“Leading efforts in Latvia was exactly something we saw as an opportunity for Canada to contribute security and stability, defence and deterrence at a time where that’s very much necessary.”
With these words Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, is promoting Canada’s leading role in the new NATO military buildup close to Russia’s borders in the Baltics. But this new military move has many scratching their heads. Is Russia really such a threat, and how so? We’re not in the Cold War anymore, so what’s the big deal with Russia and NATO?
NATO ON THE RISE
NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) is not just a Cold War relic as many believe. The organization, formed in 1949 following the end of World War II, once devised all sorts of plans against a Cold War attack that never came. However in it’s recent years, following the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO has become an actual military force and has been behind many bloody imperialist atrocities committed under the auspices of the “international community”. NATO has expanded it’s membership, with most of it’s 28 members joining following the end of the Cold War, and NATO actively working on expanding its membership further.
NATO’s debut as a military force started in the 1990’s, when NATO intervened in Yugoslavia with numerous military missions which served to help break up former Yugoslavia. NATO’s military missions culminating in a 78-day bombing campaign in 1999. The brutal and indiscriminate bombing by NATO members was condemned by peace-loving people and organizations around the world. Yugoslavia was bombarded by 14,000 bombs, including depleted uranium bombs and cluster munitions which have had long-lasting destructive impacts. This so-called “humanitarian intervention” resulted in over 2,000 civilians killed, thousands more injured, and over 200,000 people displaced and forced to leave their homes. The airstrikes destroyed more than 300 schools and libraries, over 20 hospitals and at least 40,000 homes were either completely eliminated or damaged. In a June 2000 Amnesty International report, the human rights organization accused NATO of war crimes when it reported that “NATO forces did commit serious violations of the laws of war leading in a number of cases to the unlawful killings of civilians”. As part of NATO, Canada had a role in this deplorable attack on the people of Yugoslavia. The Canadian Air Force deployed 18 CF-18 fighter jets, and was responsible for 10% of all bombs dropped on Yugoslavia.
NATO has more frequently become a tool of imperialist intervention since the start of the new era of war and occupation, which began with the war and occupation of Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The new era of war and occupation, in which we have seen a heightened and strategic war drive carried out by the United States and their allies, has been possible with NATO enabling a division of labour amongst imperialist countries. That division of labour being, the task of no-fly zones, occupation forces, and bombing campaigns.
In Afghanistan, NATO did a lot of the heavy lifting, enabling the United States to focus on their war and occupation of Iraq. NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) made up the bulk of the occupation forces in Afghanistan, from August 2003 to December 2014. ISAF was NATO’s longest mission which at its height commanded more than 130,000 troops from 51 NATO and partner countries. This included a large number of Canadian troops, who at times had the third highest number of troops deployed, after the US and Britain. Canada also held command of ISAF from February 9 to August 12, 2004 under Lieutenant-General Rick Hillier, as well as Canada has commanded regional operations for NATO’s ISAF force. Since 2015, NATO reworked their mission to a vaguely defined “train, advise and assist” mission of 13,200 troops, which is continuously being extended and continues today.
After 15 years of war and occupation in Afghanistan, what does the US, Canada and NATO have to show for itself? Life for the Afghan people is not getting better, and more and more people have no other choice but to leave their homes and join the massive refugee crisis that the new era of war and occupation has resulted in. 2015 was the deadliest year for civilians since the start of the war, with over 11,000 men, women and children killed. This includes the October 3rd, 2015 US airstrike on a Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, in which continuous, repeated bombings killed more than 42 innocent people, mainly patients and staff.
NATO also holds a role in the war on Iraq. NATO forces held a training mission in Iraq from 2004 to 2011, and have recently started another training mission of Iraqi officers in Jordan. At the recent NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau announced that Canada will also be a part of this new training mission. While a “training mission” may seem tame enough, take this into consideration. Canada’s current “train, advise and assist” mission includes about 200 special forces soldiers. They are made up of the Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) counter-terrorism unit as well as the Canadian Special Operations Regiment. In 2010 the Globe and Mail described the Joint Task Force 2 as “a shadowy counter-terrorism force about which little concrete can be said” and “Canada’s most elite troops – the faceless soldiers who go to places they won’t name, to complete missions they won’t talk about.” While training missions are sold to the public as “non-combat” this was proven otherwise on March 6th 2015 when Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment was killed in a friendly fire incident near the front lines while on the training mission in northern Iraq. On March 8th, 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new “non-combat” military strategy authorized Canadian soldiers to shoot first in Iraq as soon as they detect “hostile intent” from Daesh fighters. With about 20% of Canadian Special Forces training time taking place close to or directly at front lines, and authorization to shoot first, how “non-combat” are these training missions?
Another country destroyed at the hands of NATO forces is Libya. The no-fly zone imposed by NATO from March 19 to October 31, 2011 launched nearly 10,000 sorties against Libya. Canada was a major player in the bombing campaign, and deployed six CF-18 fighter jets and also provided three planes for air-to-air refuelling and two reconnaissance aircrafts. Libya, which before this imperialist intervention had the highest standard of living in Africa, now five years later is in a chaos with no viable government, an economy in shambles and has become a new haven for terrorist organizations such as Daesh (also known as ISIS). NATO is now taking another strike not just against Libya, but against the huge number of refugees, many victims of war and occupation, traveling through Libya in an attempt to reach safer shores in Europe. At the recent NATO summit the decision was made to deploy NATO warships and potentially drones in the Mediterranean sea to stem the flow of refugees leaving the Libyan coast. Human Rights Watch spoke out against this decision, stating that “NATO’s involvement in migration control signals a dangerous shift toward militarisation of a humanitarian crisis.”
NATO SUMMIT 2016 - TARGET ON RUSSIA
The July 8-9, 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland brought imperialist countries together to set their targets on a bigger fish – Russia. An irrational fear-mongering and demonization campaign has painted Russia as an aggressor. As you have just read above though, it is NATO who has dropped their bombs and planted their troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. It is the US government who backed a right-wing coup in Ukraine. Now it is NATO who is building up military forces on the border with Russia. So who is the aggressor?
The NATO summit announced that NATO will rotate four combat battalions of up to 1000 troops each, from Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, in Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Also decided at the summit is that NATO will take command of and develop a US-built European “missile shield defense system” which also has Russia in it’s targets. As Justin Trudeau stated at the beginning of this article, Canada is taking a leading role by commanding the battalion in Latvia, sending at least 450 troops to this battalion (bringing Canada’s troops in Eastern Europe to 800) as well as supplying armored vehicles, up to six CF-18 fighter jets, and continuing to send naval frigates to the region, which Canada has had stationed for the past two years. This new military buildup has no end-date and as Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance has stated, “this is an open-ended commitment.”
The NATO summit was preceded by another provocative move by NATO forces. NATO members conducted “Anaconda 2016”, the largest war games in Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War. The 10-day military exercise involved 31,000 troops and thousands of vehicles from 24 countries, including Canada.
Looking at the recent history of NATO and it’s increasing actions against Russia, we must be able to define what the objectives of this military body are. NATO is a tool of imperialist forces, specifically US allied imperialist forces. In order to maintain and expand US hegemony in today’s world, militarily, politically and economically, the US and their allies must expand their markets, resources and influence, as we have seen them do in this new era of war and occupation, with the help of NATO. They must eliminate sovereign and independent states, as they have done in Libya through NATO, are attempting to do in Syria and are poised to do in Iran. They must also keep at bay other rising and competing economic and political powers such as Russia and China, and prevent them from growing their economies on a global scale. US sanctions against Russia has been one method. Saber-rattling and building up a military force on Russia’s borders is a new and dangerous step that NATO is leading.
NO TO NATO! CANADA OUT OF NATO!
NATO’s actions have not been without opposition, both throughout NATO’s history to today. The NATO summit in July 2016 was met with an international call for demonstrations and actions against NATO. Activists from around the world came together for conferences and a demonstration directly in the face of the NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland. Cities around the world mobilizated in coordination with the actions in Warsaw, including in Vancouver, Canada where Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO) held a rally and petition campaign.
Peace and justice loving people must take Canada’s participation in NATO seriously. We need to stop looking at NATO as a Cold War relic or a body of international cooperation. NATO is the increasingly utilized military force used to launch imperialist interventions, occupations, airstrikes and even to militarize the largest refugee crisis humanity has ever seen. NATO members are pressured to commit at least 2% of their GDP to military spending, which is now used to build up a military force against the false threat of Russia. Peace-loving people in Canada can think of vastly more important places that money can go to here in Canada, like education, healthcare, housing, jobs and infrastructure just to name the most obvious. Even Canada could be helping to bring in more refugees, fleeing countries that NATO, along with Canada, has made uninhabitable through their wars and occupations!
The Vancouver action was just the beginning of a new campaign initiated by Mobilization Against War and Occupation demanding “No to NATO! Canada Out of NATO!” The campaign includes a petition to the government of Canada demanding that Canada end it’s alliance with NATO and withdraw Canadian troops and military equipment from Europe and from all NATO missions. This campaign will be moving forward with more literature, materials and educational and protest events and actions, which will be listed on www.mawovancouver.org
While imperialist countries are joining together to launch wars and occupations on oppressed nations and flex their military muscles, it’s up to peace and justice loving people world wide to also come together, in the pursuit of peace. Together let’s demand:
No to NATO!
Canada Out of NATO!
Follow Janine on Twitter:@janinesolanki
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