NATO, formed in 1949 by Western nations including Canada, helped shape a bipolar world after World War II, with Soviet forces stationed in Eastern Europe. The Warsaw Pact—led by the Communist Soviet Union—formed in 1955. NATO’s foundational treaty renounced threat or use of force inconsistent with UN purposes and the UN charter gives the Security Council responsibility for decisions to use military force. But NATO reserved the right to respond militarily to an attack on any NATO member. Canada’s commitments harboured contradictions.
The UN’s first resolution set up a commission for peaceful use of atomic energy and elimination of atomic weapons. But the US began building a nuclear arsenal, as did the USSR by 1955. Today NATO claims nuclear weapons are the supreme guarantee of its security; it has a first use policy, and intends to retain them as long as other nations do. With the UK and France also having nuclear arsenals, and 200 US missiles kept in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey to be launched, with US permission, by trained allied air forces, NATO is a substantial nuclear threat to Russia. NATO members’ nuclear commitment, and their subservience to the US as its leader, are clear: through NATO, the US told NATO allies to boycott the UN negotiations that led to adoption of the nuclear ban treaty (July 2017) and all did, except the Netherlands, which cast the sole vote against the adoption.
At the turn of the century Canada tried to get NATO’s nuclear policies moderated, but got short shrift. NATO nations are committed through the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty 1970), Article VI, to pursue and achieve nuclear disarmament. But the nuclear weapons states refuse to take disarmament steps that they committed to in NPT review conferences.
Canadians across the country, through the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, publicly reject nuclear weapons. Through a hearing on the dire consequences of nuclear weapons use and the impossibility of any emergency response to it, peace activists in April 2018 got Toronto’s mayor and city council to call on the federal government to sign the nuclear ban treaty. Rejection of nuclear weapons as inhumane and immoral fits most Canadians’ conscience and makes being part of NATO unreasonable.
After the Warsaw pact dissolved in 1991, NATO began an ominous new phase. Under US leadership, NATO pursued regime change by force: Yugoslavia (1992 and 1999) broke up and Libya (2011) was destroyed. Having promised Mikhail Gorbachev at the re-uniting of Germany to not move farther east, NATO is now entrenched through missile defence (the US breaking the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty thereby), with troops near Russia’s western borders. In November, Operation Trident Juncture, the largest NATO military exercise since the Cold War, involved 50,000 NATO troops in an area from the Baltic to Iceland.
NATO seems unaware of the danger in threatening Russians, who re member the Nazi invasion and Napoleon, and will never again allow invasion of their homeland.
US President Trump’s announced goal is global hegemony, including the US as “masters of space.” He is demanding heavily increased military spending by NATO allies. The nuclear weapons states are modernizing their arsenals, and putting us all at risk by accident, miscalculation, technical glitch, madness, or cyber manipulation. Having discarded the Iran nuclear agreement), Trump may scrap the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia (which eliminates short and intermediate range nuclear missiles). The risk of nuclear conflict between the US-led NATO and Russia is real.
Our world is on the brink of ecological catastrophe, with 12 years to avert runaway climate change, and the pace of species extinction stripping nature. NATO—all military activity—helps create these grave problems. The need to radically reduce carbon emissions, adopt green technologies, and cut consumption dictate concerted action like that mustered in World War II.
In such a world, we must rededicate ourselves to peace, to resolving conflict non-violently, and divert military spending to address critical existential needs. It is time for Canada to get out of the dangerous web NATO has spun which devours wealth and threatens nuclear annihilation. Canada must commit itself to the common security the UN was formed to create.
Phyllis Creighton is a Toronto activist.