NATO in Chicago: A resource for civilian journalists, streamers and activists
NATO: Just why are people protesting?
A resource for civilian journalists, streamers and activists
Chris Geovanis, Chicago Indymedia
- NATO -- the North Atlantic Treaty Organization -- was formed in 1949 to make the world safe from communism and safe for capitalism. Today, NATO includes 28 nations, including many in the east previously within the political orbit of the former Soviet Union.
- On a practical level, NATO worked to contain the political, military and economic reach of the Soviet Union and its allies, and to preserve and advance “the West” -- which inevitably meant then and means today the economic and political interests of U.S. and Western European corporations and governments -- not the economic and political interests of people in NATO countries or in places that NATO bombs and occupies.
- NATO’s agenda has historically dovetailed nicely with efforts in NATO member countries at home, including Italy, France and Greece, to suppress secular progressive political movements that sought to shift resources away from permanent war and into human needs on the ground. NATO’s military agenda has also historically pitted it against homegrown movements against militarism.
- NATO countries account for two-thirds of the $1.5 trillion a year the world spends on militaries (not including huge “indirect” costs like caring for injured soldiers or paying interest on the government debt that bankrolls these expenditures). US expenditures (again, NOT counting ‘indirect’ costs) account for 70% of NATO expenditures, or roughly half of total global military expenditures.
- NATO is NOT a defensive group. It is a global intervention power – and its intervention is selective. NATO 'intervened' in Libya, where multinational oil companies are now hustling to take over Libya's vast oil resources and the ‘rebels’ we backed are gutting human rights, including womens’ rights. NATO is fine with US drone attacks in Yemen, which support one of the region’s most ruthless dictatorships, and the U.S. and NATO turn a blind eye to the brutality of the Bahraini dictatorship, essentially aiding and abetting these governments’ suppression of protest movements against corruption and dictatorship.
- The $700+ BILLION that U.S. taxpayers fork out for the military each year, including over $700 milliion/year for NATO, could bankroll living wages for tens of millions of teachers, health care workers, firefighters, and other vital service providers -- or $25,000/year in unemployment for almost 30 million out-of-work people, or tuition at state colleges for more than 60 million college students.
- The U.S. government had no qualms about forking over $750 billion to bail out big banks that continue to charge exorbitant credit card interest rates and refuse to renegotiate underwater mortgages. If we can spend $750 billion to bail out big banks, we can shift hundreds of millions of dollars in NATO funding each year to human needs at home, instead.
- NATO bankrolls a growing number of private military contractors with our tax dollars. The consequences of this push to privatize the business of war? Destruction, death and mayhem in targeted countries abroad – at the hands of privateers who literally have no accountability under law – and a new corporate elite at home staked to profiting off a permanent war economy at the expense of funding for human needs.
- NATO functions as a military wing for most of the governments of the G8 -- the U.S., the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada. G8 member Russia -- not so much. NATO actions in Afghanistan, Libya and Pakistan, in particular, parallel the historic economic and imperial interests of the Western elites who run NATO governments.
- Unemployed Illinois workers on unemployment -- which maxes out at barely $15,000/year, with most receiving much less -- pay more in taxes than some of the biggest defense contractors. From 2008-10, defense giants Boeing and Honeywell International paid NO federal income taxes. Taxpayer-funded U.S. dollars for NATO are the gift that keeps on giving, while unemployment compensation for many out-of-work people, who pump virtually every penny back into local economies -- ends after a year, along with the income and sales taxes they pay to fund more vital human needs -- like unemployment compensation. Defence contractors have no such salary caps -- or a foreseeable end to the gravy train.
TODAY: The U.S. and NATO
- NATO is responsible for 70% of world military expenditures – and the U.S. is responsible for 50% of world military expenditures, $711 billion in 2011 alone. And that’s just the part of the military budget that’s not secret or buried in other parts of the budget.
- The U.S. contributes between 1/5 and 1/4 of NATO's budget. In FY2010 that contribution totaled $711.8 million, according to CBS news. Hmmm. The numbers seem pretty confusing, don’t they? Why? Because our tax dollars for the U.S. military-industrial complex are buried in many different parts of the U.S. budget, not just the budget for the Department of Defense -- and because part of the U.S. budget for outfits like the CIA are SECRET.
- NOT counted in the U.S. military budget: care for over 30,000 U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan (Veterans Affairs); nuclear weapons research, maintenance, cleanup and production (Department of Energy), payments in pensions to military retirees and widows and their families (Treasury Department); interest on debt for past wars and to bankroll current wars; State Department financing of foreign arms sales and militarily-related development assistance; defense spending that is not “military” in nature, like the Department of Homeland Security, FBI counter-terrorism spending, and NASA intelligence-gathering costs: these additional costs push the real cost of the U.S. military machine to between $1-1.4 trillion dollars for 2012 alone.
- The U.S. boosted spending on unmanned Predator and Reaper drones by almost 60% in 2011, to $1.9 billion -- enough to eliminate the budget deficits of the Chicago Transit Authority ($277 million), the Chicago public schools ($720 million), and the City of Chicago ($635 million) -- which is closing mental health clinics and cutting other neighborhood services to “save” money -- even though the hidden costs of service cuts push up fiscal pressures on families, neighborhoods, hospital emergency rooms and the Cook County jail, which jail officials have described as "the largest mental health provider in Illinois."
- U.S./NATO wars have been accompanied by an explosion in the ‘privatization’ of these wars to the economic benefit of the arms industry and its corporate ‘service’ providers -- and those contracts are often awarded and ‘managed’ with virtually no public oversight. The role of “support service contractors” -- mercenaries and other employees of corporate war profiteers -- has increased since 2001, with payments for contractor services exceeding investments in equipment for the armed forces for the first time in 2007 -- the same year Blackwater mercenaries slaughtered 17 unarmed Iraqi citizens, yet incredibly were found not to be legally liable for this massacre to either U.S. or Iraqi military or civilian law.
- A 2011 Pentagon review found service contractors to be "increasingly unaffordable,” with service contractors costing taxpayers $50 billion more than the cost of all uniformed personnel in 2010.
- Mairead Corrigan Maguire, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for her efforts to end sectarian violence in her native Northern Ireland, withdrew from the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Chicago this April, saying that participating in a conference partnered with the U.S. government, a member of NATO, would compromise her position and jeopardize her work in the Middle East and other areas.
- The recent invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were largely funded through supplementary spending bills outside the Federal Budget, so they weren’t included in military budget figures before 2010. By the end of 2008, the U.S. had spent approximately $900 billion in direct costs on the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Indirect costs -- like interest on the additional debt and incremental costs of caring over 30,000 wounded soldiers paid by the Veterans Administration are counted separately, with some experts estimating that these “indirect costs” will eventually exceed the direct costs of these wars.
- Despite claims that the U.S. military is “winding down” in places like Afghanistan, the dollars tell a different story. U.S. defense secretary Leon Panetta is pushing forward with funding for a trillion-dollar Lockheed-Martin F-35 fighter jet program that’s more than a million man-hours behind schedule, billions of dollars over budget, using a flawed, dangerous design, and nowhere near ready for use in combat; and a cash-cow V-22 Osprey vehicle that’s nowhere near as cost-effective as alternative systems — and has a nasty habit of deadly, bad performance.
- The twenty-first century is shaping up right now largely as a confrontation between the U.S./NATO and the BRICS -- Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa -- with the danger that somewhere down the line these competing economic and political interests turn into a full scale military confrontation.
- NATO's Afghanistan war is the longest in U.S. history, and 2011 was the deadliest year in the Afghanistan war since the U.S. began its invasion and occupation -- under the banner of NATO -- in 2001.
- 450 people a day are displaced in Afghanistan, and 250 children a day die in Afghanistan due to malnutrition, according to Voices for Creative Nonviolence.
- The U.S. is NOT leaving Afghanistan -- in April 2012, the U.S. and Afghanistan announced a new "strategic partnership agreement" through at least 2024.
- The decade-long War in Afghanistan has caused the deaths of thousands of Afghan civilians directly from insurgent and foreign military action, as well as the deaths of possibly tens of thousands of Afghan civilians indirectly as a consequence of displacement, starvation, disease, exposure, lack of medical treatment, crime and lawlessness resulting from the war. Civilian death tolls are estimated at upwards of 40,000 people, with direct and indirect deaths linked to U.S./NATO military action estimated conservatively at more than 9,000 -- and perhaps as many as 29,000 -- civilians.
- Drone attacks by the U.S. in Pakistan, conducted in tandem with the “NATO” war in Afghanistan, have had lethal consequences for civilians. More than 175 children are among at least 2,347 people reported killed in US attacks since 2004. There are credible reports of at least hundreds of civilians among the dead.
- Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found that since Obama took office three years ago, between 282 and 535 civilians have been credibly reported as killed, including more than 60 children; at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims. More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners -- tactics condemned by leading legal experts.
- Although drone attacks began in 2004 under the Bush administration, the Obama administration has stepped them up enormously in Pakistan, with at least 260 attacks by unmanned Predators or Reapers in Pakistan since 2008 through February 2012 – averaging one every four days. Because the attacks are carried out by the CIA, no information is given on the numbers of people killed.
Iraq, the war that hasn’t really ended:
- Despite global opposition to the war, the U.S. and its key NATO ally the United Kingdom and a handful of other countries invaded Iraq in 2003. NATO signed on officially a year later, with ‘training’ support.
- Economist Joseph Stiglitz has estimated that the cost of the Iraq war could easily top $3 trillion, or close to $10,000 for every woman, man and child in the United States. Documented civilian deaths have topped 100,000, and hundreds of thousands more have died from disease and malnutrition driven by years of privation, destruction and economic blockade.
- Meanwhile, despite the war’s official ‘end’ in December 2011, thousands of State Department ‘employees’ and security staff remain in country -- including at least 5,000 mercenaries being bankrolled at U.S. taxpayer expense to protect places like the vast bunker that is the U.S. embassy complex in the Green Zone. The official military officially goes home; the hired mercenaries roll in on our dime. The country’s infrastructure remains in shambles, and civilians are still dying, from causes that range from sectarian bombings to treatable illnesses, at much higher rates than before the U.S. invasion.
- More than 4,400 U.S. military troops were killed in Iraq -- and tens of thousands more live today with severe injuries, from amputated limbs to traumatic brain injuries. The costs for their care are born by their families and U.S. taxpayers -- if soldiers are lucky enough to access care through the Veterans Administration. For these people, as for the Iraqi people, the Iraq war has not ended.
Yemen, Libya, Palestine, Bahrain and beyond:
- NATO was all about ‘regime change’ and ‘humanitarian’ bombing in Libya, where casualty estimates range between 2,000 and a staggering 30,000 – and western corporations now have access to millions of gallons of Libyan sweet crude oil. Meanwhile, no U.S. support for regime change in places like Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and other Arab countries where popular, mass-based protests struggle to throw off the shackles of U.S.-backed dictatorships. A few of those governments have shuffled the deck chairs of their titular leaders to pretend ‘reform’ -- and that’s good enough for NATO.
- A Bureau of Investigative Journalism study reveals that U.S. drone attacks in Yemen now equal those in Pakistan, killing hundreds in the past year, and provoking the same kind of anger at the U.S. in Yemen as they have in Pakistan. At the same time, the Obama Administration gave defense and intelligence officials broader authority to use drone strikes against militants in Yemen even when the identities of those who could be killed aren't known. That authorization, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, is a shift from the policy that allowed only focused attacks on known al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen.
- Yemen has been embroiled since 2011 in a popular rebellion against the ruling dictatorship, an ally of the U.S. and other local dictatorships. As with other Arab Spring rebellions in countries with dictatorships allied with the U.S. government and its corporate interests -- including Bahrain and Egypt -- the U.S. and NATO have turned a blind eye to the repression and violence of these dictatorships, including Yemen’s bloody crackdowns on protesters calling for reforms.
- “A world power equips a dictatorship that kills, tortures, and imprisons unarmed protesters” -- that’s how the Friends Committee on National Legislation has described the U.S. posture towards Bahrain. While NATO/US military activity in Yemen has grown in the last two years, NATO has felt no need to ‘intervene’ in the Bahraini government’s slaughter of its people.
- In the past year, the Bahraini regime has systematically tortured and gunned down members of opposition groups, killed and detained children, and banned entry for foreign journalists while firing on local journalists covering the repression. At least 70 protesters have been killed in the last year -- significantly higher than the July ’09 post-election crackdown in Iran. Yet the U.S. has largely been silent, despite the fact that Bahrain’s protests in February 2012 were the largest of the Arab Spring relative to the country’s population. Al Jazeera described the Bahraini revolution as “abandoned by the Arabs, forsaken by the West and forgotten by the world.” Why? Because Bahrain’s ruling elite are close allies of the Saudi Arabian dictatorship -- a dictatorship with which the U.S. and its corporate multinational friends maintains close ties.
- Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has expanded well beyond Western Europe. Included: an effort to make Israel NATO’s first non-European member, despite Israel’s atrocious human rights record, decades-long illegal occupation of Palestine and chronic military attacks against nearby countries , from Lebanon to Iran.
- In 2009, U.N. officials exposed Israeli war crimes during Israel’s 2008-09 assault on Gaza, including the slaughter of civilian children, women and men and the use of white phosphorus chemical weapons. NATO responded by sending Military Committee Admiral Di Paola to Israel -- to study Israel’s military tactics and methods for NATO use in Afghanistan, including “intelligence gathering capabilities and methods” used in civilian population centers -- methods that include torture and abuse. Not a peep about killing Palestinian civilians or using lethal -- and illegal -- chemical weapons on them.
- Unique perks for Israel: The first non-European member to finalize the Individual Cooperation Program (ICP), allowing NATO and Israel to engage in joint military exercises and intelligence sharing -- including studying Israeli military tactics in occupied Palestine. Israel has joined NATO's Mediterranean "naval control system," posts an Israeli liaison officer at NATO’s Naples HQ, and can join NATO forces in patrolling the Mediterranean. In 2005, Israel joined NATO's Parliamentary Assembly; a political body that helps set policy agenda. No such parallel access for the people Israel occupies, the Palestinians.
- For years, right wing Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman has advocated for full NATO membership to strengthen Israel's military posture in the region. NATO would also be willing to enforce any peace plan between Palestinians and Israel -- under U.S. command. That scenario raises alarm bells, with Israel’s close ties to NATO and the U.S., which gives Israel $3 billion in military aid each year, and U.S. willingness to turn a blind eye to Israeli policies of collective punishment and other human rights abuses. If Israel were to join NATO and be attacked (even by a country responding in self-defense against Israeli aggression), then a NATO response could be triggered, with devastating consequences for the region, but especially for Palestinians, who are always the biggest losers of land and lives in Israel’s wars.
Bringing the U.S./NATO war machine home:
- Just as spending for U.S./NATO spending has exploded abroad, U.S. domestic security spending has doubled since 2001, with evidence that much of this domestic spying is targeting political dissent, including opposition to war and economic inequality, right here at home.
- Screw accountability at home for war crimes: On April 3, 2012, the Obama administration indicted intelligence whistleblower John Kiriakou, the sixth whistleblower that the Obama administration has charged under the Espionage Act for the alleged mishandling of classified information – more than all past administrations combined. Kirakou’s ‘crime’? Blowing the whistle on Bush administration waterboarding and refusing to engage in torture; he’s the only person to be criminally prosecuted in connection with the Bush-era torture program.
- Homeland Security officials have spent six years and more than $250 million building the nation's largest fleet of domestic surveillance drones, yet the nine Predators used on America's borders have yet to prove very useful in stopping contraband or undocumented immigrants -- but they HAVE jumpstarted enthusiasm among law enforcement agencies across the nation for using drone technology to observe and spy on local residents.
- In February 2012, Congress directed the Federal Aviation Administration to craft regulations governing the licensing of commercial drones. That could open the skies to increased domestic surveillance and commercial data-gathering of the sort that concerns groups like the ACLU.
- Drones "really have the potential to become a new avenue of surveillance in American life. There are 747-size drones, but there are drones as small as little hummingbirds that can fly up, buzz around, look in windows and stuff like that," Jay Stanley, an ACLU senior analyst, has said. The FAA has approved 300 certificates to operate drones filed by public entities including local police departments, universities, and federal departments.
Background, sources, information resources: