[Editor’s Note: While SDUSA both condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and opposed the proposed use of no-fly zones to deal with Russia’s military, there are several issues on which our leadership is divided: should we support military aid to the Ukraine, and should NATO’s role in the invasion lead us to support its abolition? This is the first in a series of thoughts on these issues.]
By Michael Mottern
When far Left organizations such as the Trotskyists of the Fourth International look at NATO, they automatically think of imperialists. But my background gives me a different perspective. Coming from a military family, both my great-grandfathers were officers in the Estonian National Army. My mother’s father served in the Pacific and snuck into the Navy when he was 14 using a falsified birth certificate, and my father’s father served in Texas as a corporal in the US Army Air Corps, later to be named the US Air Force.
My father was an NCO enlisted man in NATO operations serving with his helicopter squadron in the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean, on board the USS America visiting Dubrovnik, Croatia in 1977 under Joseph Tito’s neutral Communist regime in the former Yugoslavia. Both there and in Brunswick, Maine, as an anti-submarine warfare specialist, he was at the radar for several hours of the day on his P3 Orion airplane, monitoring Russian submarines that were carrying ballistic missiles. My father’s squadron played its role as a successful anti-Soviet submarine deterrent.
Estonia was independent in 1918 and taken over by the USSR in 1940, when my great-grandfather was arrested and sent off to a Soviet gulag in Siberia where he eventually died. Communism was always a hot-button issue in my family; my grandmother’s father was arrested by the KGB in 1940 and the Red Army came to arrest her the next day but she and her family foiled them, escaping across the Volga River (unfortunately with the German army). In 1989 Soviet tanks greatly outnumbered those of the NATO alliance; it was thought that there would be a war of attrition with Germany after the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, but that never happened.
From its inception in 1949, the operating theory behind the NATO alliance has been that if you attack one member, you attack them all. Since the Warsaw Pact nations had the advantage in military hardware, this theory seemed to be an effective deterrent, bolstered by the more technologically advanced NATO tanks. But the theory was never fully put into practice in the European theater.
When Greece and Turkey joined NATO in 1952, they were mostly peaceful until Turkey’s recent turn toward fundamentalism. My friends in the Western New York Peace Center in Buffalo oppose NATO expansion because of developments like that. But for most of NATO’s 70-year history, it’s been a force for peace and deterrence when filled with social democracies. NATO’s mistake was taking troops out of West Germany and bringing them to places like Baghdad, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. That enabled oil wars, with consumers getting cheaper gas and the American public getting a 7 trillion dollar price tag for Iraq and Afghanistan. Because of the oil wars, peace and stability declined in Central Europe and left Putin pointing fingers at us for what we did wrong in Iraq.
The only people pumped up for NATO expansion are those who reside in or bordering the Baltic: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Finland. All have ties with the former Russian Empire or the former Soviet Union, and with the current criminal invasion of the Ukraine, they’re more gung-ho for NATO than ever before. Estonia’s status as a NATO member has served as a big deterrent against Russian intervention and my family, for one, has been able to breathe a heavy sigh of relief!
Michael Mottern is first vice chair of Social Democrats USA.