Because powerful interests determine its agendas, NATO has been a force for spreading discord and violence rather than making the world safe for its member nations and others around the world. Often operating outside of UN approval, it has morphed into a powerful rogue organization that can always be counted on to say one thing and do another.

As natoprotest.org aptly points out, from its inception NATO was never intended to represent the interests of the people of its member nations. Although it always claims humanitarian motivation, it  was never intended to protect and defend the people in the countries it bombs and occupies. They end up as collateral damage in the never-ending pursuit of oil, markets, and whatever the “interests” of the United States and its allies may be at the moment. Today, NATO has grown to include 28 member nations.

The “humanitarian mission” of NATO in Yugoslavia

Award-winning Australian journalist John Pilger, writing in 2008, gives a different story of the NATO mission in Kosovo than we saw and heard about in corporate media. In 1999, NATO forces, under the direction of the United States, spent 78 days bombing Serbia and Kosovo, killing hundreds of people in hospitals, schools, churches, parks and television studios as well as destroying economic infrastructure. The justification for the NATO bombing was that the Serbs were committing “genocide” against ethnic Albanians in the secessionist province of Kosovo. David Scheffer, U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes, spread war propaganda that that upwards of 225,000 ethnic Albanian men may have been murdered. UK’s Tony Blair chimed in with alarmist rhetoric comparing what was happening in Kosovo to the Holocaust in the Second World War.

After the NATO bombing ended, international teams went into Kosovo to find evidence of the so-called genocide. The FBI and a Spanish forensic team, failed to find a single mass grave . A year later, a war tribunal funded by the United States announced the final count of the dead in Kosovo to be 2,788, which included combatants on both sides. As Pilger reports, “There was no genocide in Kosovo. The “holocaust” was a lie. The NATO attack had been fraudulent.”

Soon after the humanitarian bombs stopped raining down on Serbia and Kosovo, construction began on a massive US military base, Camp Bondsteel, which is located in an area of great geopolitical interest to Washington D.C. Constructed by Halliburton subsidiary KBR, It has been described by Alvaro Gil-Robles, the human rights envoy of the Council of Europe, as a “smaller version of Guantanamo.” With more than 7,000 troops,Camp Bondsteel is one of the largest U.S. overseas military bases in the world.

Lenora Foerstel writing at Global Research in 2008:

The main purpose for the Bondsteel military base is to provide security for the construction of the Albanian-Macedonian-Bulgarian oil pipeline (AMBO). The AMBO trans-Balkan pipeline will link up with the corridors between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea basin, which holds close to 50 billion barrels of oil.

A few months prior to the “humanitarian bombings” in Yugoslavia, Clinton Energy Secretary Bill Richardson spelled out the US policy of “protecting the pipeline routes” out of the Caspian Sea basin and across the Balkans:

This is about America’s energy security . . . It’s also about preventing strategic inroads by those who don’t share our values. We’re trying to move these newly independent countries toward the west . . . We would like to see them reliant on western commercial and political interests rather than going another way. We’ve made a substantial political investment in the Caspian, and it’s very important to us that both the pipeline map and the politics come out right.

On to Afghanistan and Iraq

natoprotest.org reports that NATO’s Afghanistan war is the longest in U.S. history, and 2011 was the deadliest year in the Afghanistan war since the U.S. began its invasion and occupation—under the banner of NATO—in 2001. The United States has successfully installed its puppet, Hamid Karzai, to look after its interests in the region. According to Voices for Creative Nonviolence, every day in Afghanistan, 450 people are displaced and 250 children die due to malnutrition. The U.S. is not leaving Afghanistan any time soon. In April 2012, the U.S. and Afghanistan announced a new “strategic partnership agreement” through at least 2024.

On May 23, of 2012, India and Pakistan signed a long-awaited natural gas deal with the Central Asian state of Turkmenistan, paving the way for the construction of a multi-billion dollar pipeline through Afghanistan. So, no, we are not there to fight terrorists, the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Yugoslavia set up the “humanitarian” playbook for Iraq. Slobodan Milošević and his practice of genocide (which turned out not to exist) morphed into Saddam Hussein and his practice of genocide (some of which did exist). When the WMD and al-Qaeda propaganda failed, the bombing of Iraq was presented as a humanitarian mission—to free the grateful people of Iraq from an evil dictator who killed his own people. NATO countries formed the “coalition of the willing, and dutifully lined up to do the bidding of the United States and its best friend, the United Kingdom. Now, in 2012, even the most uninformed American knows we went into Iraq for oil and greater control of the Middle East, not to save the people of Iraq from Saddam Hussein. When he was useful, the United States had a cordial relationship with dictator Hussein. When our interests changed, we took him out.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. has its fashionably dressed puppet Hamid Karzai; and in Iraq, it has its newly minted dictator, Nouri al-Maliki:

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has demonstrated an increasingly authoritarian rule as he consolidates power over the country’s institutions and security forces. He has marginalized his political opponents through force and coercion, which has stoked sectarian tensions and even threatened a break-up of the nation.


The official line is that NATO is an international peacekeeping organization that shares the cost of defense when needed. But in reality its purpose is to intervene militarily in those situations where it can benefit the interests of big money and the Western governments it owns—primarily the U.S. government. For example, as Dennis Kucinich points out, the official story about the invasion of Libya is that that NATO intervened to protect the Libyan people from Muammar Gaddafi, but its real mission was to support regime change to allow multinational oil companies free access to Libya’s vast reserves of high-grade sweet crude.

Some of the so-called “rebels,” who were backed by the United States government and the CIA, were Islamist extremists who had known ties to al-Qaeda, They are now gutting human rights in Libya including the rights of women. The United States and NATO pay lip service to human rights to provide cover for the real reasons for invading another country—access to oil, markets, or other strategic resources. They are fine with Islamist extremists (or ruthless dictators) if they can co-opt and control them for their own purposes—witness what is happening right now with U.S relations with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. No matter what is says publically, the United States is adamantly opposed to free, independent democracies forming in the Arab world outside of its control.

The average citizen in the U.S. believes the mythology that the United States is a force for good in the world—a beacon of democracy and a supporter of individual freedom, civil rights, and human dignity. But any sixth grader who spends a few minutes on Google can discover that the U.S. and NATO have a long and sordid history of supporting brutal regimes that have appalling human rights records. Some of the best “friends” of the United States have been Zine El Abidine Ben Ali,
President-Prime Minister/Dictator of Tunisia 1987-2011; Hosni Mubarak
President/Dictator of Egypt 1981-2011; Mohamed Suharto, 
Dictator of Indonesia 1966-1998; and, Augusto Pinochet;
Dictator of Chile 1973-1990. The list is long and shameful; these are just some of the greatest hits.


Supposedly, NATO was on a “humanitarian mission” to protect the people of Libya when it bombed it last year. But, it doesn’t seem to care about the current US drone attacks in Yemen designed to support one of the region’s most ruthless dictatorships. NATO is equally indifferent about supporting the people of Bahrain who are resisting a brutal, U.S. backed dictatorship in that country.

The official reason for the U.S involvement in Yemen is to stamp out al-Qaeda and other terrorists in the region, but the real U.S. interest in having a ruthless dictator/puppet in Yemen is its proximity to shipping lanes leading to the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.

Those who resist U.S./NATO backed regimes are often labeled ‘terrorists,” as if they woke up one morning with the sole purpose in life to attack the United States or other NATO countries. The fact that they are protesting poverty, the lack of basic human rights, the U.S. support of repressive regimes in their own countries, and the inability to determine their own destiny is ignored.

As with the previous dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, there is substantial opposition in Yemen to the newly elected, U.S. backed, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, long-time Vice President of Saleh. Saleh was forced to step down last year because of a populist uprising against his brutal regime. Hadi became President through a U.S. rigged “election” in which he was the only candidate on the ballot. Absurdly, Hillary Clinton congratulated Yemen on its successful presidential election. The Obama administration has been supporting Hadi with large infusions of money and military assistance. Libya and Yemen provide instructive examples of how NATO’s interventions are highly selective, and despite the official rhetoric, have little or nothing to do with defense or protecting human rights.

NATO is also in the forefront of the privatization of the military, so tax dollars that go to support NATO end up in the pockets of a growing number of private military contractors. The 1% at home are invested in profiting off this lucrative, permanent war economy at the expense of funding vital human needs, like unemployment compensation, education, mortgage relief, Social Security and healthcare. Taxpayer funded support for NATO translates into a gravy train for defense contractors.

The Chicago protests, 2012

The recent Chicago protests against NATO are protests against the vast U.S. military industrial-security complex, of which NATO is a significant part. So much of what the United States, NATO, and the CIA are doing in the world is done without the knowledge of U.S. citizens who are left footing the bill for trillions of dollars of adventurous wars and dubious interventions on behalf of corporate interests. Those trillions could and should be directed toward social and economic needs at home and be used for promoting peace in the world.

The National Security/Defense complex is a vast money making machine and doesn’t have much to do with “keeping Americans safe.” If anything, our aggression and insistence on global dominance are making us extremely vulnerable in every way. The most morally repugnant aspect of the U.S./NATO partnership is that it is a killing machine, destroying the lives of innocent men, women and children around the world, as well as the members of our military.

 Photograph: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP