May 14, 2012
NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is holding a "heads of state" summit in Chicago on May 20 and 21. About 50 countries that are members of and allied with NATO are sending their political leadership to this summit.
NATO presents itself, and is portrayed in the major media of this country and countries it is allied with, as a force for "humanitarian interests." On its website, NATO claims to be a "leading contributor to peace and security on the international stage." This benign self image is a vicious lie and masquerade that influences the thinking of far too many people in the U.S. and around the world.
In reality, NATO is the world’s largest military alliance. Its 28 countries account for 65% of the world’s military spending, and far and away the largest of these is the United States. NATO exists to use the most advanced weaponry in the world in service of the interests of the big capitalist-imperialist powers of North America and Europe, above all the U.S. Most of this weaponry, especially in recent years, has been used not against similarly equipped opponents, but against defenseless civilian populations who they characterize as "terrorists."
In the 60 years of its existence, the year 2011 was, as an article in Foreign Policy put it, NATO’s "busiest year ever for military operations." ("This Week at War: What Is NATO Good For?" February 3, 2012) NATO maintained an occupation force of over 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, and what it calls a "stabilization force" in Bosnia, in the Balkan region of Eastern Europe. It launched a seven-month air war to topple Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. In Libya, estimates of the civilian death toll from all fighting during the NATO campaign range from 13,000 to 17,000, with 50,000 wounded; civilians killed in the fighting in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2011 total almost 13,000. Countless people have been displaced, wounded, and dispossessed of everything they owned.
NATO’s "peacekeeping" is aimed at maintaining a world of Western imperialist—especially U.S. imperialist—domination over the people of the world, and sustaining overwhelming firepower advantage over any current or potential opponent. The fundamental purpose of NATO’s so-called "humanitarianism" is to devote massive weaponry to protect, defend, and extend a system that inflicts great suffering on the vast majority of humanity and enriches a handful—this is the "world order" of capitalism-imperialism.
Example #1: Afghanistan
NATO claims that the purpose of its mission in Afghanistan is "to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a haven for terrorists, to help provide security, and to contribute to a better future for the Afghan people." But in fact, the nine years of the U.S.-NATO war in Afghanistan has inflicted horrific suffering on the people of that country.
NATO bombing attacks have obliterated wedding parties, farming villages, people walking to visit neighbors or relatives. NATO night raids have left children dead, families torn apart, homes and farms in ruins. The incidents have gone on for almost a decade and have a grim repetitiveness. One of the most infamous was in November 2008, in the village of Wech Baghtu—a wedding party was bombed by U.S.-led NATO planes and at least 37 civilians were murdered. On August 6, 2011, NATO forces, in a firefight with forces they claim were Taliban members, called in a NATO air strike—the bombing destroyed a house and killed all eight family members inside.
Radio Free Europe described one of those murderous assaults, and the NATO response: "The U.S.-led NATO force in Afghanistan says it regrets that eight young Afghan males were killed in a NATO air strike in the northeastern province of Kapisa on February 8. British Air Commodore Mike Wigston, a NATO spokesman, told a news conference on February 15 that the eight appeared to be carrying arms, according to Afghan and French troops who were operating in the area. NATO investigators are examining photographs of the bodies to estimate their ages, and the NATO spokesman said they appeared to be close to 15 years old, with one older. Local officials have said they believe the boys were 6 to 14 years old."
Another example, from February this year: According to Reuters, "'Eight young Afghans lost their lives as the result of an air strike by coalition forces,’ General Lewis Boone, communications director of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) coalition, told reporters. The victims appeared to be carrying weapons and were walking in a menacing manner, prompting ISAF forces in the area to request air support, he said. 'The aircraft dropped two bombs on the group that we believed to be an imminent threat to our people ... in the end, eight young Afghans lost their lives in this very sad event.’"
On May 7, the Washington Post reported that "NATO airstrikes killed Afghan civilians in two provinces … and the U.S.-led coalition said it plans an apology in one of the incidents. An airstrike Friday killed six members of a family in the Sangin area of southern Helmand province, according to the provincial spokesman."
Some people argue that it’s a good thing when the U.S. builds "coalitions" to carry out aggression, rather than "going it alone." Barack Obama has promoted this view, and claims it is one of the things that makes him different from his predecessor, George W. Bush. When Obama ran for president, he promised a "new dawn of American leadership" that would "combine military power with strengthened diplomacy … and build and forge stronger alliances around the world so that we’re not carrying the burdens and challenges by ourselves."
Anyone who swallows and accepts this view—who thinks that somehow war crimes on such a vast scale are less vicious and hateful if they are carried out by U.S.-led "coalition forces" and not the U.S. alone—needs to ask themselves: is it somehow less horrible for the people of Afghanistan to be torn to shreds by bombing raids under the banner of NATO—by a coalition dominated and led by the United States—than just under the American flag? Is it somehow not as deadly and criminal if "coalition forces" kick in the doors of people’s homes at three in the morning and destroy everyone inside?
These are war crimes of enormous magnitude. The "humanitarian missions" of NATO are monstrous deceit used to cover crimes that are among the worst atrocities afflicted on humanity by the system of capitalism-imperialism.
And anyone who thinks that the U.S. and its NATO allies are withdrawing from Afghanistan needs to discard such illusions and look at the facts. President Obama recently made a highly publicized midnight run to Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, and claimed U.S. combat forces would "withdraw" from Afghanistan by 2014. In fact, the "Strategic Partnership Agreement" signed by Obama and Afghan President Karzai guarantees that a U.S. force of 20,000 to 30,000 will remain in Afghanistan until 2024. It also contained a "Memorandum of Understanding" that will, in the words of journalist Gareth Porter, "allow powerful U.S. Special Operations Forces to continue to carry out the unilateral [one-sided] night raids on private homes that are universally hated in the Pashtun zones of Afghanistan."
Example #2: Libya
In February 2011, uprisings in Libya marked the beginning of growing protest where different and contradictory forces, with different viewpoints, rose up in cities throughout the country against the repressive regime of Muammar Qaddafi. But imperialist forces were very likely involved in this from very early on, who later came to play the dominant role when the massive bombings started; and the situation then got transformed from a more or less spontaneous uprising to basically, a NATO attack on Libya that ended up with the overthrow of the Qaddafi government.
In March 2011, NATO began a seven-month bombing campaign to topple the government of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. Just one Libyan city, Sirte, endured what British journalist Seumas Milne described as "two months of indiscriminate bombing" that resulted in hundreds of deaths. He also wrote that "what is now known … is that while the death toll in Libya when NATO intervened was perhaps around 1,000-2,000 (judging by UN estimates), eight months later it is probably more than ten times that figure. Estimates of the numbers of dead over the last eight months—as NATO leaders vetoed ceasefires and negotiations—range from 10,000 up to 50,000. Of those, uncounted thousands will be civilians, including those killed by NATO bombing and NATO-backed forces on the ground."
One of the most horrific and callous incidents involved a boat of refugees trying to flee Libya across the Mediterranean on what became known as the "left to die" boat. The Mediterranean Sea is one of the most closely surveilled bodies of water on earth. In the seven months of NATO’s onslaught on Libya it was teeming with military vessels, and the skies were constantly scoured by NATO war planes.
As reported by an investigative committee from the University of London, "72 migrants fleeing Tripoli in the early morning of March 27, 2011 ran out of fuel and were left to drift for 14 days until they landed back on the Libyan coast. With no food or water on board, only nine of the migrants survived. In several interviews, these survivors recounted the various points of contact they had with the outside world during this ordeal. This included describing the aircraft that flew over them, the distress call they sent out via satellite telephone, and their visual sighting of a military helicopter which provided a few packets of biscuits and bottles of water, and a military ship which failed to provide any assistance whatsoever. The events, as recounted by these survivors, appeared to constitute a severe violation of the legal obligation to provide assistance to any person in distress at sea, an obligation sanctioned by several international conventions."
War Criminals Summit—a Time for Resistance
These two examples are not aberrations. In the late 1990s, as upheaval raged through the Balkan region of Eastern Europe, NATO undertook what it says was its "first humanitarian war." On June 7, 2000, Amnesty International issued a blistering report criticizing NATO human rights violations and war crimes in Serbia, and cited estimates of up to 1,500 civilians killed in NATO attacks. Journalist Patrick Cockburn described the initial results of NATO’s "humanitarianism": "NATO has owned up to bombing raids and missile attacks that have killed 460 civilians, according to a tally by Agence France-Presse. By all accounts, the bombing was indiscriminate, killing farmers, suburbanites, city dwellers, factory workers, reporters, diplomats, people in cars, busses and trains, hospital patients, the elderly and children. Indeed, by our count, NATO bombing raids have killed more than 200 children. Hundreds more will almost certainly perish in the coming months."
The U.S., and regimes allied with it in NATO, do not build their armed forces, develop vast arsenals of modern high-tech weaponry including nuclear weapons, and deploy these forces and weapons throughout the world to carry out humanitarian missions and "spread democracy." They do it to enforce the interests of empire: to impose and sustain vast inequalities and injustices that confine the vast majority of humanity to lives of degradation, brutality, and endless poverty, for the benefit of a small number of people in the imperialist citadels.
The NATO summit in Chicago is a gathering of criminals and gangsters who have perpetrated atrocities that would put that city’s legendary gangsters—or any other gangsters—to shame. They will adopt U.S.-initiated proposals for military development aimed at expanding and consolidating their domination of as much of the world as possible under the leadership of the head criminal, the U.S.
Whatever words of "humanitarian intervention" they speak, they have a plan and program for extending world domination under the brutal grip—and the murderous gun—of U.S. imperialism and its partners in crime. Whether the U.S. "goes it alone" or directs its allies and fellow imperialist gangsters to get in on the act in no way affects the fundamental character of this enterprise. It is aimed at, and against the interests of, people across the entire world. It must be rejected, opposed, and resisted by the people of the world, and in particular the people of this country.
Because of the murderous role NATO plays around the world, people from throughout the country, and from countries under the NATO gun, are coming to protest this summit. As World Can’t Wait, one of the main organizations calling for and organizing this protest, said, "Visible Protest Needed! The U.S.-led NATO military machine is carrying out illegitimate, unjust, and immoral wars on three countries. When we visibly protest in Chicago at the NATO meeting, we will show the world that people here do not accept the crimes carried out in our names by the principal NATO countries. International media must see thousands of us demanding that our governments stop committing these war crimes. Humanity and the planet come first."