Setting a Bad Tone: The NATO Summit & the Civilizing Force of Chicago ‘anti-Westernism’

Before national leaders from around the globe gather in Chicago for the upcoming NATO summit pertinent questions should be raised about the political and economic ambitions of this military organization. A reasonably accurate picture of the objectives of this alliance can be sensed in the internal documentary record and mainstream commentary. Chief among NATO’s objectives is to prevent the “disruption of vital sea lanes,” and to “[preserve] trade and access to raw materials”. To be precise, Western military might must be unleashed to preserve open access to the world’s energy resources or as NATO’s deputy assistant secretary Jamie Shea put it, “[NATO] has evolved from a defense into a security organization,” assigned with the task of conducting “multinational interventions,” as a “military power projector”. These political goals—what Shea calls “projecting stability”—forms the core of NATO’s “principal post-Cold War service,” as the preeminent military intervention force in international affairs. 

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is primarily controlled by the United States which commands approximately “75% of its defense budget”. Quite naturally, all of the projects that this alliance engages in are consistent with the imperial goals of the US. The documentary evidence for such an conclusion is abundant. Take for example a 1960 CIA National Intelligence Estimate which expressed that the alliance would conduct military activities “not only in NATO areas but throughout the world”. These imperial aspirations received brutal affirmation in the 1999 bombing of Serbia, last year’s bombing of Libya, and the current occupation of Afghanistan. The core principle behind these interventions was succinctly captured by Andrew Bacevich, who in describing the bombing of Serbia noted “[the intervention was launched] not, as claimed, to put a stop to ethnic cleansing or in response to claims of conscience, but to preempt threats to the cohesion of NATO and the credibility of American power.” Veteran investigative journalist Robert Fisk arrived at similar conclusions, condemning what he called “a mischievous clause in [NATO’s] prewar peace proposals to Milošević that would force him to accept NATO troops all across Serbia.” Efforts of this kind to sustain “the credibility of American power,” is a central theme not only in the survival of NATO but in the larger imperial mission to retard “the growing representation of the underdeveloped world in the UN,” along with the progress of those nations who seek to “encourage and exploit the erosion of Western influences”. Prior to these interventions this function of NATO as a US intervention force to attack the sovereignty of disobedient countries was advanced under the tactical nuclear “shield strategy”. This Cold War arrangement involved the installation of US-supplied “tactical nuclear missiles” in Europe and undermined the sovereignty of European states like France, West Germany, and the UK under the pretext of the Soviet threat. It’s shamefully easy to expose the fabrication of the Soviet “threat” because soon after the dissolution of the USSR in 1989 NATO not only survived but expanded its reach to the East under the stated motive to “[integrate] the rising global powers into a rules based economic system”. When these realties are noted, substance is added to former French president de Gaulle’s criticism that the “integration of NATO forces represents a derogation of national sovereignty.” Similar concerns were made clear by the UK and Western Germany who also presented real problems to the cohesion of NATO through their attachment to “special national interests”. Incidentally, US military presence in Europe also failed to subside as demonstrated by the fact that “28 military bases,” and “37,000 US troops” remain stationed in Europe, which is “more [US] troops than any other place outside the US”.

 Of crucial note is that all of this intelligence is sharply at odds with the Cold War logic where NATO is the primary counterweight necessary to protect Europe from the spread of Soviet “communism” (a military doctrine championed by Article 5 of NATO’s founding document.) A close reading of declassified CIA reports shows that the real threat to NATO wasn’t “communism” but independent development or as the CIA stated “even if . . .states do not fall under communist influence, the weakness, irresponsibility, and anti-Westernism of many of their leaders will pose increasing problems to NATO.” It should be added that the parallel trajectories of North Atlantic growth and the destruction of national sovereignty is so explicit that the CIA recognized in 1960 that “independent British and French nuclear weapons,” would have to be developed in order for the US to more equitably devote its resources of violence toward maintaining its “special position in Latin America and the Far East”. This is of particular significance when one considers NATO’s stated goal of nuclear non-proliferation and their ambitions to halt the development of Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles. Iran, unlike European powers, does not endorse America’s unilateral right to carry out military aggression against any country not deemed sufficiently obedient. Therefore, the prospect of an Iranian nuclear arsenal is a complex problem and “an existential threat,” that necessitates the resort to criminal speeches where national leaders are free “keep all options on the table.”

Though decades have passed since the publication of this CIA report, the commitment to eradicate any sign of “anti-Westernism,” has gained momentum in the bombing of Libya and the current occupation of Afghanistan. In the former case Human Rights Watch produced an extensive report detailing “eight NATO air strikes in Libya that resulted in 72 civilian deaths, including 20 women and 24 children.” Predictably, NATO downplayed the magnitude of this crime, maintaining that the “specific targets struck,” were “legitimate military targets”. When civilians are indiscriminately murdered by Western forces their death is, by definition, “legitimate,” but when a Western soldier—a US troop in Afghanistan for example—is killed by an Afghan soldier it’s routinely portrayed as a sign of moral depravity, a “systemic threat”, or barbarism. Comfortable contradictions of this kind are easily sustained when basic principles of international law are dismissed in the name of “security”. And this culture of impunity has domestic consequences.

This can be perceived in the massive mobilization of resistance groups within the US from Occupy Chicago to Iraq Veterans Against the War. Stephen Flannigan of the Center for Strategic and International Studies noted that President Obama possibly moved the G8 summit from Chicago to Camp David out of concerns that “elements within the anti-globalization movement,” might “set a bad tone”. Much like the victims of NATO’s structural and military violence abroad, the population of the US have rejected the rationale of domination that has led to a situation where “Europe and North America account for over 50% of the world’s defense spending.” Thousands of people in Afghanistan continue to have their most elementary human rights violated under the NATO occupation, a military campaign that reached new heights of inhumanity with the release of photographs of US troops posing with dismembered corpses. This was followed by a report from the LA Times that “two NATO air strikes, one in the north of Afghanistan and one in the south, killed 14 civilians, including a mother and five children.” Silence on the part of those in America will not only allow these crimes to proceed but would signify complicity in a worldview that systematically robs others of self-determination. This fight is a necessary affirmation of our common humanity, and unlike Libyan civilians, our target is legitimate.


Chomsky, Noam. Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2003.

Fisk, Robert. The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East. New York: Vintage Books, 2005.


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