No to NATO, Yes to Peace

Peace Advocate June 2024

Graphic from the No to Nato, Yes to Peace website

A summit and a rally in Washington D.C. on July 6-7, 2024

This year NATO celebrates 75 years since its founding. But what is NATO?  The response to that question depends on whom you ask. If you ask the US Department of State, they tell you, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 by the United States, Canada, and several Western European nations to provide collective security against the Soviet Union. If you ask NATO, they say NATO’s purpose is to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means. If you were to ask the people of Serbia or Afghanistan or Syria or Libya, they would say “NATO is the organization that bombed us.” And if you were to ask Russia, they would say, “That is the organization, controlled by the United States, that is attempting to completely surround us and cut off all access to the oceans.”

NATO began in 1949, at the beginning of the cold war, as an alliance of 12 countries (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom and the United States) to deter Soviet expansion. NATO stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and its original statement declared its purpose to be to promote stability in the North Atlantic region. They claimed to be committed to the UN’s principles of peaceful resolution of disputes and the renunciation of the threat or use of force.  From 12 member nations in 1949 it has expanded, to 16 by 1982 (Greece and Turkey in 1952, West Germany in 1955, Spain in 1982) and (after the breakup of the Soviet Union) from 1999 to now, to 32. To see why  Russia suspects that the goal of the organization is to surround it, consider this map.

At the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact also dissolved and many people expected NATO to similarly disappear.  We also expected a “peace dividend”, in which a dramatic decrease in military spending would free federal money for what we actually want: health care, education, mass transit and more.  What happened instead was renewed United States military activity: in 1992 Yugoslavia began to crumble. NATO designated itself the enforcer of UN sanctions and the “no-fly” zone over Bosnia and conducted airstrikes in 1994 and 1995.  In 1999 NATO ordered a bombing campaign – not authorized by the UN – of Serbia.  These military operations cannot be categorized as defensive. No member of NATO was threatened.

The Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) assumes the overall command of NATO operations at the strategic level and exercises his responsibilities from the headquarters in Mons, Belgium: Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). The SACEUR has always been from the United States Army.  When the position becomes vacant, the North Atlantic council asks the president of the United States to recommend a new person. 

After September 11, 2001 NATO invoked, for the first time in its existence, Article 5 of its charter.  This says that if a NATO Ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the Alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members, and will take the actions it deems necessary to assist the attacked.  The above reference to the structure of the organization perhaps explains why this provocation resulted in so much more reaction than, say, the Lockerbie bombing. The United States carried out the initial bombardment and invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001.  Quickly the UN set up training for new military forces, which was soon taken over by NATO.  NATO remained in Afghanistan until 2021.  The war was disastrous for Afghanistan, with hundreds of thousands of people killed, and over 85,000 bombs and missiles dropped. In 2021 the Western forces departed and the Taliban returned to power.


Muammar Gaddafi was part of a revolutionary group in Libya which deposed the Western-backed monarchy in 1969.  Gaddafi converted Libya from a monarchy into a republic. He ejected its Western military bases. He nationalized the oil industry and used the increasing state revenues to bolster the military and implement social programs emphasizing house-building, healthcare and education projects. In 1973, he initiated a system of direct democracy. In 1977, Gaddafi transformed Libya into a new socialist state called a Jamahiriya.  He improved life in Libya greatly and was highly regarded, in Libya and throughout Africa.  It becomes clear why he was demonized by the United States and the west; Gaddafi was decorated with various awards and praised for his anti-imperialist stance, support for Arab—and then African—unity, as well as for significant development to the country following the discovery of oil reserves. 

Amid the 2011 Arab Spring, protests against widespread corruption and unemployment broke out in eastern Libya. On 19 March 2011, a multi-state NATO-led coalition began a military intervention in Libya on the side of the anti-Gaddafists.  American and British naval forces fired over 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles, and imposed a naval blockade. The French Air Force, British Royal Air Force, and Royal Canadian Air Force undertook sorties across Libya. Gaddafi’s government was overthrown; he retreated to Sirte only to be captured, tortured and killed by NTC militants. 

Now we are moving too quickly to World War III.  NATO, despite its declared purpose of guaranteeing peace and security, has taken no steps to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine.  The Secretary General of NATO himself, Jens Stoltenberg, openly admitted that it was NATO’s expansion that led to the Russian invasion.  A formal agreement by NATO to NOT expand into Ukraine could quickly bring negotiations and a true peace. NATO is proving itself to be an offensive military organization whose true purpose is to maintain the hegemony of the United States in the world. If we hope to have a world in which our children and grandchildren can thrive, we need to END NATO!    


CONCLUSION: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a destabilizing, law-breaking force for militarization and war provocation. Its existence makes wars, including nuclear wars, more likely. Its hostility toward the few significant militaries in the world that are not among its members fuels arms races and conflicts. The commitment of NATO members to join each others’ wars and NATO’s pursuit of enemies far from the North Atlantic risk global destruction.

For more information about NATO, read the book NATO, What You Need to Know by Medea Benjamin and David Swanson.

Jeanne Trubek is Associate Professor of Mathematics Emeritus at Emmanuel College. Since 2017 she has been a volunteer at Mass Peace Action.