After assuming command of NATO in 1950, then General Eisenhower said “If in 10 years, all American troops stationed in Europe for national defense purposes have not been returned to the United States, then this whole project will have failed.” The Cold War is over. NATO has long outlived its original purpose.The old system of alliances does little to do to protect sovereign nations, and instead gives more ability to industrialized, wealthier nations to exploit weaker States. Even NATO actions that are done under the guise of “humanitarian intervention” often have catastrophic consequences for the local population. As so many of these interventions have included bombing campaigns, civilian casualties are high. Often, NATO forces have used weapons banned by the Geneva Conventions, including depleted uranium and cluster bombs. Both of these weapons have long lasting and disastrous consequences for a local civilian population long after combat ends and forces withdraw.
Cluster bombs are particularly dangerous long after conflicts end. The weapon explodes midair and scatters up to 200 bomblets over an area and remain unexploded until someone or something comes in contact with them. In 2001, the BBC reported cluster munitions United States forces used in areas in Afghanistan were similar in appearance to “emergency food parcels wrapped in yellow plastic” U.S. Planes had been dropping and villagers had difficulty distinguishing the two. NATO used cluster munitions in the conflict in Yugoslavia and reports have indicated their use in Libya as well. Evidence also suggests the use of depleted uranium by NATO forces in both these conflicts.
In general, airstrikes of any kind cause scores of civilian casualties. An Amnesty International report found in at least 5 separate airstrikes, dozens of civilians – many of which were children – were killed and many more injured. Ali Ali Hamed Gafez, lost his daughter, niece, her three children, and several other relatives, in an airstrike which struck his home in Majer in August of 2011. His wife managed to survive, though had to have her leg amputated. Gafez told Amnesty “My home became a graveyard for my family and until today neither NATO nor the NTC have even contacted us, not even to say sorry or to ask about the victims. We have been forgotten.” As of March 2012, NATO has yet to contact any of the survivors of the strikes in Libya.
One of the larger conundrums of an organization like NATO lies in the intended purpose of “mutual defense.” The idea that in the modern age, we still need a system of allies in order to protect smaller or weaker states from aggressors. Unfortunately, that sentiment engenders not only a sense of solidarity between nation states, but just as much, a sense of conflict. It makes warfare between states seem completely inevitable, that conflict between the powerful and powerless is an eventuality or constant. It props up and justifies a global war machine, and justifies the creation and use of new and powerful weapons where often, civilian populations pay the ultimate price.
If we are to truly build a better future for the world, we need to let go of the idea of mutual defense, and instead embrace the idea of mutual cooperation. NATO runs an annual budget of nearly $2 billion Euros. Member nations pay into a pool based on their GDP. While this is small in comparison to the amount of money a country like the United States spends on defense (nearly $1 trillion), such funds would be better spent building bridges between nations, rather than bombs to drop on them. Mutually Assured Defense is the same Cold War mentality that bred the idea of Mutually Assured Destruction, which created the massive nuclear arms race between nations that still affects the world today.
Oppressed people in any nation state deserve to be defended and liberated, if necessary. Actions like indiscriminately carpet bombing a region, or occupying an area with armed troops ready to fire on anyone who oppose them however, help to continue the cycle of violence and prop up an ever growing and always hungry war machine. Rather than worry about defending only those who sign a particular treaty or pledge money to defend member nations, humanity should start to instead think about the world as a whole. In a world whose resources continue to shrink, dedicating them to building means of defense only assures that they will be used for destruction.
In the 1960′s, only a few short years after NATO’s continued existence would have been considered a “failure” by Eisenhower, philosopher and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller suggested that humanity already possessed the resources, technology and knowhow to make the world a 100% physical success. Decades later, that idea is a reality. The more energy and resources we spend on the idea of mutually assured defense through mutually assured destruction, the less energy and resources we have to spend on breaking out of an old mentality that perpetuates the cycle of violence and build a cycle of prosperity for all people.