Saturday, August 30, 2014

Are Nato the bad guys?

Today there is a Nato summit going on in Newport, Wales, and some people are protesting against it. Here are some of them:

I know it looks like they're protesting in support of Palestine, whose main antagonist (Israel) isn't in Nato, but I'm assured that it's an anti-Nato protest. 

At the same time, there are Russian tanks invading Ukraine. You can watch a video of that happening here.

Now, you'll notice that CND tweeted the picture of the protesters, and that's because they agree with them; they've been encouraging their Twitter followers to go to the protest for a while. As I understand it, they think Britain should unilaterally leave. They think Nato makes the world less safe from wars. I agree with CND (which stands for Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) about nuclear disarmament: I'm really not persuaded that nuclear weapons help anybody except the people who make them and the North Korean government. I'm also pretty anti-war in general, and Nato does participate in wars. But I'm not sure I agree with CND about Nato.

They make their case against Nato here. Basically, they have these problems with it:

  • Nato was set up to defend against the USSR, which doesn't exist anymore.
  • Since the USSR broke up, Nato has expanded to include former USSR members and allies, and is trying to include even more, which winds Russia up and makes them invade Ukraine.
  • Now that the Cold War is over, the Devil is making work in Asia and Africa (Libya) for Nato's idle hands, instead of Nato just focusing on defence.
  • America bullies Nato members in Europe into hosting nuclear weapons, which violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Now, on the whole I've thought that Nato's expansion into Eastern Europe was a fine thing which allows peoples formerly under the Soviet boot to be relatively confident of peace and self-determination. The central idea of Nato is that if one of the members is attacked then all the members treat it as an attack on themselves. Since the combined military force of Nato is huge, this makes it a pretty big step invading a Nato member. While Russia can invade Ukraine now and invaded Georgia in 2008 without starting World War Three, they seem to let the Baltic states and the rest of the eastern part of Nato get on with joining the EU and whatever other unRussian activities they fancy. Turkey (in Nato since 1952) also seems to have been quite safe for a country with such nasty neighbours (USSR, Assad, Saddam Hussein, Iran). From this point of view, Ukraine's current crisis doesn't result from Nato expanding too much, but from it not expanding enough.

Now, while it's obviously nice if peoples can be more confident of peace and self-determination than eastern Europe was when the USSR existed, this isn't CND's main concern. CND, naturally, is most concerned about protecting humanity from annihilation in a nuclear war. I think that's the concern behind most of their objection to Nato. So, are they right? In my zeal to protect the people of Latvia, am I supporting an institution which risks killing us all? Well, let's look at CND's objections to Nato.

"The USSR doesn't exist anymore."
It is true that the threats faced by Nato members aren't exactly the same as they were when Stalin and his successors were around. It's also true that around the start of the 1990s Russia became much less interested in controlling its neighbours. If Gorbachev or even Yeltsin was still in charge of Russia, maybe there still wouldn't be such a problem. But Putin and whoever else wields the power in Russia are quite obviously very interested in influencing and annexing parts of their neighbours. The Cold War is over but Russia is still obviously a threat to eastern Europe. It's invading it right now.

"All this Nato expansion is just winding Russia up."

It isn't easy to adjudicate the extent to which Russia's current aggression results from being wound up by Nato expansion. Maybe Putin wants to grab as much of Ukraine as possible before it joins Nato and becomes untouchable. Maybe he wants to be the most successful, powerful politician he can be, and that means grabbing places that are vulnerable. Either way it seems pretty harsh on the Baltic states to leave them vulnerable for fear of what Russia will do somewhere else.

"Nato members end up having to go along with US aggression"

The point about sucking countries into America's military adventures isn't easy either. One thing to point out is that how involved countries got in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya wasn't determined by whether they were in Nato. Another thing is that you can't really say that military action which is conducted under the auspices of Nato now wouldn't happen if Nato didn't exist. You might even think it's better if countries that suck up to America by joining in with their military adventures at least get a mutual protection pact out of it, rather than being left in the lurch if Putin comes a-calling at the wrong part of the American election cycle. But it's probably true that Nato gives America a list of ready-made allies who feel pushed into joining in with America's wars, which often lie somewhere on the spectrum between catastrophic foolishness and racially aggravated mass murder.

"America is violating the non-proliferation treaty."

The last point, about making non-nuclear countries host nuclear weapons, isn't really something I know much about. I don't know why they don't just tell the Americans to take their WMDs elsewhere, or whether the reason has anything to do with Nato. It does however seem like pretty small potatoes. The risk of Russia invading an undefended Latvia seems a lot more real than the risk of someone accidentally setting off a nuclear bomb. People nearly accidentally detonate nuclear bombs every few decades; Russia actually invades an ex-Soviet state every few years. And if we do all die in a nuclear war, I'm not convinced it might be because the missiles were based in Germany.

I guess it might seem like I'm pretty pro-Nato, but I wouldn't go that far. I don't know enough about it, as well-informed readers can presumably tell. But I don't think CND have made the case well enough, and I think they're focusing too much on the threat of nuclear war and ignoring the rest of the picture. I'm not saying that Nato's wonderful or even that all things considered Britain shouldn't leave, but I am saying that if you were protesting in Newport and you don't live somewhere like Latvia or somewhere else like Ukraine then maybe you should think about how lucky you are.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think there's anything wrong with CND protesting against NATO if they think NATO are holding back nuclear disarmament. That's kind of their role. What you have to do to work out if NATO are, on the whole, good or bad guys, is to look at all the different protests or lacks of protest against everything else NATO does. Like maybe some Eastern European peoples protest in favour of NATO, for example. Similarly, if they did that, it wouldn't really be fair to have a go at them for promoting nuclear proliferation, because that wouldn't be the issue they were really talking about. It's then the role of the blogger or journalist or whomever to look at all the different protests on NATO-related matters and weigh up the balance of public opinion based on various factors of these protests (turnout, weather, issue, whether there a World Cup final on at the time, location and geographic relevance etc.). Then, assuming the balance of public opinion is favour of the good guys, you can work out whether NATO are good or bad.