The hawkish Labour leadership’s ban on criticising the modern world’s most belligerent, blood-drenched military alliance only confirms that we must writes Andrew Murray

NATO is the name which must not be mentioned in British politics today — at least in anything other than tones of utmost reverence.

The 74-year-old military alliance has become a totem pole which all are required to dance around. Its real record is not examined, its present purposes go unscrutinised. It joins the royal family as an object of unquestioned bipartisan worship.

A year ago, Labour leader Keir Starmer effectively slapped a ban on any criticism of the alliance, even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine had begun.

Any Labour MP caught looking askance at NATO’s contribution to the Ukraine crisis risked losing the whip, and hence their job, for doing so.

Even Tony Blair, at the height of the struggle over invading Iraq, a struggle which bought two million people onto the streets of London 20 years ago, did not resort to such authoritarian expedients.

Starmer joins Rishi Sunak — and Johnson and Truss before him — in offering unqualified support to NATO’s role.

He joins other Labour rightwingers in coming over all misty-eyed at the memory of Labour’s post-war foreign secretary Ernie Bevin — an unabashed imperialist and anti-semite — taking the lead in founding NATO.

Truth, however, will out.

NATO was from the first an instrument of US hegemony in Europe, designed to lock the countries of Western Europe into Washington’s orbit.

Ostensibly directed at preventing a Soviet invasion, which in reality was never contemplated, it covertly planned to intervene against any state which looked like it was succumbing to socialism.

The end of the cold war was the obvious moment to cart NATO off to the museum, along with the dissolved Warsaw pact.

Instead, it was given a new, expanded, lease of life. No longer confined to Europe, its operations spread worldwide. No longer even purportedly defensive, it has initiated wars of aggression.

And no longer bound by promises made to the Soviet leadership when the USSR was dissolving, it has extended eastwards at pace, onto the former territory of the Soviet Union itself.

If you can’t criticise NATO, as per Starmer’s edict, here are some of the things that you may not discuss:

Start with the Yugoslav war of 1999, which was waged without a patina of international legality. The Belgrade government threatened no NATO member state, yet NATO was the instrument which bombed the country for months, targeting its civilian infrastructure brazenly.

The 20-year occupation of Afghanistan was another NATO operation, although the Afghan government and people posed no threat to NATO. A generation of bloodshed and destruction later, the neo-colonial occupation was brought to an ignominious end.

Libya in 2011 was menacing no-one. Yet NATO was the force which imposed regime change through bombardment, shattering the country and plunging it into a cycle of division and immiseration which persists to this day.

All of these dreadful wars were directed towards a single point — sustaining global US power and the unipolar moment where all decisions of consequence about the world were made in Washington and in Washington’s interest, and those who dissented should be sanctioned, by force if needs be.

And NATO was the vehicle for this project in all these cases.

It is true that the Iraq war itself, a still greater crime than all these others, was not formally a NATO operation, since the reluctance of France, Germany and other powers to oblige the US rendered the alliance impossible to mobilise.

However, the war was primarily waged by NATO’s two principal powers, the US and Britain, again without any legal cover or, indeed, any justification whatsoever.

What this litany should establish beyond argument is that the idea of NATO as a defensive alliance, posing no conceivable threat to anyone, is ludicrous.

One does not need to justify the policies of President Putin to understand that Russia might well have found the relentless expansion of NATO through eastern Europe and up to its borders menacing.

The leaders of NATO — the Bush administration above all — ignored Russia’s concerns and offered NATO membership to Ukraine (and ex-Soviet Georgia) in 2008. The alliance was then active in supporting the overthrow of Ukraine’s elected government in 2014.

Between 2014 and 2022 the US and other NATO powers funnelled weapons and other forms of military aid into Ukraine, rather than working to implement the Minsk agreements which were designed to abate the conflict in the east of the country.

And once Putin embarked on his unjustifiable adventure a year ago, it doubled down on prolonging the conflict. An escalating supply of arms — tanks now, with fighter jets seemingly to come — has propped up the undemocratic Kiev regime.

Ukrainian forces are being trained by NATO military, US and British intelligence is being placed at Ukraine’s disposal and it would not prove in the least surprising if military personnel were on the ground helping to direct operations behind the scenes.

Ukraine’s Defence Minister recently boasted that his country is de facto a member of NATO already. He appears to be right, and NATO’s expansion is an accomplished fact, missing only the formalities.

Away from the synthetic Zelensky-mania whipped up during the Ukrainian president’s visit to London, what NATO is all about appears to be well understood around the world. While not backing the Russian invasion, the majority of the world has shown no interest in backing NATO’s sanctions against Russia, nor in joining in any campaign of diplomatic isolation.

The demand for immediate peace talks corresponds to the interests of people across the world. Delay and continued conflict risk not just further death and destruction in Ukraine itself but also the threat of escalation, even nuclear war.

That priority demand must be the focus of the anti-war moment at this stage. The immediate issue is not Britain’s withdrawal from NATO. Peace talks now are what the Stop the War Coalition will be demanding at our protest in London on February 25.

Our focus will be on the British government, which has played a leading role in stamping out any flicker of hopes for negotiations and compromise over the last year, with the Labour Party’s full support.

Looking beyond the ending of the present conflict, there will be no lasting peace in eastern Europe until there is a new political architecture which can guarantee security for all because it is under no-one’s domination.

In that context, the issue is not just opposing the further expansion of the aggressive NATO alliance, but of moving towards its dissolution into those new security arrangements.

Of course, we are not supposed to talk about that right now. But the imperatives of history cannot be gagged by jobsworth politicians. A big turnout on February 25 will tell them so, and is the best way to remember the vast mobilisation of twenty years ago.

Andrew Murray is vice-president of the Stop the War Coalition and its former chair.

Source: Morning Star

17 Feb 2023 by Andrew Murray

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