European and American members to plan future strategies and objectives
by Nigel Weiss
American and European leaders are gathering this month, on May 20 and 21, for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit to plan the military alliance’s strategic objectives for the next several years. The summit, to take place in Chicago, will address a number of issues, including planning its support for the Karzai government in Afghanistan after coalition forces withdraw in 2014, and further implementing its controversial anti-ballistic missile defense systems in Eastern Europe. Of course, world leaders and dignitaries will also spend a certain amount of time giving accolades to NATO’s accomplishments in promoting peace and democracy in the world, and praising the new sense of security and solidarity shared among an increasing world consensus.
NATO leaders will probably not be discussing ways in which the organization is used for global force projection, acquiring resources, or selectively utilizing human rights as a premise for enacting a US-EU political-economic agenda. They are likely to ignore the atrocities committed in Afghanistan this year which, just like the ones that were allowed to go on in occupied Iraq, underscore the dehumanization of violent occupation. They can also be expected to overlook the fact that the people of post-Gaddafi Libya are in many places subject to the same sort of arbitrary, inhumane rule as they were before NATO’s successful campaign to end Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, and that the fractured nation is instead currently under the control of hundreds of unelected and unaccountable militias. And they are sure to downplay the provocativeness toward Russia of the anti-ballistic missile defense systems which are coming online in several former Soviet-bloc states, and which, in spite of NATO’s official position for disarmament, make the prospects of nuclear dismantlement increasingly distant.
Originally formed to allow the US and the Western European states to militarily oppose the Soviet Union, NATO recast its mission following the end of the Cold War to encompass a world military presence. Looking beyond the borders of its member states, NATO operates under a doctrine which promotes political stability and human rights globally, with a view toward pre-empting threats before they emerge. However, NATO’s purposed human rights agenda does not materialize. On the contrary, NATO’s operations have consistently served to exacerbate human rights violations and further terrorize and displace civilian populations, while positioning the United States and Europe favorably in the international theater of political influence, market access, and resource control.
NATO’s most significant challenge for the immediate future is how to create a successful strategy for Afghanistan. The NATO and NATO-allied countries, including the United States, are seeking any way to remove their forces from the country without handing power directly back to the Taliban. As it stands, though, the situation is bleak. Most of the country outside Afghanistan’s largest cities is controlled by the Taliban or tribal militias, and Afghan security forces are woefully under trained and under equipped for fighting back anti-government militias and maintaining political control over the country once international forces have left. The NATO drawdown agreement, set to remove alliance forces by 2014, requires a UN mediation team to help build the terms of a settlement between the country’s most powerful political factions. Critically, this structured settlement plan will likely require the cooperation of Afghanistan’s neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, in order to be successful. NATO’s attempts at executing its exit plan could therefore reveal itself to be problematic, given the icy relations between those two countries and the US-EU bloc. Without the assistance in particular of Pakistan, whose porous border with Afghanistan is a channel for the movement of anti-government militants, any post-2014 arrangement is likely to be impotent. Pakistan cancelled its involvement in talks to plan the future of Afghan security at Bonn, Germany, after NATO planes bombed two Pakistani military border posts in November, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers.
NATO’s efforts to stabilize Afghanistan are connected to the United States’ pursuance of its New Silk Road Strategy, a plan for the establishment of interconnected markets and the development of transportation and energy infrastructure in the Central Asian states. The abundance of Central Asian natural resources — gold, gas, oil, and uranium — make the region increasingly valuable as the costs of extraction increase elsewhere and demand from China and India continues to rise. The Trans-Afghanistan oil and gas pipeline, originally proposed in the 90s, has failed to materialize because of Afghanistan’s historically notorious obstinacy to imperialist subjugation, but may still be in the works in the near future, provided that an agreement with Pakistan can be forged.
And yet, none of these considerations seem to take any account the human costs of this geopolitical power jockeying. After more than ten years, the mission in Afghanistan has left the country highly unstable and decentralized, and for many civilian populations, security in the country has worsened since the occupation began. The NATO campaign actually exacerbated one of the conditions it was supposed to eliminate, namely the terrorizing of civilians and systematizing of human rights violations.
This year has revealed a fresh assortment of revolting atrocities, but these are only the most recent in a list of offenses far too long to innumerate entirely. US planes have over the years repeatedly killed young Afghan children in air strikes. NATO forces have, as Gen. Stanley McChrystal himself has described, killed an “amazing number” of people in checkpoint shootings. Meanwhile, the US State Department is still apologizing for a series of photographs released last month by the Los Angeles Times showing US soldiers posing next to the mangled bodies of dead Afghans, and the burning of copies of the Quran in February triggered outraged demonstrations around the country in which dozens were shot dead by NATO soldiers and Afghan security forces. A US sergeant based in Fort Lewis is currently on trial for a nighttime shooting rampage that left 17 Afghans dead in their homes, including 9 children. The UN reported that 2011 was the deadliest year for Afghan civilians since 2006, with casualties up 8% from 2010. And the CIA’s virtually indiscriminate drone strikes in eastern Afghanistan and Waziristan continue to kill scores of ‘suspected militants,’ working off of only the scantiest evidence to determine their targets. The brutal acts committed under the NATO occupation could be listed to fill the entirety of this newspaper issue. Unfortunately, none of this is particularly unusual for the Western powers, as evinced in the most recent adventure in Libya.
In the first weeks of NATO’s campaign in Libya, President Obama warned of the threat of “a bloodbath,” and said that “if we waited one more day, Benghazi — a city nearly the size of Charlotte (N.C.) — could suffer a massacre.” In the lead up to the NATO attack, the word genocide became common parlance to justify military involvement in Libya, and the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973, authorizing the use of force to protect civilians by any means necessary, short of putting troops on the ground. Aside from the fact that numerous commentators have pointed out that when Gaddafi vowed to “have no mercy,” he was referring to rebel fighters, not to civilians, human rights groups also report that there is no evidence of systematic killing of civilians by pro-Gaddafi forces having taken place during the war.
Instead, as the International Criminal Court pursues Gaddafi-era leadership, Western leaders in NATO are called to account only by human rights groups, when it comes to its failure to investigate what could be hundreds of excess civilian deaths caused by the air campaign. There is also credible evidence that entire boatloads of Libyan refugees were allowed to starve in the middle of the Mediterranean when their ships ran out of fuel, even though NATO forces had the opportunity to save them. With the pretext of protecting civilians, the NATO campaign precipitated a war directed at regime change, which resulted in as many as 30,000 killed in the fighting.
There was a peace plan, in fact, created by the pan-African organization, the African Union, which would have initiated a multilateral cease fire, allowed for the entry of humanitarian aid, and initiated talks between rebel leadership and the Gaddafi government. But rebel leaders rejected it because it didn’t require Qaddafi to first step down, even though it was a settlement that Gaddafi was said to be willing to accept. Western leaders also rejected any terms of a cease fire, under the auspices of wanting “to see not words but actions” from Gaddafi’s forces, meaning that the only acceptable terms would be Gaddafi’s unilateral cease fire — tantamount to surrender. Neither the rebels, under the Transitional National Council, or NATO were really interested in ending the conflict, except through bloody victory.
Many have noted the UN Security Council’s puzzling choice of Libya, of all places for an international force to intervene. During the three days of demonstrations in Benghazi before armed groups began to form in Libya, government forces fired into crowds with live ammunition on multiple occasions, massacring nearly forty. However, nearly that many were killed in the streets and jails by Bahraini government forces during the same month that Western powers were preparing the offensive in Libya, yet little mention was made by world leaders, much less was there talk of an intervention. Bahrain, as the host of the US 5th fleet naval base, is of course an important ally to the US.
And in Syria, Assad’s forces shot and killed hundreds of people in the first month of anti-government demonstrations before the US imposed economic sanctions. While Russia has since blocked the prospect of military intervention, rhetoric toward the embattled Syrian regime in the West was for months remarkably muted. In contrast, the condemnation of Gaddafi began almost as soon as the fighting started, and the Western members of the UN Security Council pushed through approval to attack Libya by the first month of fighting.
None of this should be construed as a defense of the Gaddafi regime, whose crimes are well documented. But as Human Rights Watch and other groups have confirmed, rebel forces which control large parts of the country are implicated in the same sorts of arbitrary arrests and summary executions as Gaddafi, with little sign of being reined in. The dominant media narrative frequently obscures this reality, which bolsters the view of the NATO campaign as a humanitarian operation.
As it turns out, Gaddafi, in addition to being a dictator, was also an economic nationalist and pan-Africanist, and contributed probably more than any other African leader to the creation of an integrated African political-economic bloc. Under Gaddafi, Libya invested billions of dollars into African energy and communications infrastructure, and facilitated development in African countries through the Libya Africa Investment Portfolio, including $375 million in Uganda alone. Gaddafi was also the driving force behind the creation and funding of the African Union, whose economic initiatives, such as the African Monetary Fund, in the next decade will rival the ability of Western trade and finance to dominate African markets.
New information exposed by WikiLeaks indicates some level of US concern toward the nationalist approach Qaddafi took to Libyan oil and gas resources. According to the leaked cable, Gaddafi said in a 2006 speech that “oil companies are controlled by foreigners who have made millions from them — now, Libyans must take their place to profit from this money.” The cable goes on to warn of changes under Gaddafi to “‘Libyanize’ the economy in several key sectors,” including mandating preferential hiring of Libyan workers and middle managers, and requiring “most foreign companies to form joint ventures with Libyan companies in order to operate in the country.”
Statements by Gaddafi suggest he was aware of the precariousness of his position. Days after the UN imposed economic sanctions against Libya, Gaddafi launched a tirade against Western powers and Western corporations, declaring that “we do not trust their firms — they took part in the conspiracy against us.” He continued, “We do not believe the West any longer, that is why we invite Russian, Chinese and Indian companies to invest in Libya’s oil and construction spheres.”
In September, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in an interview that it would be “fair and logical” for French companies to benefit from France’s role in Gaddafi’s outser. Key oil ports were the first to be taken by the rebel forces, rather than political capitals, and exports were resumed from rebel-controlled ports before the close of even the first month of NATO bombing.
Libya is home to the largest proven oil reserves in Africa, and according to the US Energy Information Administration, the country is still thought to be underexplored. The NATO campaign may not have quelled the violence, but it did ensure that it would be American and European companies which will benefit from Libya’s oil, not Libyan ones, and certainly not the Chinese or Russians.
In creating an African presence for themselves, the North Atlantic countries were also interested in suppressing the expansion of Chinese influence in the region. In the last decade, China has invested considerably in natural resource infrastructure in dozens of African nations, and provided favorable loans and other financial support in return for preferential resource access. Oil and gas production in Asia is not great enough to satisfy China’s increasing demand, and since Middle East oil is typically allotted to the US and Europe, China has sought to extend its influence into Africa. China’s increasing involvement in Africa is of great concern to the US, according to the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, “not only because it has facilitated Chinese energy and weapons dealings, but also because it is competing with U.S.-African trade.”
When UN Resolution 1973 was passed, over a near-consensus of the African Union to oppose it, the NATO operation quickly came to be seen as a harbinger of renewed interventionism in African affairs, and Libya is sure to become the location of the four-year-old US military branch for Africa — AFRICOM. There is no evidence I’m aware of that the establishment of AFRICOM and subsequent use of force in Libya is directly a result of Gaddafi’s increasingly uncooperative attitude toward Western business, but the immediate scramble by Western companies to snap up oil and gas deals in the aftermath of the war suggests that it was a factor. NATO’s agenda, while falling short of its purported humanitarianism, has been certainly favorable to Western business, and coincides with the expansion of Western political power.
A confrontation in Chicago
Unfortunately, as NATO leaders meet we’re likely to see a showdown in the streets between police and demonstrators. All signs are that the City of Chicago is preparing for a confrontation. For the weekend of the summit, the city is bringing in 500 police from the state patrol, in addition to 600 National Guard troops, and federal police are setting a perimeter around several blocks where Chicago’s federal offices are located. After months of delay, city officials finally issued a parade permit in early April, but at the time of writing, the Secret Service has yet to make public how far from the summit demonstrators will be required to stay. In any case, there is likely to be a large area surrounding McCormick Place, where the summit is meeting, that the city will have essentially locked down. Police will come armed with bean bags guns, tear gas, pepper spray, and sound cannons, and experience says it is almost inevitable that they will be used on unarmed demonstrators, and people will probably be hurt. Nonetheless, it is incumbent on Americans of conscience to draw attention to the criminal violence NATO is responsible for. As a tool of American power, the people of the US should have the right to curb the imperialist movements of NATO, or else redirect its resources toward other goals. Instead, leaders will be whisked into Chicago for an agenda most Americans neither understand nor agree with, and the city will be responsible for the unseemly business of silencing those who come out to raise their voices in dissent.
Nigel Weiss is an Olympia activist, and is graduating from Evergreen this spring with a degree in Political Economy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.