NATO: Friend or Foe?

[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.

7 thoughts on “NATO: Friend or Foe?

  1. Given the good they’ve done for Estonia and can do for the other Baltic States, I’d hate to see them abolished entirely. Defending the freedom and security of their member nations is their stated purpose, but some within the organization translate that into the US remaining economically-advantaged when it comes to oil. And also weapons manufacturers need their sense of security, too. There’s just lots of different kinds of security getting attended to out of fear of losing advantages, and that fear ultimately makes everyone less secure.

  2. As someone who supported NATO expansion in the 1990s, and who supports the military assistance the Biden administration is providing Ukraine in the current crisis, I would encourage those who wish to be critical of US imperialism to focus on our violations of the rights of the Native Nations of this continent rather than alleged wrong-doing in Europe. Our misconduct on this continent is far more atrocious than the worst of what we are accused (mistakenly I believe) of provoking in Europe. I would also consider the influence of the existence of NATO and the implications of the current crisis in Ukraine on Sino-American relations. Here I particularly recommend Professor Hu’s recent analysis:

  3. Or it may not be some within the organization — but, rather, some with power over it who are focused on oil and making money for the weapons manufacturers.

  4. Thank you for linking to that article, Steve! It seems overall like good news as far as China hopefully deciding that it’s in their best interests to join the Western world in standing with Ukraine.

    But I’m puzzled at his prediction that increasing unity between the US and Europe will slow the third democratic wave. Do you or anyone have any thoughts on this? Is it because the Western powers don’t see widespread democracy as in the West’s best interests?

    Also, regarding being critical of our deplorable treatment of the Native Nations instead of criticizing our/NATO’S behavior in Europe — I agree with Bernie Sanders’s assertion (on a different topic) that the US is capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time.

    I believe we’ll advance exponentially farther as human beings when we can take a wholistic view regarding people’s right to be self-determining. I’m not implying more messing around where we have no business to be “furthering democracy” — but, rather, not contributing to anti-democratic systems like Israeli apartheid.

    It’s our obligation to look critically at NATO, as we should at everyone in authority. When it became anti-Semitic to criticize the Israeli government, they became like an unloved child who turned into a bully and tyrant because no one cared to admonish them. Let us never dismiss any entity as too big or important to criticize. To do so is ultimately to reject and despise that entity!

  5. I myself have been split on this. I understand the call to support all de-escalation and to avoid funding the military industrial complex, but I’m starting to think that the peace movement requires effective action on a worldwide scale, or we unleash other countries’ imperialism on the world while we fight our own internal struggles. It seems in some senses that the Trotskyists were right.

    Then the fact that there are so many autocracies and that they are funded by oil is serious concern. The fact that some have nukes is another roadblock. I’m all for the green energy movement but it’s so slow-going when the political system is designed to protect entrenched oil companies. 🙁

    It’s a difficult knot to untangle.

    Disbanding NATO in 1995 would have been nice on paper, but I wonder how Bosnians who got to watch Krstic’s ICC trial would feel if NATO didn’t exist – and I wonder how many post soviet states would now be under a far-right regime dictated by a man playing at Tsar.

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