Poland’s beautiful capital city of Warsaw was locked down tight for the latest Summit meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as leaders of NATO’s 28 member countries gathered July 8 and 9 to make decisions that seriously increase the risk of war with Russia.
Despite the lovely weather, few locals were on the streets, long stretches of which were cordoned off. Uniformed police officers in bright neon-green vests seemed to be everywhere, many with weapons drawn. Helicopters whirred overhead, military vehicles rumbled over cobblestone streets and police sirens sounded as motorcades carried dignitaries to and from the National Stadium by the winding Vistula River where the NATO Summit was held.
Meanwhile, not far away, participants in two anti-NATO conferences joined forces July 9 for a militant march toward the Summit to demand an end to wars, NATO and the U.S.-mandated military spending that is sucking the life out of poor and working-class communities across Europe.
The Summit took place just days after the release of the British Chilcot Report. Seven years in the making, that government report concluded that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair had firmly committed to supporting the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq before such a move had ever been discussed in Parliament and then lied to Parliament and the British people about the justifications for the invasion. Families of the 179 British service members who died in that invasion are now calling for Blair to be criminally prosecuted. If the revelations of the report were discussed at the NATO Summit, it wasn’t reported by the media. What is known is that the Summit leaders went on to lay the basis for new wars based on equally false premises.
Background to NATO
Founded in 1949 to counter post-World War II Soviet influence in Europe, NATO’s initial members included 10 Western and Northern European countries, plus the United States and Canada. In response - six years later, the Soviet Union and its European allies formed the eight-member Warsaw Pact. With the 1991 collapse of the U.S.S.R., the pro-Soviet alliance disbanded. NATO, on the other hand, has grown to include 28 countries,
many of them former European Soviet allies. The result has been a steady NATO expansion to the east - toward Russia.
The main purpose of the 2016 NATO Summit was to greatly accelerate this expansion, with the stationing of more NATO troops in Eastern European countries, larger NATO military exercises in the region and greater combined military spending. At the Summit it also was announced that the Balkans state of Montenegro, formerly part of socialist Yugoslavia, would be joining the military alliance as its 29th member.
NATO ratchets up tensions with Russia
“We’re moving forward with the most significant reinforcement of our common defense at any time since the Cold War,” U.S. President Barack Obama told reporters.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was equally enthusiastic: “We have launched a wholesale reinforcement of our collective defense and deterrence.”
Those were not idle boasts. Beginning next year, NATO will rotate four combat battalions, from Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, to Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. (A battalion can include up to 1,000 soldiers.) In the works are separate U.S. plans to deploy about 3,500 troops to Eastern Europe, also on a rotational basis.
Bringing home the very real danger this military buildup represents is the fact that NATO views an attack on any member state as an attack on all members. As Stoltenberg put it, “... an attack against one ally will be met by forces from across the alliance.”
It was a similar pledge to respond militarily to any attack on an ally that locked opposing forces into launching World War I.
The seriousness of the NATO build-up was underlined for 10 days in June by a massive military exercise on Polish soil. Ominously dubbed Anaconda-16, the exercise involved more than 20 NATO and partner countries, 30,000 troops and numerous vehicles, aircraft and ships. That mobilization follows last years’ 300 exercises involving NATO members and allies.
Also on the Summit agenda was a recommitment to build a European “missile shield defense system.” Originally promoted as a counter to a claimed Iranian missile threat, that excuse evaporated with the P5+1 nuclear treaty with Iran, leaving the system’s real purpose exposed: developing a first-strike capability against Russia.
Who is the real aggressor?
All this, of course, is explained as defensive moves meant to counter a perceived threat by Russia, a country with a population less than half that of the United States and a military budget less than a tenth of the combined NATO block.
The main U.S./NATO charges against Russia is that it has annexed Crimea, formerly part of Ukraine; is allegedly supporting a separatist movement in Ukraine’s Donbass region; and has been conducting aggressive military exercises on its Western border.
What is seldom mentioned is that (1) Crimea was part of Russia for hundreds of years until 1954, when it was administratively transferred from Soviet Russia to Soviet Ukraine; (2) the annexation of Crimea and the fighting in Donbass both took place after the U.S. engineered a violent coup in Ukraine that installed a right-wing, anti-Russian government that is collaborating with a rising fascist movement; (3) following that coup, Crimea held a referendum and overwhelmingly voted to reunite with Russia; (4) although it is unclear whether the fighting in Donbass is about separation or just more local autonomy, people there are justifiably nervous about being ruled by a reactionary central government hostile to ethnic Russians, who make up a large part of the population; and (5) the Russian military exercises are taking place on Russian soil, while U.S. and NATO troops are now conducting exercises increasingly close to Russia.
U.S. to NATO countries: ‘Money for war, not for people!’
In addition to the military build-up agreed on at the NATO Summit, there’s the U.S. demand that all NATO members spend at least 2 percent of their Gross National Product on their militaries, first raised at the last NATO Summit, held in 2014 in Wales. That’s not 2 percent of the member countries’ national budgets, but of their entire national production of goods and services. Currently, only five of NATO’s 28 member countries - the United States, United Kingdom, Estonia, Greece and Poland - meet that goal. That relatively poor Poland is one of the few countries now meeting this goal may be a reflection of the far-right-wing government’s deep desire to have NATO troops stationed there.
At this year’s Summit, Obama noted some “progress” had been made on this front. “Over the past two years, most NATO members have halted cuts and begun investing more in defense,” he said. “And this means defense spending across the alliance is now scheduled to increase.”
Coming at a time of deepening economic crisis, especially in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe, this is a direct and inhumane attack on the already rapidly declining living standards of the continent’s working class.
NATO & Ukraine
Also prominent on the Summit agenda was Ukraine, with President Barack Obama meeting with that country’s president, Petro Porochenko. Ukraine, which holds “partner” status with NATO, has a 1,282-mile-long land and sea border with Russia and so holds special strategic importance for any conflict between Russia and the U.S./NATO alliance.
(Two days before the NATO Summit, this writer sent a letter to President Obama, suggesting he ask President Poroshenko to finally agree to cooperate with an international investigation into the May 2, 2014, fascist-led massacre of scores of progressives in Odessa, Ukraine; to release the political prisoners still being held, some without charges, more than two years after that massacre; to end federal harassment of the Council of Mothers of May 2 in Odessa, which is seeking an international investigation; and to stop defending and cooperating with the many fascist organizations that are constantly expanding their activities throughout the country. The letter also asked President Obama to oppose the expansion of NATO toward Russia, while noting that that expansion was the actual purpose of the U.S.-led Summit.)
Opposition to NATO raised in Warsaw itself
Across town from the NATO Summit, the military threats and more were discussed and analysed during the weekend’s two anti-NATO conferences.
The larger of the two was initiated by the No to War, No to NATO coalition, of which the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) is an affiliate. According to the organizers, about 150 people from 14 countries attended the event held July 8 and 10 in downtown Warsaw. Among the countries represented were Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, Spain and the United States, as well as a strong turnout from Poland.
Organizations co-sponsoring the conference were the Alliance in Homage of the Victims of Militarism, Effata Association Poland, Social Justice Movement Poland, Stop the War Initiative Poland, Warsaw Anarchist Federation and Workers Democracy Poland, with support from the Party of the European Left.
The conference opened with a video address by U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, an African-American and only member of Congress to vote against the authorization of the war against Afghanistan. Her remarks focused on the urgent need to prevent nuclear war and to move for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
Wolfgang Gehrcke of Die LINKE (The LEFT) reported on a recent heated debate in the German parliament initiated by his party over whether NATO should be dissolved. It was apparently the first such debate for a NATO member.
Former U.S. Army colonel and State Department official Ann Wright charged Washington with being behind the 2014 coup that brought a right-wing government to power in Ukraine.
Other speakers included Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee; Ewa Groszewska of the Social Forum of Eastern Europe and Cooperation Between East and South; Piotr Ikonowicz of the Movement for Social Justice (Poland); and Maite Mola, vice president of the Party of the European Left.
Participants reconvened on July 10 to discuss strategies for building the peace movement in Europe.
Another conference, held July 8 and sponsored by the 66-year-old World Peace Council, drew about 85 people. The organizers reported there were 32 speakers from 22 countries, including Duarte Alves of Portugal, representing the World Federation of Democratic Youth; Marini Stefanidi of Greece, representing the Women’s International Democratic Federation; and Fabio Marcelli of Italy, representing the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.
Also speaking, representing UNAC and the Odessa Solidarity Campaign, was this writer, who addressed the crisis of police murders in the United States, the expansion of NATO toward Russia and UNAC’s ongoing work in support of the anti-fascist movement in Odessa, Ukraine.
Both anti-NATO conferences placed the primary blame for increasing tensions with Russia on the U.S. and NATO. A few speakers at the No to NATO gathering also blamed “Russian aggression.”
Taking the anti-NATO message to the streets!
On Saturday, July 9, participants in both conferences joined together to march through the streets of Warsaw, stopping at the U.S. Embassy and finishing with a rally in a park within sight of the National Stadium where the NATO Summit was being held. Although not massive - some 250 to 300 people took part - the militant banners, signs and red flags, plus the extensive poster paste-ups advertising the march, were a defiant challenge both to NATO and to the far-right-wing government now in power in Poland.
Joining the Warsaw march were 15 to 20 black-clad anarchist youth active in Food Not Bombs, an all-volunteer group active in many countries that serves free meals to anyone who needs them. Members wore bandoliers made of small bagels and wielded long loaves of bread like rifles. When the group was stopped by police as it approached the march rallying point, organizers of the Social Forum of Eastern Europe and Cooperation Between East and South ran to their defense. The police eventually relented and the anarchists joined the march, loudly chanting and waving their loaves.
One unfortunate aspect of the march was a slogan on No to NATO’s posters and lead banner that read “Moscow has been here - We do not want NATO,” effectively equating the role of the Soviet Red Army in World War II with that of NATO in Europe today.
Anti-NATO solidarity in other countries
According to the media outlet Russia Today, there also were anti-NATO protests in other European cities, including Sofia, Bulgaria, and Athens, Greece.
Meanwhile, protests were taking place in several U.S. cities, including New York City, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Los Angeles and in Vancouver, Canada.
Organizations initiating or supporting the protests included the U.S. Peace Council, Vancouver’s Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO), UNAC and several of its affiliates, including the International Action Center and Women Against Military Madness.
Back in Warsaw, outside the U.S. Embassy, Ann Wright delivered a stirring speech denouncing U.S. foreign policy and declaring her solidarity with those marching in the streets against NATO.
At the final rally, this writer delivered solidarity greetings from those attending the U.S. and Canadian protests and urged the marchers to spread the word of the truth about NATO until not hundreds, but millions would surround a future NATO Summit and force the warmongers to shut down the organization that is bringing the world to the brink of another, far more deadly war.
Phil Wilayto is a member of UNAC’s Administrative Committee and coordinator of its Odessa Solidarity Campaign. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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