Should NATO Be Handling World Security? Peace Action board member Larry Wittner on Huffington Post

May 26, 2012

So, I was planning to write a post-NATO Summit op-ed (and we may well have more reports, photos, etc. on our terrific work in Chicago soon) but hadn’t gotten around to it. Which is just as well, because Peace Action board member Larry Wittner published this very comprehensive yet concise piece about NATO on Huffington Post. Here it is:

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (better known as NATO) is in the news once again thanks to a NATO Summit meeting in Chicago over the weekend of May 19-20 and to large public demonstrations in Chicago against this military pact.

NATO’s website defines the alliance’s mission as “Peace and Security,” and shows two children lying in the grass, accompanied by a bird, a flower and the happy twittering of birds. There is no mention of the fact that NATO is the world’s most powerful military pact, or that NATO nations account for 70 percent of the world’s annual $1.74 trillion in military spending.

The organizers of the demonstrations, put together by peace and social justice groups, assailed NATO for bogging the world down in endless war and for diverting vast resources to militarism.According to a spokesperson for one of the protest groups, Peace Action: “It’s time to retire NATO and form a new alliance to address unemployment, hunger, and climate change.”

NATO was launched in April 1949, at a time when Western leaders feared that the Soviet Union, if left unchecked, would invade Western Europe. The U.S. government played a key role in organizing the alliance, which brought in not only West European nations, but the United States and Canada. Dominated by the United States, NATO had a purely defensive mission — to safeguard its members from military attack, presumably by the Soviet Union.

That attack never occurred, either because it was deterred by NATO’s existence or because the Soviet government had no intention of attacking in the first place. We shall probably never know.

In any case, with the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of the Soviet Union, it seemed that NATO had outlived its usefulness.

But vast military establishments, like other bureaucracies, rarely just fade away. If the original mission no longer exists, new missions can be found. And so NATO’s military might was subsequently employed to bomb Yugoslavia, to conduct counter-insurgency warfare in Afghanistan, and to bomb Libya. Meanwhile, NATO expanded its membership and military facilities to East European nations right along Russia’s border, thus creating renewed tension with that major military power and providing it with an incentive to organize a countervailing military pact, perhaps with China.

None of this seems likely to end soon. In the days preceding the Chicago meeting, NATO’s new, sweeping role was highlighted by Oana Lungescu, a NATO spokesperson, who announced that the Summit would “discuss the Alliance’s overall posture in deterring and defending against the full range of threats in the 21st century, and take stock of NATO’s mix of conventional, nuclear, and missile defense forces.”

In fairness to NATO planners, it should be noted that, when it comes to global matters, they are operating in a relative vacuum. There are real international security problems, and some entity should certainly be addressing them.

But is NATO the proper entity? After all, NATO is a military pact, dominated by the United States and composed of a relatively small group of self-selecting European and North American nations. The vast majority of the world’s countries do not belong to NATO and have no influence upon it. Who appointed NATO as the representative of the world’s people? Why should the public in India, in Brazil, in China, in South Africa, in Argentina, or most other nations identify with the decisions of NATO’s military commanders?

The organization that does represent the nations and people of the world is the United Nations. Designed to save the planet from “the scourge of war,” the United Nations has a Security Council (on which the United States has permanent membership) that is supposed to handle world security issues. Unlike NATO, whose decisions are often controversial and sometimes questionable, the United Nations almost invariably comes forward with decisions that have broad international support and, furthermore, show considerable wisdom and military restraint.

The problem with UN decisions is not that they are bad ones, but that they are difficult to enforce. And the major reason for the difficulty in enforcement is that the Security Council is hamstrung by a veto that can be exercised by any one nation. Thus, much like the filibuster in the U.S. Senate, which is making the United States less and less governable, the Security Council veto has seriously limited what the world organization is able to do in addressing global security issues.

Thus, if the leaders of NATO nations were really serious about providing children with a world in which they could play in peace among the birds and flowers, they would work to strengthen the United Nations and stop devoting vast resources to questionable wars.

Lawrence Wittner is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is “Working for Peace and Justice: Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual” (University of Tennessee Press).

The Greek Tragedy

May 24, 2012

by Peter Deccy

Much has been reported about the decline of the Greek economy. Some Republicans have enjoyed using the tragedy to warn the same fate awaits the US unless it cuts its social spending, often implying the social safety net in Greece supports a lazy society that prefers drinking on the beach and handouts to hard work and productivity.

Nice try. What’s been missing in mainstream media coverage is the fact that Greece is the 3rd largest importer of weapons in the world. That’s right, China, India, Greece.

Greece is largest importer of weapons among the NATO allies. While NATO countries spend an average of 1.7% of their GDP on ‘defense’, Greece has been spending 4%. That’s roughly $1,500 per person.
It has a standing army of 156,000 men, more than the UK which has 6 times the population of Greece. Military service of nine months is compulsory.

And who is selling them the weapons? No, it’s not the world largest weapons trafficker (the US) this time. It’s France and Germany, the belt tighteners who have been pressing Greece to accept a bread and water diet to solve their financial crisis.

Of course, you need a threat of cosmic proportions to justify runaway military spending. For Greece, that’s Turkey. But wait, isn’t Turkey Greece’s NATO ally? Yes, they are, but don’t look behind the curtain. The extreme right in Greece has long used the dispute over Cyprus to justify their militarism. That sounds vaguely familiar.

So the Republican’s have it half right, which is twice their average score. If we don’t watch out we’ll end up in the same mess Greece is in. But it won’t be because we’re taking too good care of our people. It will be because of our addiction to militarism.

New York Times LTE re NATO and the pro-peace majority

May 20, 2012

Generally speaking the pro-peace events in Chicago surrounding the NATO war summit have been very good, and we’ve been getting superb media coverage. Photos, reports etc to come soon.  Here’s my letter to the editor in yesterday’s New York Times (I believe it was only online, not in the “hard copy” of the paper).

To the Editor:

While you paint a fair portrait of the NATO summit meeting in Chicago this weekend, you miss a key point. The “protesters” descending on the city represent the solid pro-peace constituency in the country. Every recent poll shows a large bipartisan majority supporting a rapid end to the American-NATO war in Afghanistan, and a recent University of Maryland poll showed overwhelming support for big cuts in military spending.

The focus on security for the visiting heads of state at the summit meeting are legitimate, and the resulting inconveniences to city residents inevitable. Conjectures about possible violence by demonstrators, however, are overblown.

Our first concern must be the real, not speculative, violence facing the people of Afghanistan in this war. According to the United Nations, last year was the worst year for civilian deaths in Afghanistan, with more than 3,000 killed.

As a former Chicagoan, back in town for various pro-peace NATO events, I agree with Garry McCarthy, the police superintendent, that the city can handle large demonstrations and that the next few days will be “exciting,” as democracy should be.

Executive Director, Peace Action
Chicago, May 17, 2012

Peace Action and NATO are in Chicago

May 17, 2012


By Judith Le Blanc

Peace Action and 38 groups and over 200 activists are meeting in Chicago at the Counter-Summit for Peace and Economic Justice while NATO meets to prepare for more war.

And the whole town is talking about NATO and those who believe it is time to retire that outdated military alliance. Read Chicago Area Peace Action’s opinion piece in the May 16 Chicago Tribune.

Yes, we are one of the voices  included in the mainstream media. Why? Because we are voicing the majority opinion: the US-NATO war in Afghanistan needs to end because the costs are too much to bear.

The people of the US and every NATO country are bearing the costs of this outdated military alliance. It’s time to retire NATO and form a new alliance to address unemployment, hunger and climate change.

NATO summit will be in the national news for the next 5 days. If you are not in Chicago, you can still be a part of the public education on why and how we can have a future without NATO and its wars.

With your help, we are launching a 5 day drive to write letters to the editor to take the message of the true costs of the war in Afghanistan and military spending into as many newspapers and online publications as possible.

Below is a sample letter to the editor.

Use the Frequently Asked Questions for facts you can use.

Read some of the media coverage of the Counter-Summit.

You can watch the live stream of the Counter-Summit plenary sessions on line, starting Friday and Saturday, May 18-19. Check the Network for a NATO Free Future for the Live Stream and times. 


Dear Editor,

As the NATO Summit in Chicago draws near, President Barack Obama should take a good look at what poll after recent poll has stated clearly: Public opinion in this country wants United States and NATO troops home from Afghanistan, sooner rather than later.

With our country still trying to dig out of the economic crisis and local services being cut, most people feel that we need to stop spending money on war and fund [INSERT SERVICES THAT ARE BEING CUT IN YOUR COMMUNITY] instead.

The trillions being spent on war would go a long way to restore [INSERT SERVICES BEING CUT].  In [INSERT YOUR CITY, STATE OR COUNTY] alone, tax payers will [GO TO AND RESEARCH HOW MUCH YOUR COUNTY HAS SPENT ON THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN]

NATO should be retired, not re-purposed. Its Cold War-era ration­ale has ended, and we shouldn’t continue to funnel human and economic resources toward a military alliance that has outlived its purpose.

President Obama, the pro-peace majority in this county wants to take a different path.

Which Side Are You On?

May 17, 2012

by Peter Deccy

Yesterday’s New York Times had a troubling story of a 52 minute battle between a company of US troops and two Afghan soldiers who had lived and fought alongside the Americans. The account made clear these were two extremely well trained Afghan soldiers. Two Americans and the two Afghan soldiers were killed in yet another so-called ‘green on blue’ attack.

This year, 22 US, NATO and other coalition troops have been killed by men in Afghan uniform.

It’s worth noting that contrary to the common myth that these attacks are conducted by Taliban infiltrators, it appears that many of the attacks are actually caused by the intense and growing hatred many Afghan soldiers have for the foreign occupation of their country.

It’s a reminder how post traumatic stress inflicts the people of Afghanistan, a country that has endured over 30 years of war, to a far larger degree than we are perhaps aware. At what point is the cost of unending US and NATO military operations too high?

It also begs the question, will the insurgency ever end as long as foreign troops occupy Afghanistan? What have the best efforts and tremendous sacrifices made by our troops, and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent, actually accomplished in the longest war in America’s history?

“I think we’d both say that what we found is that the Taliban is stronger,” Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein told CNN having just returned from a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan with Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan.

The insurgency grows stronger, along with the ill-will and mistrust of our Afghan allies, fueled by images of US military personnel urinating on dead Taliban fighters, the murder of 16 Afghan civilians by a US soldier and Koran burnings.

The US and NATO strategy in Afghanistan is failing, and will continue to fail, as long as foreign troops occupy the country. How can the Obama administration justify keeping 20,000 to 30,000 troops in Afghanistan for another 12 years while many of our allies are preparing an earlier than planned exit?

At the NATO summit in Chicago, Peace Action and our allies in the peace and justice movement will press the question and demand our troops return home.

Should NATO disappear?

May 16, 2012

Well let’s make it go poof! Join the NATO Counter Summit this Friday and Saturday in Chicago!

Here’s an excellent op-ed by Chicago Area Peace Action’s Michael Lynn and Roxane Assaf in today’s Chicago Tribune.

NATO’s Hard Sell at the Summit

By Michael Lynn

May 16, 2012

In 1949, shortly after the Soviet Union exploded its first nuclear weapon, the United States and 11 WesternEuropean nations formed NATO. The organization’s original goals were the deterrence of Soviet aggression against the war-ravaged nations of Western Europe and containing Soviet influence within the boundaries of its already existing Eastern bloc.

Now, more than six decades later, as the 28-country alliance gathers in Chicago for its summit, the Afghan war and U.S. military spending in general are due for some increased scrutiny. President Barack Obama‘s recently announced joint agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai calls into serious question Obama’s intention to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan by 2014 and the administration’s promise to be the most transparent in American history — ironic, since the proposed agreement bypasses Congress entirely.

If there is no accountability to Congress, the will of the American people is being ignored. A recent New York Times poll shows that nearly 7 out of 10 Americans (69 percent) believe the U.S. should not be at war in Afghanistan. Opposition to the war cuts across ideological divides, with 68 percent of Democrats saying the war was going somewhat or very badly and 60 percent of Republicans agreeing. Strikingly, a plurality (40 percent) of Republicans asserted that the U.S. should exit Afghanistan earlier than 2014. A recentChristian Science Monitor poll showed that 63 percent of U.S. respondents rejected the Obama-Karzai deal, while only 33 percent approved.

With such overwhelming public opposition, it is no surprise that 39 peace and justice groups nationwide have formed the Network for a NATO-Free Future and will host a “Counter-Summit for Peace and Economic Justice” prior to the NATO affair.

But activists and street protesters are not the only ones voicing discontent. The unpopularity of the war is shared in other NATO nations, and some governments are listening. Five member states have completed or announced withdrawal plans: Canada in 2011, Poland in 2012, the United Kingdom by 2015, France is set to leave by the end of the year, and Australia is about to announce its own acceleration of troop withdrawal. Yet on NATO’s agenda in Chicago is an attempt to shore up flagging support from allies as well as selling them on the new agreement.

Is there still a need for NATO? With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO’s original raison d’etre disappeared. With Europe rebuilt, the threat from a greatly diminished Russia was no longer credible. The U.S. had emerged from the Cold War as the globe’s only remaining superpower. With the ideological struggle of the Cold War a thing of the past, thoughts turned to a future with less need for expensive military alliances, such as NATO. It was the era when all were wondering how the so-called peace dividend would be spent.

A funny thing happened on the way to that bright and happy future. NATO did not wither away, but grew steadily. It reimagined and re-missioned itself, poised to confront what it termed “complex new risks to Euro-Atlantic peace and stability.” It might not have been clear at the time exactly what those risks were, but the military bureaucracy seemed sure they existed.

Notwithstanding NATO’s intervention in the former Yugoslavia in 1995, its central mission remained vaguely defined until after Sept. 11, when it became a partner-in-arms to then-President George W. Bush‘s “global war on terror.” The terrorist attacks led to the first invocation of Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which states that an attack on any member state will be treated as an attack on all.

Within a month, NATO was involved in the U.S.-led attack on Afghanistan. The attack was defined as an attempt to effect regime change, dismantle al-Qaidaand, in particular, capture or kill Osama bin Laden.

Fast-forward to the present day. Bin Laden is dead. The CIA estimates fewer than 100 al-Qaida members remain in Afghanistan. The Taliban no longer rules that nation. Yet the U.S. and its NATO allies remain embroiled in a stalemated quagmire that is arguably the longest war in U.S. history. The war in Afghanistan has taken the lives of nearly 2,000 U.S. military personnel and untold thousands of Afghan civilians. At the time of this writing, the economic costs totaled a staggering $527 billion.Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has estimated the total long-term costs of the Iraq and Afghan wars at $4 trillion. For perspective, that is roughly 28 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, the total of all economic activity in the country each year.

Details of the U.S.-Afghan Status of Forces Agreement to stay in Afghanistan are supposed to be worked out in the next year, potentially committing tens of thousands of troops and billions of tax dollars through 2024 with little congressional oversight. While President Karzai stressed that the agreement would need to be approved by the Afghan parliament, the White House has maintained that the agreement — despite its authorization of continued military alliance with a sovereign foreign nation — is not a treaty and therefore not in need of ratification by the Senate. One wonders which country is the established democracy.

As Chicago closes schools and imposes draconian cuts on agencies crucial to the city’s most vulnerable, our national leaders will be arguing for increased military spending, which already consumes more than half of the discretionary budget of the U.S. government. It should be a hard sell.

Does anyone truly believe that spending those funds fighting an unwinnable war and killing innocent Afghan civilians in drone attacks is making anyone anywhere more secure? Clearly the American people do not believe so. It’s time for their government to listen to them.

Michael Lynn is a board member of the Chicago chapter of Peace Action, and Roxane Assaf is the outreach coordinator for the group’s Chicago affiliate.

Food not Wars

May 14, 2012

Pentagon (Photo credit: gregwest98)

Dear Friends

The House has voted to cut $36 billion from nutrition assistance programs, which would kick 2 million people off of food aid, cut benefits for 44 million more, and drop 280,000 low-income children from the free school lunch program.  All part of an effort to increase the over  50% of discretionary spending going into the Pentagon’s coffers.

This week, as early as Wednesday afternoon, your Member of Congress will be voting on amendments on ending the Afghanistan War and on a number of Pentagon weapons systems we don’t need.

Our movement for peace and justice must flood the Congress with calls to change federal spending priorities from wars and weapons to fund our communities and feed the hungry.

Please take a moment now and call your Representative at 202-224-3121 and ask them to vote for amendments that end the Afghanistan War and that cut Pentagon spending.

While some Republicans want to slash programs like Food Stamps, Meals on Wheels for the elderly, child care and child abuse prevention, they have added $10 billion for nuclear weapons and propose language in the National Defense Authorization Act that might bring us closer to war with Iran.  Fortunately, our allies on Capitol Hill will be offering amendments this week to end the Afghanistan war more quickly, to prevent war with Iran and to cut the Pentagon budget.

Call your Representative now at 202-224-3121 and ask them to vote for amendments make our communities a priority, not more war and nuclear weapons.

Your Representative will be voting on these important issues starting on Wednesday and finishing Friday afternoon.  Please forward this email to your friends, family and colleagues and ask them to make this quick, important call.

Humbly for Peace,

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action


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