NATO’s post-cold war role
By M. Abul Fazl
The retiring US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, expresses dissatisfaction with the lukewarm participation of the European countries in NATO’s military actions in the Third World e.g. Afghanistan and Libya. He said they were "willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in the European defence budget.” The Europeans, according to him, should be able to go to war alongside the American forces in the Third World. The US troops were in Europe for that purpose.
NATO was created in1949 in order to defend the Western Europe from a Soviet attack. USA’s adherence to it as a founder member was an indication of its commitment to this objective. In fact, it was the real force underpinning the alliance. The other great powers - Britain and France - having suffered devastation during the Second World War, could hardly match the real or perceived Soviet strength.
But the Soviet Union had suffered the greatest destruction of all in the war, losing 15 million dead and over half of its industry destroyed. It may have maintained the largest army after the war, but nobody believed it could think of taking on the US, which, moreover, was the only power possessing nuclear weapons at the time. No, there was no military threat to Western Europe from that quarter. However, there was an ideological one. The US for long resisted holding All-German elections for the fear that they would throw up a communist regime. There was a similar danger in France and Italy in the immediate post-war period. (The US later objected to the holding of elections in the whole of Vietnam for the same reasons.) And the communist movement was generally on the offensive throughout the world, as capitalism appeared to be incapable of solving the problem of poverty, while engendering compulsively war and fascism. However, as the extant European colonial system seemed capable of containing the communist menace in the Third World, the main danger was in Europe. So, NATO was confined to it. The ideological challenge was thus met with mainly a military response. There was nothing incongruous about it, as the Western leaders had no doubt in their minds that, if the communists won elections in France or Italy, they would prevent them by force from taking office. And Stalin would have been pleased. He did not want communists coming into power in any advanced country and showing up the barbarism to which he had reduced the socialist experiment in Russia.
The positive aspect of these policies was that they helped avoid a military confrontation between the blocs. Even the old style interstate war in Korea was not permitted to spread.
Khrushchev had rejected Kennedy’s proposal at Vienna in 1961 to practically divide the world between the two powers, whereby the West would respect the existing communist bloc, but would not permit the spread of communism outside it. But the Soviet leader was inclined to follow the suggestion in practice and had practically washed his hands of Vietnam by the time he was overthrown. His successors too sought not just détente, but close economic relations with the US. Hence, their impatience with the revolutionary movements in the Third World and their extreme dislike of people like Che Guevara. They found it incomprehensible that these revolutionaries wanted to make revolutions, instead of carrying out instructions from the clerks of the Soviet Foreign Office.
A problem arose when the Soviet Union collapsed without notice. (The collapse was due neither to Afghanistan, nor to the weight of armaments, but to its inability to manage a transition from state capitalism to private capitalism.) The Warsaw Pact had disintegrated before that. Both NATO and European Union took the opportunity of the ensuing chaos to expand into Eastern Europe, even into parts of the former Soviet Union. Again the moves were not necessitated by any military threat in the region. They aimed at taking advantage of the temporary weakness of Russia to turn these former members of the Soviet bloc into the chasse gardée of the Western capital.
The NATO had ostensibly been created to confront the Soviet military power. But the dissolution of that power, indeed the disintegration of the Soviet state itself, did not put the question of its dissolution of NATO on the agenda of the West. It survived and was expanded to cover the whole globe. Its assignment now is to guarantee the secure access of the advanced countries to the natural resources and the raw materials of the Third World and to preserve the relationship of unequal exchange between the two worlds, in short to keep the Third World in economic thrall perpetually. Not only do these advanced countries want the products of the Third World, but want them cheap, that is, when the so-called "freely-arrived at market prices” contain within them the exchange of unequal values, when more of the socially necessary labour hours are exchanged for fewer. No matter what the ideologues of capitalism say, no one is made rich as a result of the exchange of equal values. This applies to the states as much as to individuals.
This system of unequal exchange with the Third World was established by force in the colonial era, beginning in the sixteenth century. For example, the Battle of Plassey (1757) was not fought to gain access to South Asian products. They were available in plenty. The battle was over the rate of exchange between the two sides. And that could be modified on a durable basis only with political control of the region concerned, only when the two sides came to the market with unequal advantages.
The most effective way of creating asymmetry of advantages between the two sides in an exchange, in this case between the Third World and the advanced one, is to reduce the wage level in the former, so the producers in it surrender greater surplus to their ruling class, which shares it with the advanced countries either in the form of tribute or in a sort of rough and ready application of the law of equalisation of the rate of profit at the global level. Thus, the unequal exchange of values between the two worlds takes place through the equality of prices.
This unequal exchange was imposed through administrative coercion under the colonial regime, which could itself last because some classes or strata within the colonies had an interest in the continuation of the colonial relationship. The same is true of the neo-colonialism prevalent today, though here the relationship becomes more complex because of the political independence or autonomy of the neo-colonial state. This demands the threat or use of force to back economic coercion, a threat regularly translated into actual violence.
Need of the use of violence also arises from perhaps the most important contradiction of capitalism - the tendency of demand to fall behind supply, as pointed out by Keynes. Then purchasing power has to be injected into the economy from outside in order to make up the shortage of demand. A moderate-sized war can perform the same function by using up the stocks of arms and ammunition so new orders can be placed for their replacement.
This exercise of violence or its threat has to be collective so as to avoid conflicts between the advanced countries themselves. Frictions did arise between those countries after the Second World War in the period of transition from colonialism to neo-colonialism, before the NATO was assigned its present global role. The French had problems in their mandated territory of Syria and the British saw them out of West Asia. When they and the British tried to reassert their hold on Egypt by military means in 1956, the US opposed them and took Egypt into its own sphere of influence.
A globalised NATO prevents this sort of independent action on the part of its members. It protects their neo-colonial interests, but the benefits accruing from these actions are allocated within the alliance according to the correlation of forces among the members, which benefits mainly the US. This usually makes other members lukewarm about making contribution to NATO’s military campaigns. However, America’s dissatisfaction with them, as expressed recently by Secretary Gates, misses the point. The main contradiction here has its roots within the US itself. It has three elements:
Firstly, most of military campaigns launched recently by the NATO serve, or aim at serving, the USA’s economic or strategic interests. But the young Americans, though prepared to defend their homeland, are not similarly ready to die for its imperial interests. The US has partly met this need by creating a "foreign legion”, consisting of Latin American immigrants, who are promised American nationality in return for fighting for it abroad. But their numbers are not sufficient to meet its needs.
Secondly, the American people resent paying for these wars (the Vietnam War cost $5 billion a year, and Afghanistan costs $10 billion a month), through taxes and inflation, while the economic benefits from them, i.e. oil, go to the big business.
Thirdly, the US has, like any waning imperial power, made alliances with regional powers, that is, with India and Australia in the Indian Ocean area, to safeguard its interests there. However, its contradictions with them remain, as the interests of these powers in their own regions are not identical with those of the US.
These various contradictions are unlikely to either disrupt the alliance or affect adversely its policy of military interventions in the Third World, as the mutuality of interests among the advanced countries is greater than their differences. Pakistan had got involved with the Americans in another situation. There seems to be no place for it in the evolving set-up. It has to evolve a policy to meet the new one. But that evolution would first have to take place internally to enable Pakistan to occupy a new place abroad.
n The writer is a retired Ambassador.
Original site is: The Nation