By Clara Trippe
As NATO celebrates its 70 years of existence as a political and military multilateral institution this April, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visited the US to meet with Congress, President Trump and foreign ministers to discuss its future.
While Trump has made his distaste of NATO known in the past, stating on multiple occasions that the organization is “obsolete,” his recent stance on the organization has become more moderate. Instead, Trump now argues that NATO isn’t obsolete, but that other NATO countries should increase their defense spending to equalize the contributions of member states. NATO members are supposed to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP in the military by 2024. So far, only eight of NATO’s 29 members have complied. However, Trump is already upping the ante, saying that NATO members should double that to 4 percent. Already the European people are balking at their governments’ efforts to get to 2 percent. Any attempt to push military spending to 4 percent would risk massive protests in Europe.
It’s unfortunate that Trump has focused on military spending, jettisoning his original—and correct—notion that NATO should be obsolete. NATO was originally founded by the US and 11 other Western nations as an attempt to curb the rise of communism in 1949. Six years later, Communist nations, led by the Soviet Union, founded the Warsaw Pact and through these two multilateral institutions the entire globe became a field for the warring interests between the US and the Soviets. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact was disbanded, but NATO continued to exist and in fact expand--growing from its original 12 members to 29 member countries.
While claiming to be a force of peace, it is clear from NATO’s origin and continued actions that the organization was created to expand Western influence using military intervention. To this day, NATO plays a key role in military conflicts and commits human rights violations around the globe under the pretense of peacebuilding.
In 1999, NATO engaged in military operations without UN approval in Yugoslavia. Its illegal airstrikes during the Kosovo War left hundreds of civilians dead. NATO has continued illegal military actions, including attacks on civilians, torture of prisoners, and unauthorized airstrikes, particularly in the Middle East region.
NATO has been waging war in Afghanistan since 2001. In 2011, it illegally invaded Libya, destabilizing that country and creating a failed state. Even though NATO’s bombing of Libya caused masses of people to flee, NATO refused aid to desperate migrants on the Mediterranean, causing thousands to die. NATO’s actions continue to destabilize the regions they occupy, mainly through indiscriminate attacks that regularly kill civilians.
In more recent years, NATO has exacerbated Cold War-era tensions as it has expanded to Russia’s borders, despite earlier promises not to move eastward. In response, tensions between Western powers and Russia have been rising. This has led to multiple close calls between military forces. It has also led both US and Russia to bolster their nuclear arsenals, spurring a new arms race.
While organizations like Amnesty International have accused NATO of war crimes, the organization avoids accountability because of the shared power of its member countries.
It’s impossible to say that NATO has conformed to its original premise to increase freedom and security around the globe. Instead, its role has been one of increasing conflicts, particularly in the Middle East. In a world where people are desperate to end war and are anxious to see a transfer of public funds from the military to human needs , NATO should indeed become a relic of the past. Seventy years of militarism is enough.
Clara Trippe is an intern with CODEPINK.