Having saved the world economy by re-labelling various huge sums of money they are going to print, our glorious leaders have now moved on for another showpiece event in Strasbourg, a summit on the 60th anniversary of NATO.
In the shadow of the ludicrously over-egged G20, they are trying desperately to raise the hyperbole still further, with President Sarkozy declaring that the freedom of mankind is dependent on the outcome of the conflict in Afghanistan.
As NATO is fighting in Afghanistan to keep in power a puppet government whose ministers include the largest heroin barons in the World, whose President’s family are deeply involved in drug smuggling, and which has just passed legislation to roll back the rights of women, including enshrining the right of a husband to force sex upon his wife (or wives, as the legislation in fact specifies but has not been generally noted), it is a little bit difficult to understand how freedom depends upon all this. Especially when a key part of the strategy is an alliance with President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, undeniably one of the World’s worst dictators, who provides the NATO German airbase at Termez and with whom the US is in negotiation to resume its alliance.
The occupation of Afghanistan is of course part of the so-called “War on Terror”. It is a good pointer to the flaws in the whole concept, because the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable. For every civilian killed by aerial bombardment, for everyone tortured in Baghram, for everybody pushed around by alien coalition forces, there is a reaction of growing opposition to the invasion and increasing support for fundamentalism, especially among the Pashtun population of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The whole conflict is in a dizzying downward spiral which threatens to undermine Pakistan, with highly destabilising consequences for the sub-region.
It is a crazy concept, unless you are in the security or armaments industries, where the last eight years of war have been extremely profitable, just as conflict increased energy prices have been for the oil industry. It is a disaster for the ordinary taxpayer, but a huge and never-ending payday for some.
Angela Merkel has stated that Afghanistan points the way to the future of NATO. To which some may reply that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation plainly has a poor sense of direction. The idea that the way to defeat terrorism is to point the largest conventional forces in the World at it, is plainly nonsense. Asymmetric warfare thrives and recruits just on that mismatch.
I was Head of the Foreign Office Maritime Section when the Berlin Wall came down, and shortly afterwards was First Secretary Political at the British Embassy in Warsaw. I recall all the policy papers on the future of NATO, as the opposing Warsaw Pact evaporated. The question the papers all tried to answer was “How do we find a new role for NATO?”. The prior question “Is NATO needed any more?” was never asked. At that time the consensus was that the future focus of NATO would be on drug-smuggling, though how you stop drug-smuggling with tanks was something about which my scepticism was not entirely ill-received. (It is worth noting – and I am no Tory – that dissenting opinion was welcomed and discussed in the thirteen years I worked in the FCO under the Tories. Under New Labour dissent very quickly became viewed as disloyalty).
Throughout the 90s NATO then moved into a situation when Eastwards expansion became, in itself, the raison d’etre of the organisation. There was so much work to do in ensuring that all the Eastern European militaries could communicate in English, share radio frequencies and fire the same ammunition as their Western NATO colleagues, that there was no time for any thought as to why we were doing it. But even before Putin came to power, the signs that we were stoking nationalism in a now encircled Russia became clear.
Then 9/11 and the War on Terror solved the existentialist gap. NATO became the more respectable wing of the “coalition of the willing”. Ironically, as in the early 90s it had been positioning itself as an anti drug smuggling organisation, NATO presided over and protected the great ever opium harvests and heroin production levels in human history. It expanded into Central Asia. Under the NATO Partnership For Peace alrrangements, British troops trained Uzbek forces in marksmanship before they carried out the Andijan massacre.
Now here we are, with a real disaster unfolding in Afghanistan – a state which failed because the Cold War was fought there by proxy over twenty years, with the US fostering the very fundamentalist forces it now is losing to. And NATO, having drifted into this mess, declares sonorously that this is its future.
Ironically, President Obama made some more hopeful progress while in London by agreeing with President Medvedev to restart talks on nuclear disarmament. Compare that to Bush’s apparent eagerness to kickstart a new arms race, which suited Putin’s authoritarian agenda just fine.
But Obama’s new disarmament initiative points up still further the utter folly of New Labour’s plans to spend £120 billion on a replacement of the Trident nuclear weapon system, thus adding massively to mankind’s capacity for self-destruction at a time when the UK is broke, and when we need to be spending many. many times more than we are on renewable energy.
I am a harsh critic of Russia’s government, which has no respect for human rights or democracy. But Russia is not the Soviet Union and we d not need to face it in terms of massive blocs and mutually assured destruction. The time for the British nuclear deterrent is gone. And so is the time for NATO.
Added into comments by Alba, and making my point perfectly: “The US today has signed an agreement with the butcher of Uzbek people to transit goods through Uzbekistan”.