In 1965, the Guinean revolutionary Amílcar Cabral described how the aggregate brutality of the West flowed into Africa through NATO, supporting the Salazar regime’s wars against Portugal’s colonies in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea, and Cabo Verde:
“NATO is the USA. We have captured in our country many U.S. weapons. NATO is the Federal Republic of Germany. We have a lot of Mauser rifles taken from Portuguese soldiers. NATO, for the time being at least, is France. In our country there are Alouette helicopters. NATO is, too, to a certain extent, the government of that heroic people which has given so many examples of love of freedom, the Italian people. Yes, we have captured from the Portuguese machine-guns and grenades made in Italy.”
Today, weapons of war reflecting the full diversity of the “free world” litter all the front lines of imperialism, from Ukraine and Morocco to Israel and Taiwan. That violence would find its engine in imperialism’s central node, the United States, which had long held its sights on total hegemony—an aspiration that the demise of the Soviet Union made irresistible. On March 7, 1992, the New York Times published a leaked document containing the blueprints for U.S. hegemony in the post-Soviet era. “Our first objective,” the Defense Planning Guidance said, “is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere.” The document, which became known as the Wolfowitz Doctrine after the U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy who co-authored it, asserted U.S. supremacy in the world system. It called for the “leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order” that would prevent “potential competitors” from seeking a greater role in the world. In the wake of the leak, the Wolfowitz Doctrine was revised by Dick Cheney and Colin Powell and became the doctrine of George W. Bush, leaving a trail of death and sorrow across the Middle East.
At that time, the contours of U.S. imperial strategy were most forcefully articulated by Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the leading architects of twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy. In 1997, he published The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives. The fall of the Soviet Union, he wrote, saw the United States emerge “not only as the key arbiter of Eurasian power relations but also as the world’s paramount power…the sole and, indeed, the first truly global power.” Beginning in 1991, U.S. strategy would seek to entrench that position, arresting the historical process of Eurasian integration. For Brzezinski, Ukraine was an “important space on the Eurasian chessboard”—critical in tempering Russia’s “deeply ingrained desire for a special Eurasian role.” The United States, Brzezinski wrote, would not only pursue its geostrategic goals in the former Soviet Union but also represent “its own growing economic interest…in gaining unlimited access to this hitherto closed area.”
That project would be realized in part through NATO. The alliance’s expansion coincided with the creeping spread of neoliberalism, helping secure the dominance of U.S. financial capital and sustain the rapacious military-industrial complex that underpins much of its economy and society.
The umbilical bond between NATO membership and neoliberalism was expressed clearly by leading Atlanticists throughout the alliance’s eastward march. On March 25, 1997, at a conference of the Euro-Atlantic Association held at Warsaw University, Joe Biden, then a senator, outlined the conditions for Poland’s accession to NATO. “All NATO member states have free-market economies with the private sector playing a leading role,” he said. Furthermore,
The mass privatization plan represents a major step toward giving the Polish people a direct stake in the economic future of their country. But this is not the time to stop. I believe that large, state-owned enterprises should also be placed in the hands of private owners, so that they can be operated with economic, rather than political interests in mind.… Businesses like banks, the energy sector, the state airline, the state copper producer, and the telecommunications monopoly will have to be privatized.
Membership in the imperialist alliance calls on states to surrender the very material basis of their sovereignty—a process that we see replicated with precision all along its violent path. In a recent proposal for Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction, for example, the RAND Corporation lays out what could properly be described as a neocolonial agenda. From “creating an efficient market for private land” to “speeding privatization…in 3,300 state-owned enterprises,” its proposals add to a broad raft of liberalization policies implemented with foreign influence and under the cover of war, including legislation that deprives the majority of Ukrainian workers of collective bargaining rights. In this way, the mission of NATO expansion is inseparable from the cancerous advance of the neoliberal model of globalization, which hardens within NATO member states into a condition of perpetual exploitation. States within the alliance are required to siphon a substantial portion of their social surplus away from housing, jobs, and public infrastructure toward voracious military monopolies, the largest of which are based in the United States. In the process, they strengthen the domestic ruling class, which, as in Sweden and Finland, is the primary cheerleader for accession to NATO and stands to be its main beneficiary. These factors gradually foreclose anticapitalist and antimilitarist political alternatives: there can be no socialism within NATO.
Beyond the economic havoc, NATO accession carries with it the moral stain of the collective West’s violence. When my native Poland acquired its junior seat at the imperialist table, it became a vassal and a collaborator following the model of Vichy France. We were a nation that, under socialism, had helped channel our experiences in post-war reconstruction to the Third World. Our architects, urban planners, and builders helped envision and construct mass housing projects and hospitals in Iraq. Decades later, we sent troops to lay siege to the cities we helped build. At the Stare Kiejkuty intelligence base in northeastern Poland, we hosted a clandestine U.S. prison, where detainees were viciously tortured—a clear violation of our national constitution. Budimex, a company that once drew up a development plan for Baghdad, has now completed building a wall along Poland’s border with Belarus—a buffer against the Middle Eastern refugees that, in the words of Poland’s ruling class, infect our nation with “parasites and protozoa.” If fascism is a tool for shielding capitalism from democracy, NATO is its incubator.
In 1987, Mikhail Gorbachev presented a vision for a “European Common Home”: a doctrine of restraint to replace a doctrine of deterrence, as he later put it, which would make armed conflict within Europe impossible. Just three years later, the promise of a new security order grounded in Gorbachev’s proposals began to take shape. It might have seemed, for a time, within reach. The Charter of Paris for a New Europe, adopted by the countries of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) in November 1990, contained the seeds for a shared security architecture grounded in the principles of “respect and co-operation” set out in the United Nations Charter. This new model of mutual security would have included the countries of the former Soviet Union, Russia among them.
Publicly, NATO members supported the process and reaffirmed the commitments given by James Baker to Gorbachev in 1990 that NATO would “not expand an inch” eastward. Germany’s Der Spiegel recently unearthed UK records from 1991 in which U.S., U.K., French, and German officials were unequivocal: “We could not…offer membership of NATO to Poland and the others.”24 But privately, the U.S. government was busy plotting its era of hegemony. “We prevailed, they didn’t,” George H. W. Bush said to Helmut Kohl in February 1990, the same month the United States gave the green light to the CSCE process. “We can’t let the Soviets clutch victory from the jaws of defeat.” No organization would “replace NATO as the guarantor of Western security and stability,” Bush told French President François Mitterrand in April of that year, no doubt referring to proposals taking shape within Europe. Successive waves of NATO expansion gradually eroded the idea that a common security architecture—outside of the sphere of U.S. domination—might emerge on the European continent.
Pawel Wargan, Monthly Review
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