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‘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

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