A short history of NATO

By John Catalinotto
July 16, 2018

2012 protests of NATO meeting in Chicago

Because a misogynist, xenophobic and openly racist enemy of humanity like the U.S. president criticized NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) at the July 11-12 Brussels Summit, someone might get the false impression that NATO is worth defending. Far from it.

Whatever Donald Trump’s long-term goal regarding NATO, assuming he has one, the alliance is an enemy of the world’s people and always has been.

A look at its members and its history shows why.

NATO consists of …

For most of its history, NATO has included all the major imperialist powers except Japan and Australia. Members have been the United States, France, Britain, Italy and Canada from 1949 on, and Germany since 1955, when it was West Germany. These six plus Japan make up the G7 countries that currently set economic rules for the world.

NATO also includes smaller countries that are long-standing members of the imperialist world — like Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark and tiny Iceland. Greece and Turkey are also in NATO.

The major NATO powers are imperialist countries because their corporate and financial ruling classes, mainly through their banks, control the bulk of the world’s wealth. The capital under their control is used to exploit labor and extract resources throughout the world.

Until World War II, Britain and France directly ruled vast parts of Africa and Asia in the form of colonies. Germany held colonies too, but fewer than those two powers. The Netherlands, Belgium and even tiny Denmark held colonies larger than the home countries.

The major NATO countries are now in possession of cutting-edge technologies, control mass media, manufacture powerful weapons and are the most heavily armed. They sell weapons to the world, but keep the most advanced weapons for themselves.

Through their control of the world market, currency exchanges and banking, and with their technological advantages, these seven countries now directly and indirectly oppress most of the world.

Of the G7 countries, the imperialist United States, with the largest single national economy and by far the greatest military power, is the most dangerous to humanity.

NATO’s role 1949-89

During the first half of the 20th century, these predatory states battled for markets, colonies and raw materials. In their rivalry, they launched two world wars that together killed 100 to 200 million people — mostly workers, peasants and other toilers.

After World War II ended, the class of plunderers and robbers ruling those countries saw that, while they had been fighting each other, a third of humanity had liberated itself from their grip.

The Russian Revolution, which ended World War I, also survived the onslaught of Nazi Germany. World War II ended in Europe with the Yugoslav and Albanian revolutions and the Soviet Red Army’s march to Berlin. By 1949, all China was liberated and half of Korea. The Vietnamese people were winning against the French.

There was revolutionary civil war in Greece. Colonial regimes were beginning to crumble around the world. The working class in France and Italy seemed on the edge of taking power in these countries where the communist parties had organized the workers’ armed resistance to fascism.

So in 1949, Washington, by far the dominant imperialist power then, founded NATO to prevent workers’ revolutions in war-ravaged Western Europe and to confront the Soviet Union and its allies in Eastern Europe. Only in 1955 did the Soviet Union establish the Warsaw Pact with its allies in Eastern Europe.

NATO’s reactionary role included planning a military coup in Greece in 1967 that lasted until 1974. It is suspected of participating in a 1968-82 “strategy of tension” in Italy, when clandestine rightist groupings in the Italian ruling class and state carried out terrorist attacks. In 1975, NATO sent warships to intervene in Portugal to prevent the working class there from opening a struggle for socialism, after a revolution ousted the fascist regime.

The U.S. president always chooses the NATO commander, and the general in charge is always from the Pentagon. Therefore, NATO has always been a tool of U.S. imperialist policy. It remains such, despite Trump’s complaints.

New NATO role: World capitalist cop

In 1990, during negotiations between the U.S. and Soviet leaders to end the Cold War, Washington promised not to move NATO eastward. NATO’s declared purpose up to that time was to “defend member nations from threats by communist countries.” This purpose was seemingly ending with the Soviet Union’s impending disintegration in 1991 and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact.

But since 1991, far from dissolving NATO, Washington has insisted that the military pact expand, while remaining under U.S. command.

U.S. policy turned NATO into a type of imperialist police force. No longer confined to Europe, NATO has become a worldwide intervention force at the service of the transnational monopolies that exploit global labor and resources.

Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined NATO in April 1999. This expansion coincided with the U.S.-NATO air war in the Balkans that destroyed the sovereign and multinational country of Yugoslavia.

The imperialists still lie about the reasons for the war on Yugoslavia, claiming it was to defend Kosovo, a majority-Muslim area. In his book, “Waging Modern Warfare,” 1999 NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark admitted that the Kosovo war was “coercive diplomacy … much more like the interventions of an earlier era” — that is, before World War II, at a time when imperialist powers openly occupied colonies and protectorates. (p. 418)

The former Yugoslavia — once a state representing about 20 million Balkan peoples — was broken into seven ministates that are easy picking for West European and U.S. imperialism.

Other U.S.-led NATO military interventions followed. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in Central Asia starting in 2001, using the pretext of the 9/11 attack and invoking Article 5 of the NATO charter calling for collective defense. The occupation continues with NATO aid.

In 2011, with the flimsiest of pretexts, NATO attacked and destroyed Libya. That same year NATO countries also sabotaged and subverted the Damascus government in Syria.

The destruction that these interventions brought about have horribly exacerbated the refugee crisis that continues today.

France and Germany balked at joining the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq in 2003 because their governments believed it a dangerous and foolish endeavor. For that reason, NATO didn’t begin that disaster. Later, however, many NATO states aided the occupation of Iraq, even though it was an open secret that the U.S. pretext for war — the claim of Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” — was a lie.

NATO’s latest expansion

Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia were admitted to NATO in 2004. Albania and Croatia acceded to the alliance in 2009. There are now 29 members, plus other countries like Sweden that have a special relation with NATO.

NATO apologists claim the alliance defends freedom and human rights. On the contrary, NATO’s role is now to reconquer those areas of the world that had gained some independence from imperialism during the existence of the Soviet Union.

To confront the onslaught of U.S. imperialism, it is necessary to say both “Down with Trump!” and, equally, “No to NATO!”

Catalinotto, Co-Director of the International Action Center, co-edited the book “Hidden Agenda: U.S./NATO Takeover of Yugoslavia,” New York: International Action Center, 2001.