As a number of you know, I am in Warsaw for a Counter-NATO Summit conference held yesterday and tomorrow, and for a demonstration later today. Yesterday’s conference, initiated by the No to NATO/No to War Network, on whose Steering Committee I serve, was attended by 150 people from 14 countries. The majority were obviously Poles, but there were a good number of Germans, as well as people from the U.S., Britain, Russia, France, Spain, the Czech Republic, Austria and Belgium.
I thought that some of you might appreciate some of the highlights, so they follow as “bullet” points, and I’ve attached several photos.
• Growing concern about NATO, led by the U.S., dangerously ratcheting up military tensions in Europe and not respecting the very real limits of Russian/Putin ambitions. (See my Common Dreams article’s section on Ukraine http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/07/05/imperial-nato-and-after-brexit.)
* NATO must be retired as soon as possible.
• Beginning with the Lisbon Treaty of 2009, the E.U. has been developing its own military. It is deeply integrated with NATO and provides the E.U. with the options of fighting as part of and in coordination with NATO or operating independently. Assuming that Britain follows through with its exit from the E.U., Germany will be left as not only the dominant economic power in Europe, but also as the dominant military power. In NATO Germany is “just a junior partner,” while in the E.U. it is dominant. There is often a division of labor with NATO doing its coercive thing, while the E.U. takes care of the civilian dimensions of an intervention or nation building.
• While U.S. and E.U. interests and policies are closely aligned, at points they diverge. For example, Germany has deep economic interests with Russia, while the U.S. has few, leading to less aggressive Germany policies toward Russia. Also, the U.S. and Russia are reportedly supporting the Kurds in Syria (they declared the regional autonomy of their part of Syria yesterday), while Germany is backing Turkey as it tolerates Turkey’s assault on Kurds in Turkey and Syria (largely owing to the deal to keep Syrian refugees from coming to Europe.) While the U.S. and E.U. collaborated in the Ukrainian Maidan coup, they backed different oligarchs, with the U.S. winning out and restructuring Ukrainian intelligence and its military along U.S. lines and to serve U.S. interests.
• I was especially moved by the talk by Ilya Budraiskis of the Russian Socialist Movement. He is a sharp and courageous critic of Putin’s government, but he is also clear that NATO and Russian militarism are dangerous and need to be opposed. The sanctions (both the U.S./E.U. sanction and Putin’s sanctions on food imports from Europe) have hurt the Russian people, with the former leading more people to support Putin. Sanctions should only be targeted against the persons of Putin & his cronies.
• Germany has “bought up” Central and Eastern Europe, though the U.S. is heavily present, both militarily and via financial institutions (many U.S. banks operating here.) A thoughtful Swede recalled that Sweden once conquered Poland and Ukraine and argued that Swedish banking interests in Ukraine played a major role in the 2014 Maidan coup. =
• Our U.S. movement would benefit from touring some of the best thinker/activists from Europe, so that we can more deeply appreciate the dangers and alternatives to rising U.S.-led militarism here.
• There is a Polish anti-militarist movement here, but with 200 years of nasty history with Russia it may reflect the thinking of perhaps 10% of the people here. The slogan on the banner that will lead our protest today says something like “We’ve suffered Russia and We Don’t Want Washington. No to NATO.” During the Cold War, Germany was the front line, now it is Poland, and one Polish speaker spoke of the importance of building a movement here equal to their Stop the War movement on the eve of the invasion of Iraq (in which Polish troops fought.) A poll released yesterday indicated that 20% of Poles oppose NATO, a number larger than expected. It’s likely due to opposition by younger people with no memory of the Soviet occupation and who have been disappointed by the low salaries that came with failed economic hopes raised by the E.U. (Poland is, indeed, a 2nd world nation!)
• Militarism in Europe is choking democratic culture and institutions, with Poland being a prime but not unique example. NATO and the E.U. military make decisions in secret and are not accountable to any democratic processes.
• U.S. demands that all members of NATO devote at least 2% of their GDP to their militaries is oppressive, especially in the context of the austerity budgets which have slashed essential social services and people’s incomes. SIPRI reports that U.S. military spending is 34% of the world’s total. Adding NATO gets to more than half. Russia’s spending is 4% of the world’s total, which says something about relative (not nuclear) power.
• The military-industrial complex and elites require enemies to prosper. Putin, while hardly loved by people here, is being demonized for this purpose.
• Some Eastern European and Baltic states joined NATO only because they thought it necessary to do so in order to gain E.U. membership.
• The refugee crisis, in both the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas is a profound concern. (One old acquaintance is just back from Lesbos, and he sang a song honoring the refugees and those helping them.) There is deep concern about the militarization of the NATO and EU responses. In a number of European countries, including Austria and Poland, border controls are becoming increasingly militarized, enforce by the military rather than civilian forces. There is also thinking that the U.S/NATO response also serves as a means to preposition aircraft carriers and other war-making resources, close to Syria and Russia. NATO is now also “assisting” Turkey in securing its border with Syria (which may actually be a way of disciplining Turkey which had served as the primary route for ISIS to welcome foreign fighters to Syria and much of ISIS’ weaponry.)
• The German Left Party (De Linke) forced a debate in the German Parliament on Thursday over whether NATO should be dissolved. It was apparently quite a passionate debate on all sides. The European Left is developing a resolution calling for the dissolution of NATO to be introduced into the parliaments of many European nations for debate in November. They don’t expect to win these debates but to open up the public discourse.
• The British Chilcot report, which is holding Tony Blair’s government accountable for lying and committing to the war in Iraq before all peaceful alternatives were exhausted is inspiring to people from across Europe. Jeremy Corbyn has been shown to have been correct in his opposition to the war and his criticism of Blair and his cronies. 100,000 people have joined the Labor Party since the Brexit vote in an effort to support Jeremy as he is being attacked by Blarites and other conservatives within the Labor Party’s parliamentary delegation.
• German Foreign Minister Steinmeyer was playing politics when he referred to the massive Anaconda military exercise in Central Europe and the Baltics as “warmongering.” (Reference was made to anaconda snakes strangling their prey – i.e. Russia.) Thinking was that he was playing to public concerns about the dangers of rising militarism, while supporting it, and that he may hope to succeed Angela Merkel.
• Ann Wright told us that her first assignment in the military was to NATO, and that she’s glad to be on this side of that line! The video of Rep. Barbara Lee addressing the conference, which I arranged, was deeply appreciated and inspired people at the conference. It was introduced with profound respect for her being the one member of Congress with the wisdom and courage to vote against the authorization of the disatrous Afghanistan War. Her remarks focused on the urgent need to prevent nuclear war and to move for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
Joseph Gerson, AFSC
|AFSC Peace & Economic Security Program