By: Christos C. Evangeliou, Professor of Philosophy
Special to the Hellenic News of America
As a military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO came into being in 1949. It was a byproduct of the political rivalry between the two victors of World War II, the Western Democracies led by the United States of America, and the Socialist Republics of Eastern Europe led by the USSR. In spite of their different political and economic systems, these two great powers had found it expedient to cooperate during the war against the common enemy, and managed to defeat the Axis Powers. After the war, however, the two former allies quarreled over the spoils of victory especially in Europe, and their fundamental differences came into display.
The Stalinist policies of the USSR after the war and during the reconstruction years were perceived in the West as threatening to the freedom and prosperity of the Western Democracies. NATO was then conceived as a potent military means of common defense of the Western Allies. To counteract NATO’s military might the USSR created the Warsaw Pact in 1955, at the time when the Western Germany was made a NATO member. Thus the stage was set for the Cold War that divided Europe and most of the world into two hostile camps, armed with nuclear weapons, and facing each other menacingly for almost four decades.
The Cold War finally ended in 1991, with the collapse of the USSR and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. Logically, this outcome should have brought about the dissolution of NATO as well, since the communist threat that had caused and sustained its existence had ceased to exist. But, unfortunately, logic does not rule or guide history as much as human passions do, especially the will to power, to absolute political and hegemonic power, if possible.
Instead of listening to the voices of reason that were raised at the time, suggesting that it would be prudent to reduce the role of NATO in the New World Order if not abolish it altogether, the persons in power turned a deaf ear. First the Clinton and then the Bush Administrations opted for something new and dangerous. They decided to increase the military power of the Alliance, to change its mission from defensive to preemptive, and to expand it so that it would incorporate gradually the ex-members of the Warsaw Pact. Ultimately, the NATO expansion would include the Eastern European States, the Balkan States, the Baltic States and even the Black Sea States, like Georgia and Ukraine and so forth. Indeed, there are no limits to human greediness as well as to human folly, as Socrates said.
All this was evidently planned at the NATO headquarters, without regard to any possible or actual objections from Russia. Apparently, the NATO and the US strategic thinking in the 1990es and later on was that Russia was in such an economic and political crisis that it would not have other options but to accept the brutal political fact, the limitless expansion of NATO all the way to its borders.
However, thanks to America’s seemingly endless Iraq war and the high price of oil, the economic recovery of Russia and its political stability have proceeded much faster than expected. So Russia is now in a position to put some obstacles in NATO’s expansion eastwards and southwards. Some Balkan countries have not as yet become NATO members (Serbia, Kosovo, FYROM etc.), so Russia may have a role to play there in the near future. It certainly would not accept or allow for Ukraine or Georgia to become NATO members without raising some strong objections or flexing some of its revived military and economic muscle. If the Bush Administration or its successors insist on the planned NATO expansion without limit, it may unwisely cause a new arms race and another Cold War with the real possibility of turning hot either by accident or foolish design.
An expansive and aggressive NATO that is determined to antagonize Russia would not be a factor of peace and security in Europe and the world at large. It could play such role only if it was willing and able to cooperate with Russia itself, instead of trying to absorb its various pieces in Europe and beyond. The war in Afganistan, and more so the war in Iraq, have shown that the US policy makers have decided to use the military power of NATO as a tool to establish a hegemonic rule and control of the global world. NATO’s recent missions have not been defensive as its original charter envisioned, but aggressive and preemptive.
This rather strange development provides an opportunity for NATO members, especially the original European member States, to reconsider the Alliance’s role in the post-Cold-War era, or at least their own role in the changed NATO. Does the European Union really want to be part of such an aggressive Alliance? What do the EU member States have to gain from a possible renewal of the militaristic antagonism between the US and Russia? Wouldn’t they be better off to side with weakened and cautious Russia rather than an arrogant and aggressive US? It is time for new political thinking regarding such essential questions, and Greece can play a leading role in this debate.
Greece has been one of the first and most loyal members of the NATO Alliance. It has faithfully kept its part of the contract. It has accepted extensive use of its air space and territory by the Alliance, especially the Suda Bay in Crete, without which the US adventures into the Middle East would have been much more costly in dollars and lives. It has paid its dues regularly and contributed to NATO missions in the Balkans and in Afganistan. But, paradoxically, Greece has felt threatened all along by Turkey, another NATO member.
As you may recall, making illegal use of the weapons of the Alliance (which were supposed to be used for defensive purposes), Turkey attacked Cyprus in 1974, invaded and occupied about 40% of the island, which still holds despite numerous UN resolutions. The United States and NATO have not succeeded as yet to persuade the Turks to get out of Cyprus, even after Turkey refused to allow the US and its alliance to open a second front in the north during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. NATO is indeed a strange alliance, if its members are allowed to act so recklessly and irresponsibly as Turkey has done in this case. One can only imagine what will happen after the planned expansion is completed.
Besides, since the US and NATO decided to break up Yugoslavia in its multiple ethnic components in the 1990es, Greece has faced another serious problem from the so-called FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). This tiny and unstable Balkan entity has dared to usurp not only the name but also the glorious history of ancient Greek Macedonia. The Bush Administration had the temerity, after its re-election with Greek-American support, to recognize FYROM as “Republic of Macedonia.” Now it wants to make FYROM a member of NATO as well with the illicit name, and presses Greece to accept the fact and to accommodate FYROM.
This is another (the most recent and most painful) humiliation for the Greeks as faithful allies of the US and NATO members. Well, they may have had enough of this kind of micro-politics and nonsensical behavior of the Alliance and its leader, the United States of America. The Greeks may decide to stand up and, united with other European Union States, say “No” to NATO, which has become arrogantly aggressive and inconsiderate of its members and their histories. The old NATO was cautious and worthy of European support, as the new NATO is reckless and perhaps unworthy, if it continues in this dead-end way of moving ahead.
Will the political leaders of Greece have the courage to get out of NATO first, and show the way for other European friends to follow their leadership? Will they dare to teach the arrogant USA a lesson of humility, by throwing their bases out of Crete, and letting the Sixth Fleet fight its wars in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf by using the harbors of FYROM or Kosovo? Will they be able to persuade the other sober European nations that their future should be with the Russians if their leaders were to continue to be reasonable, not with the Americans if they are misled and misbehaved by their leaders as they have been lately? These are good questions, to which answers remain unclear at present. It would be tragic if NATO, which saved the peace during the Cold War, caused a hot war to erupt by its provocative moves in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. In its war against terrorism the US will need Russia. At any rate, the US cannot antagonize both great powers, Russia and China, at the same time. President Elect, Mr. Donald Trump, seems to understand this, but it remains to be seen how he will act as President Trump.