Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The US never misses a chance to wheel out Nato and revive the old cold war narrative in modern form – the Russian intervention in Georgia after the attack on South Ossetia was only the latest excuse. Jonathan Steele explains why we are still lumbered with a wasteful and dangerous military alliance
A few weeks before Georgia’s fateful bid to storm the breakaway region of South Ossetia, Nato hired a top Coca Cola executive to re-brand the alliance’s image in time for its 60th anniversary in 2009. ‘Brands do go to the basic purpose: what is the point of this organisation?’ Nick Witney, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told the International Herald Tribune. ‘Nato lost its primary rationale on the day the Warsaw Pact closed up business. It has been casting around for a different identity and role so it remains relevant.’
Now, thanks to the Georgian crisis, Nato’s task has become both easier and harder. On the one hand, with the connivance of hundreds of gullible western reporters who rushed to the Caucasus with little understanding of the area’s history, the cold war image of an aggressive tank-happy Russia has been revived. Since Nato’s stated purpose back in 1949 was to block similar tanks from occupying Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris, a narrative of the Russian bear on the move again was easy to project. No need for Nato to invent a new brand. Just trot out the old one.
On the other hand, the Georgian crisis dealt Nato two severe blows. It reminded people that the alliance was always a disproportionately US construct, dominated not just by US military pre-eminence but also by US, rather than European, strategic interests. It also showed the limits of Nato power. As Russian troops moved in to expel the Georgians from South Ossetia, Nato could do nothing to prevent it. It could not even issue a tough unified statement, since France and Germany, two of its key members, were unwilling to blame the hostilities entirely on Moscow. Nato emerged as a paper dinosaur, toothless and irrelevant.
Nato after the cold war
The fact that Nato stumbled on at all once the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, rather than quietly lying down and passing out, rests on three factors: British Euro-scepticism, traditional central European fear and hatred of Russia, and Washington’s increasingly frenzied drive to maintain and even expand its global position in the face of rising challenges from Asia. British Euro-scepticism is the least important of the three, but it is not insignificant. By implementing what they assumed the US wanted, first John Major and then New Labour undermined every embryonic effort by the French and Germans to develop a European military capability that could allow Europe to act in crises without requiring US involvement. The mantra was always that ‘enhancing Europe’s defence unity must support Nato, not supplant it’.
Even so, Nato might well have disbanded in the early 1990s had it not been for the Clinton administration. Although Boris Yeltsin’s Russia was seen as friendly and pro-Western, Polish emigré groups in the US pushed hard for Nato to continue and for their former homeland to join it. US officials were divided and a sizeable corps of former US ambassadors to Moscow, as well as some US academic experts on Russia, argued against Nato’s expansion, saying it sent the wrong signal to Russia and would only encourage anti-westernism there (a prediction that turned out to be correct). The pro-Central Europeans won, and Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were admitted to membership in 1999.
By then the Kosovo crisis was at its height. Nato was wheeled out as the instrument to deal with Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic and prevent his ethnic cleansing in Serbia’s largely Albanian province. Although required by its charter to act with unanimity, Nato turned out to be nothing more than a ‘coalition of the willing’. Its new members were shocked by the Nato attack on Serbia. They pleaded unpreparedness and took no part. It was especially shocking for the Czechs and Poles, as Serbs were fellow-Slavs and Yugoslavia had been admired during the cold war for Marshal Tito’s anti-Russian and anti-Stalinist stance within the international communist movement.
As the Russian elite’s brief enchantment with the west faded, it became the turn of the Baltic states to join the clamour for Nato membership. Getting into the European Union took a long time, but getting into Nato was an easy option for joining the western club, with the added benefit of being seen as a friend of Washington.
For the US it was not only flattering. It gave Washington real political and economic rewards – the chance for its diplomacy to develop a powerful new presence in regions that used to be off limits, as well as scope for US arms manufacturers to sell advanced weaponry to a host of new customers. Under Bush this neo-imperial drive accelerated, backed by hard-nosed ‘realists’ such as Dick Cheney, a former defence secretary in the cold war period, as well as the neo-cons with their missionary zeal to push western corporate power and economic liberalism into every corner of the globe.
Nato after 9/11
Nato was not the primary tool, as the post-9/11 events showed. Days after the attacks on New York and Washington, Nato’s European members eagerly announced that they were invoking Article V, which says an attack on one member will be considered an attack on all. But, in an almost farcical humiliation, Bush ignored them. Unilateralism was his preferred option: the US decided to go after Osama bin Laden and the Taliban without its willing allies.
‘Alone if you can, with Nato if you must’ became the watchword of Bush’s presidency. Nevertheless, Nato was useful as a secondary option in the Pentagon toolbox. So once the Taliban were toppled, Nato was brought back into the game in Afghanistan. A hybrid operation was created, which still continues. There is a unilateral US presence, focused mainly in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border, and a Nato presence in Helmand, Kabul and other provinces.
Meanwhile, Cheney and the neo-cons also had their eyes on the Black Sea and the Caspian as stepping-stones to Asia. Ukraine and Georgia were the targets. Prising those two countries out of the Russian orbit would not only give Washington pressure points against Moscow, it would offer the US military basing rights and airfields in an arc that would stretch to central Asia, where the US was already developing ‘assets’ in the ‘war on terror’. Dictatorships with worries about Islamist insurgencies within their own populations could be enlisted on the US side. In central Asia you play on the Islamic fundamentalist scare; in Ukraine and the Caucasus you play on the Russian scare. Either way, the policy answer is the same: let the United States protect you.
Nato after Georgia
Back then to Georgia. Has the crisis provoked by Mikheil Saakashvili’s stupidity over South Ossetia helped or harmed US interests in the region? Has it boosted or weakened Nato? The alliance is due to hold a summit in December. Long before this summer’s unexpected war, the top item on the agenda was whether to invite Georgia and Ukraine to start the process of joining Nato.
Unless the mood changes, the best guess is that France and Germany will say no. The reason is not that they are cowards, or that they have been bought off by the Russians because they purchase so much oil and gas from Moscow. Paris and Berlin have other concerns. They do not say it in public, but they are furious with Georgia’s president for his recklessness. Why should a tiny country endanger the entire balance of EU-Russian relations, and why should Europe be put at risk by lame-duck hawks in Washington? Far better to wait and see who wins in the US in November. If Obama comes out on top, as the French and Germans hope, then the Nato expansion drive may come to a welcome halt.
Or it may not. The corporate imperatives behind the drive for US global dominance are more powerful than the private views of the incumbent in the White House. Nato costs the US relatively little while providing a great deal in terms of prestige, influence, and well-positioned real estate. Writing Nato’s obituary has always been a risky exercise, and that is as true now as it was before this summer’s war erupted.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee