‘What’s NATO?’

Cynthia Cockburn of Women in Black on the case against NATO

December 19, 2010
4 min read

‘What’s NATO’ is the question a lot of people asked when they saw us spelling out ‘Say No to NATO’ in the busy streets of central London on Saturday 20 November. Not that there was a lack of interest. We put twelve hundred leaflets into out-stretched hands in two or three hours. It was more puzzlement. What exactly was this object of our disapproval? Why would fourteen women in T-shirts of an unpleasant shade of pale mauve be performing round Southbank and Covent Garden with this obscure message, when everyone else was getting ahead with the Christmas shopping?

Our street action was timed to coincide with the Summit meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Lisbon, Portugal. We wanted to tell the Heads of State gathered there that some people in the UK don’t want this country’s ‘security’ policy defined by a war-fighting, nuclear-armed club aspiring to world domination in the economic interests of a bunch of relatively rich countries.

A few of us stepped out of line and chipped in with a personal view. ‘NATO is a cold war relic,’ said Sue, of London Women in Black, on the far left of the chorus wearing the O in NATO. ‘It’s an aggressive military alliance that’s waging a war of intervention in Afghanistan’, said Sheila, of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). ‘It’s trying to expand its activities and membership more and more widely. It seems to want to replace the United Nations’. And Kathryn, another London WiB, added, ‘I’m doing this to offer members of the public a point of view that challenges the default assumption that NATO is a good thing. To make a stand. I’m saying: no more expeditionary force in my name.’

As women we were making a particular case against NATO. Military expenditure squanders money needed for the education, health and housing services badly needed by women, who carry the main burden of domestic life in every NATO state, as they do everywhere in the world. Women suffer displacement, rape, loss, injury and increased burdens due to war. NATO’s military bases in our neighbourhoods don’t represent ‘security’ for women. On the contrary they are a source of social stress, toxic pollution, sexual exploitation and violence. Indeed, women in eleven Italian cities were out on the streets at the same time as us, protesting for this very reason against new base developments there.

‘I’m here because NATO has a military vision of “security”,‘ said Marie Walsh who had travelled from Wales to take part in this action. ‘Guns and bombs and wars don’t make me feel safer, they have the opposite effect. It’s ironic that NATO troops are called security forces when what they create is just the opposite.’ Marie-Claire of WILPF feels ‘Women’s voices aren’t heard enough. Things might be different if they were part of decision-making on policies that set agendas globally’, she said. Angie, of Trident Ploughshares, added ‘I want NATO to end now so our society can move beyond violence, war and enemies, and encourage non-violent conflict resolution. It’s part of the military industrial complex that’s given us endless war and destruction. I’m here to demand a return to our lost humanity and the rule of international law.’

Babs from Glasgow feels ‘Security can only be achieved through justice, conflict resolution and ridding ourselves of fear’. She threw in a neat quote from Alasdair Gray, ‘Always work as if you are living in the early days of a better nation’.  Yes, well, on that note we observed that a better model of the future we want might be down in the Crypt café with a hot cuppa, not shivering on the pavement as human placards.

This action was mounted by women of Women in Black against War, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Aldermaston Women’s Peace Camp and an affinity group of Trident Ploughshares. For more information, photos and movies see www.wloe.org, www.flickr.com/photos/wiblondon and www.youtube.com/wiblondon


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History


5