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NATO: The Military Impacts of an "Undivided Democratic Europe"


June 18, 2015
Gar Smith / Earth Island Journal

NATO was created in 1949 to protect Western Europe from an invasion by the USSR. With the Soviet collapse and the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact, NATO should have ceased to exist. Instead, NATO began to expand eastward into Eastern Europe, incorporating former Soviet countries in the process. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were "annexed" to the West at an estimated cost to US taxpayers of $100 billion. The question is: Why?

Special to Environmentalists Against War

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was created in 1949 to protect Western Europe from an invasion by the USSR. With the collapse of the Soviet Republic and the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact, one might have expected NATO to follow suit.

Instead, NATO (supposedly created as a bulwark against Soviet expansion into Europe) began to expand eastward, incorporating former Soviet countries in the process. NATO's initial movement into Eastern Europe -- embracing Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic – was undertaken at an estimated cost to US taxpayers of $100 billion. The question is: Why?

In his 1997 State of the Union speech, President Bill Clinton claimed that NATO expansion was essential to build "an undivided democratic Europe." But, as David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, observed, "the president's statement provided no indication of how NATO expansion would further the goal of 'an undivided democratic Europe,' nor why NATO must be expanded by 1999, nor why countries once our adversaries could not be our allies without being members of NATO."

George Kennan, former US ambassador to the Soviet Union, has called NATO expansion "the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era" and a move that threatens to "have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy."

The Center for Defense Information warned that expansion "may undercut a decade's worth of arms control treaties." In fact, NATO expansion prompted the Russians to halt progress on the START II nuclear reduction talks. And in May 1997, Russia instituted a dangerous new military policy permitting a "first use" of nuclear weapons. (This reversed the November 1993 Gorbachev era pledge not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries. Russia's policy now mirrors the US-backed policy that NATO employed during the Cold War.)

In a December 23, 1996 Newsweek column, Michael Mandelbaum, professor of foreign policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, observed that expanding NATO "is a rarity in public policy: an initiative that promises no benefits whatsoever." While Mandelbaum agreed that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic "have problems," he noted that "protecting democracy is not one of them."

The central European countries are the most unstable, and any potential Russian offensive first would imperil Ukraine and the Baltic states. "Thus, the countries that need NATO won't get it, and the countries that get it don't need it," Mandelbaum marveled.

As Peter Rudolf observed last year in the German foreign affairs journal Aussen-Politik, "The enlargement of NATO is primarily attributable to the interest of the USA in a continuation of its role as a European power, not to any desire for the 'neocontainment' of Russia." In Rudolf's analysis, it is simply an extension of the US policy of "benign hegemony."

There are four basic requirements for admission to NATO: democratic institutions, rule of law, free markets and civilian control of the armed forces and secret service. (Under these guidelines, Russia might one day legitimately demand to become a member of NATO. Arguably, the US is ineligible to be a NATO member since the Pentagon's "black budget" activities and many of the intelligence communities' operations lie beyond civilian control.)

There is little evidence that expanding a country's military budget helps preserve free markets or democracy. If anything, the opposite appears to be true.

NATO's War on the Environment
In expectation of its admittance to NATO, the Czech Republic commenced joint military exercises with French forces on Czech soil. Nearly 100 exercises were scheduled in 1997, with French trucks, tanks, jets and infantry churning up roads, plowing across fields, streaking through the skies and discharging rounds of live ammunition in the woods surrounding Czech villages.

NATO's Committee on Challenges of Modern Society (CCMS) has identified some of the problems caused by more than 25 years of NATO activities. These include: exposure of civilian populations to toxic material spills during movement of military goods; air pollution over coastal urban areas; air pollution from marine engines; hazardous constituents in defense-related activities; transport of contaminants through rivers, deltas and estuaries; disposal of radioactive and mixed waste; contaminated land and ground water; environmental noise; and chemical accidents.

On November 10, 1992, a CCMS report titled "Cross-Border Environmental Problems" noted that problems "with respect to chemical pollution are more widespread, and most of them constitute long-term hazards to ecosystems.

The main pollutants, which pose a threat to both local groundwater and the oceans, are oil derivatives and chemical components from weapons production, testing and dumping." CCMS also recommended that "priority should be given to promoting safe management and storage of spent uranium fuel and radioactive waste."

CCMS reported that the deadly legacy from the "unsound disposal of chemical weapons, smoke and munitions" had contaminated existing NATO facilities with explosives (TNT and aminotoluenes), chemical warfare agents (viscous mustard and arsenic), chlorinated hydrocarbons, hydrocarbons (kerosene, lubricants), poly-chlorinated biphenyls, DDT, dioxins, heavy metals (cadmium, chromium, copper, zinc, mercury) and corrosive red and white phosphorus.

After joining NATO, West Germany had to endure needy 600,000 military flights per year--one-sixth of which occurred at altitudes as low as 225 feet above the ground.

F-16 jets contain nearly seven gallons of hydrazine, a toxic and corrosive reserve jet fuel. The lethal dose of hydrazine is one gram.

Between 1966 and 1988, jets released an estimated 220,000 tons of exhaust pollutants -- nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, sulfur dioxide and soot -- over West Germany.

Kerosene dumped by jets caused forest fires near the US base at Ramstein. A Canadian air base at Lahr leaked 700,000 liters (184,920 gallons) of kerosene, oil and gasoline into the groundwater. One liter of kerosene can contaminate 1 million liters (264,172 gallons) of groundwater,

Urea-based de-icing compounds poisoned groundwater and caused a mass fish-kill in the Kallenbach River near the US Bitburg air base.

Incidents of Vogelschlag (jet crashes caused by "bird strikes") continued to climb with faster-flying NATO aircraft. In 1988, almost 120 people died in jet crashes -- most involved US aircraft.

Low-flying jets caused hens to atop laying eggs and devour those already laid. Wild birds abandoned screamed over treetops.

Low-flying jets were linked to increases in the incidence of heart disease and spontaneous abortions in pregnant women. Children exposed to jet noise suffered hearing loss. Some children terrorized by NATO overflights refused to ventura outside on sunny clays when jets were in the air; other children became frightened by the shadows of birds.

The Expansion Dividend
One of the unstated functions of military exercises is to assure the continued health of the weapons industries, even in the abscence of "hot" wars. Every time a rifle is fired, a missile is launched or a multimillion-dollar fighter crashes, the arms industry knows that its contracts will be reliably and predictably renewed.

The Center for Defense Information warned that NATO expansion masked a hidden agenda – i.e., to create markets for the "merchants of death" in the US arms industry.

This may explain why the Republican Party, which usually opposes funds for foreign aid, is beating the drums to pour billions of tax dollars into high-risk investments in regions where the US never has had any defined vital interests.

Military exercises in the Czech Republic and other aspiring NATO nations served another monumental purpose -- the Westernization of Eastern Europe's military. Warsaw Pact artillery, T-72 tanks and Soviet-era MiG fighters and existing analog communications systems were declared passé and replaced with NATO-compatible digital technology.

Integrating the armies of the East into NATO required the new members to spend billions of florints, zlotys and korunas on NATO-approved rifles, NATO standard-caliber ammunition, updated communications gear and revised air defense systems. The conversion also included the cost of teaching officers how to communicate in NATO's official language -- English.

With fortunes to be made in this latest westernization, it is no wonder that British Aerospace, Lockheed Martin and McDonnell Douglas quickly established offices in the aspiring NATO countries' capitals.

While the Clinton White House envisioned spending $27-35 billion on NATO expansion over 13 years, the RAND Corp. and the Congressional Budget Office set the costs between $30 and $125 billion through the year 2010. Independent estimates have placed costs as high as $1.4 billion annually.

Whatever the amount, the big winners will be the arms makers. US tax dollars sent to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to NATO-ize their militias came equipped with the usual strings, including a requirement that the money had to be spent on US-made arms.

NATO seamlessly morphed into another example of "Armscam" opportunism with foreign military assistance programs used to funnel millions of tax dollars back into the coffers of a few powerful US corporations -- and subsequently to politicians in the form of campaign contributions.

An Alternative
Despite its provocative agenda and high costs to the public treasury, there has yet to be any public debate on the question of extending and expanding NATO's foreign presence.

As David Krieger has argued: "Before expanding NATO eastward, it would seem prudent to engage in a full analysis of the security implications of doing so, including the implications for future US-Russian relations. Such an analysis would be analogous to the kind of environmental impact statement required for any large-scale development that could effect the environment."

There is an even more straightforward alternative: Admit that there is no longer any legitimate security or political need for the organization and abolish it.

Letting NATO go the route of the dismantled Warsaw Pact (as the US promised but failed to do) would liberate billions of dollars that otherwise would be wasted on weapons conversion and environmentally damaging military activities. The money saved could be transferred to the United Nations and used to cleanse and repair the land ravaged by nearly half a century of military abuse.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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