At the beginning of April, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, Chrystia Freeland, went to Washington D.C. to celebrate seven decades of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. She attended the NATO meeting of foreign ministers, where U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave the keynote address.
Freeland referred to NATO as “the most effective alliance in history” in a tweet.
An honour for Canada to be here marking the 70th anniversary of @NATO – the most effective alliance in history. Now is a moment to reflect on our success and work hard to ensure our alliance is fit for purpose into the future. #WeAreNATO pic.twitter.com/DQkGSkQuBL— Chrystia Freeland (@cafreeland) April 4, 2019
Outside the meeting, peace activists from Montreal, Vancouver and Victoria were part of a protest against this dangerous transatlantic alliance. Thousands of activists from across Canada and the United States converged on the U.S. capital to participate in a week-long campaign of actions against NATO, war and racism. This “No 2 NATO 2019 Mobilization” was a bi-national effort to begin to build a resistance to the military alliance.
Across Canada: No to NATO
In Canada, hundreds of people rallied against NATO — in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton and Halifax. Organizations including the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, the Canadian Peace Congress, Hamilton Coalition to the Stop the War, and Vancouver-based Mobilization Against War and Occupation coordinated actions with the U.S. United Antiwar National Coalition, World Beyond War, Veterans for Peace, CODEPINK and other American peace groups.
Across the country, Canadians are beginning to challenge the persistent and pervasive myths that NATO secures peace and promotes the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The truth is that NATO has exacerbated instability around the world to serve as a pretext for its military interventions and as a justification for its continued existence. Since the end of the Cold War, it has been enlarged through violent regime-change operations rife with violations of international laws and norms — it is not a record of success but of disaster.
Illegal bombing of Yugoslavia, 1999
Twenty years ago, during the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s conflict with Kosovo, an autonomous region in the federation, NATO — including Canada — launched airstrikes without United Nations Security Council authorization.
Over 10,000 bombs were dropped during the 78-day campaign, destroying civilian infrastructure including bridges, media outlets and power grids. The Chinese embassy was also bombed and three Chinese journalist were killed. An estimated 500 to 2,000 Serbian civilians were killed and 200,000 Serbians were displaced from their homes. In his book First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, historian David Gibbs challenged the claim that NATO’s bombing campaign prevented ethnic cleansing and helped end the civil war, contending instead that NATO’s interventions prolonged the Balkan crisis.
Canada’s former ambassador to Yugoslavia, James Bissett, argued at that time that NATO’s bombing of Serbia was a flagrant violation of international law and that Canada had committed a war crime. He was then barred from entering the Canadian embassy in Belgrade and talking to his diplomatic colleagues by Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy.
The pernicious effects of NATO bombing have endured. Last year, the Serbian Parliament established a commission to investigate the health effects of NATO’s use of depleted uranium bombs. Serbian lawyers have also put together a lawsuit against NATO countries that took part in the bombing for their use of depleted uranium munitions. They estimate that 10 to 15 tonnes of depleted uranium DU were dropped on Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro, which has led to an increase in cancer among the population over the past two decades. NATO’s intervention in the former Yugoslavia not only destroyed the federation but has had long-term adverse health and social impacts.
Insecurity and protracted war in Afghanistan, 2001–present
Despite 18 years in Afghanistan, NATO’s mission has been an abject failure and the Taliban control vast swaths of the country. The NATO-trained Afghan army and police force are highly inefficient and corrupt. The illegitimate central government is comprised of warlords that were funded and armed by Western forces during the long war, such as notorious strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is vice-president.
Canada sent 40,000 soldiers and special forces to support the NATO intervention in Afghanistan. Over the 12-year military campaign, 158 Canadian soldiers and seven Canadians were killed during the campaign. More Canadian soldiers committed suicide than were killed in Afghanistan. The Cost of War Project, a team of 35 scholars and experts who track the cost of U.S. interventions, estimated that at least 38,000 innocent civilians have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, tens of thousands have been injured and many more have been displaced.
Over the past few years, traumatized Afghans have submitted over a million claims to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigations into alleged war crimes committed by NATO troops in all 34 of the country’s provinces. Afghans are urging the ICC chief prosecutor to launch a war crimes investigation.
Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin, who was posted to Afghanistan, claimed that the Canadian military was complicit in torture, as soldiers knowingly turned over detainees to Afghan and U.S. custody, where torture was rampant. In December 2017, Osgoode law professor Craig Scott filed a dossier to the ICC to urge the court to investigate these claims. Canada’s long war has included allegations of torture and war crimes. Successive federal governments have resisted calls for a public inquiry into Canada’s troubled combat mission in Afghanistan.
Instability in Libya and North Africa, 2011–present
The current chaos in Libya is a direct result of NATO’s disastrous military intervention in 2011. At the time, U.S. and NATO allies rejected the African Union’s roadmap for a peaceful resolution, which was supported by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, to the internal crisis occurring in the country. Instead, NATO launched a bombing campaign that was commanded by Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard. For seven months, over 7,700 precision-guided bombs were dropped, killing hundreds of civilians.
NATO also supported and armed the rebels who killed Gaddafi eight years ago and who are now fighting to overthrow the UN-backed government in Tripoli. Rebel commander Khalifa Haftar, a Libyan American who lived for two decades in Virginia near the CIA headquarters, attempted a coup three years ago and is leading the latest offensive.
Horace Campbell, professor of African American studies and political science, argued in his book NATO’s failure in Libya: Lessons for Africa that the alliance’s intervention was a regime-change operation to secure Western access to Libyan resources and stop Gaddafi’s pan-African agenda, which challenged the West’s interests on the continent.
NATO’s destabilizing intervention in Libya also led to a massive refugee and humanitarian crisis across North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea.
Provocation of Russia and a new Cold War, 2008–present
At the NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008, a declaration was made to encourage Ukraine and Georgia to become members of the alliance, which greatly antagonized Russia. Six years later following the U.S.-staged crisis and coup in the Ukraine, NATO has aggressively expanded eastward, with troops from Estonia to the Ukraine, along the Russian border.
In 2014, Ukrainian oligarch Petro Poroshenko, who was backed by Washington and Brussels, was elected. Under NATO’s auspices, Canada came to train Kiev’s security forces with plans to remain until 2022. Canada also stationed troops in Poland as part of a NATO mission from 2014 to 2017. Currently, Canada is commanding a NATO battle group in Latvia and has a number of its warships on patrols in the Black Sea. Canadian fighter jets are part of NATO’s air policing of the region. Operation Reassurance, Canada’s mission in Eastern Europe, has been extended to 2023.
Last fall, the largest NATO war exercise, Operation Trident Juncture, took place along Russia’s border. The alliance’s 2018 military exercise involved 50,000 soldiers and personnel deployed along the Norwegian coastline, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. Canada sent 2,000 soldiers and personnel plus frigates, fighter jets and aerial refuellers.
These alliance war exercises and force projections are dangerously provoking Russia and inflaming a new Cold War.
NATO’s 2 per cent target and an arms race
Under the Wales Summit Declaration in 2014, NATO allies committed to further increase their defence budgets to 2 per cent of GDP by 2024. But 29 NATO members combined spend over $1-trillion per year on their militaries and are the world’s biggest weapons manufacturers, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). By contrast, since 2014, Russia has reduced its defence budget by 20 per cent and spends only $66 billion per year on its military.
Last spring, NATO secretary general Jen Stoltenberg came to Ottawa and prodded the Canadian government to spend more on the alliance. Yet, on a cash basis, Canada is ranked sixth-highest among all members and spends 1.3 per cent of GDP on defence, as reported in NATO’s defence expenditures report. Globally, according to SIPRI, Canada ranks 14th for military spending, at $27-billion in 2017. NATO’s intense pressure on members to increase their military spending diverts precious public funds away from urgent social and environmental needs.
Because of its membership in NATO, Canada and other allies have refused to join the new UN Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons. NATO’s heavy hitters, — the United States, the United Kingdom and France — are spending billions to modernize their nuclear arsenals. The transatlantic alliance’s reliance on these weapons of mass destruction risks a nuclear arms race and is grave threat to human security.
NATO’s embeddedness in Canada
The Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association (CANA) exists to maintain ongoing domestic political support for the alliance. There are 34 senators and 253 members of parliament involved in the association, including NDP MPs Peter Julian, Randall Garrison, Brian Masse and Rachel Blaney. Pressure must be applied to all senators and MPs to withdraw their membership in CANA. Canadian politicians uncritically support this alliance and fail to honestly account for NATO’s egregious actions.
Last year, the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence — chaired by Liberal MP Stephen Fuhr, a former CF-18 fighter pilot with the Canadian Air Force — released a laudatory report entitled Canada and NATO: An Alliance Forged in Strength and Reliability. The report claims that Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are the threats that require a strong NATO-Canada response, but it fails to consider how NATO’s actions are escalating tension and conflict. It does not fully and frankly assess NATO’s post–Cold War record. There is no criticism of NATO’s illegal bombing of the former Yugoslavia, failure in Afghanistan, destabilization of Libya and provocation in Ukraine. Instead, the report makes several recommendations to the federal government, including strengthening Canada’s military capacity and increasing military spending to reach NATO’s 2 per cent target.
In Toronto, a Canadian office for NATO — funded by corporate sponsors including SNC Lavalin, Irving and U.S. weapons giants Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics — holds public events, has internship programs for students and regularly publishes reports and articles about the alliance. Called the NATO Association of Canada, it helped Canada become one of five NATO countries to pilot the #WeAreNATO social media campaign last year to elicit support for the alliance.
In January this year, the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace began a monthly demonstration outside the office to protest NATO and to publicize opposition to the alliance.
Challenging NATO and building a resistance to the military alliance
Currently, NATO is unchallenged and normalized in the media and public and political discourse. It is also legitimized and lauded by think tanks and civil society in the country. Canadians must counter the dominant narrative that NATO is a force for peace and security in the world, because its post–Cold War record proves otherwise.
In a 2017 interview with Carleton University, Bissett said that NATO’s bombing of Serbia had established a dangerous pattern that has been followed in Iraq, Libya, Syria and the Ukraine. This pattern of aggressive NATO intervention, the former ambassador said, is “the greatest threat to peace and security that we face today.”
NATO’s interventions have fuelled instability and insecurity in Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. This exclusive, U.S.-dominated military alliance promotes Western interests and undermines the United Nations. NATO’s constant push to increase military spending impoverishes us and prevents us from having the resources we need to avert catastrophic climate change, end poverty and achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It’s time to say no to NATO.
We must work together to build a resistance against this transatlantic alliance and offer an alternative vision of security based on disarmament and sustainable development. To cap its 70th anniversary, NATO will hold a summit in London, England, in December 2019. British peace groups are planning a major protest. Canadian peace groups will also organize solidarity actions at the same time. We must say together clearly and unequivocally: #WeAreNotNATO. Seven decades is enough. Canada should get out of NATO, and NATO should be abolished.