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NATO's bloody history

Paul Stevenson

November 23, 2011

Far from signaling the “end of history,” the end of the Cold War left the world open to a new and volatile competition between states. The US, while publicly proclaiming that it was the lone superpower, was still worried about the emergence of potential rivals.

Russia was economically weakened, but retained a huge nuclear arsenal. China had (and still has) a rapidly growing economy. Western Europe competed directly for resources and markets. Together, they represented a major threat to US dominance.

In June 1999, a report called “Coalitions of the Willing: NATO and Post-Cold War Military Intervention” argued that “NATO has several important post-Cold War roles. These roles include providing a hedge against a long-term revival of Russian expansionism, projecting stability eastward by taking in new members as well as by contributing to the establishment of a cooperative European security system, and helping to prevent the re-emergence of national rivalries in Europe.”

For the US, the United Nations was an inadequate vehicle for American imperial ambitions. China and Russia, both permanent members of the Security Council, would prevent UN-sponsored military interventions from securing Western interests at their expense.

NATO, therefore, became the vehicle for numerous interventions that have ensured a dominant US military presence in their wake.

The Balkans

The NATO bombing and subsequent occupation of the Balkans left five permanent US bases on Russia’s western borders and an American foothold in a strategically crucial area.

Far from being a war to protect civilians, the NATO conflict in the former Yugoslavia exacerbated nationalist tensions. Internal displacement of ethnic groups was accelerated by the bombing campaigns in Serbia and Kosovo in 1999. Over 15 years after the first NATO combat operations, tensions between various forces continue to grow.


The first salvo in the “war on terror,” the NATO bombing and invasion of Afghanistan have resulted in tens of thousands dead and more than a million displaced. The situation for the people of Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, with poverty and corruption even more widespread than in 2001.

The war’s original goals are even further out of reach after a decade of occupation. The real interests of the West are to establish a military beachhead in Central Asia on China’s borders and to control pipeline routes from the Caspian Sea region.

Libya vs. Bahrain

The idea of a humanitarian mission has fooled many in the West who have been inundated with images of violence from around the world. But the selective application of R2P and the involvement of the West in fuelling local conflicts prove that “humanitarianism” is just a smokescreen.

For example, compare the responses to the uprisings in Libya and Bahrain. In Libya, the call for R2P was immediate. In Bahrain, the same backers of intervention never mention the killing of civilians by the Bahraini regime. The reason? Bahrain is a close ally of the Saudi pro-West dictatorship.

Another justification comes from the idea that the West must “protect” people in failed and failing states—a modern-day “White Man’s Burden.” But there is collective amnesia about the reasons some states “fail’ in the first place—another attempt to erase the destructive role of imperialism around the world.


Take Somalia, for example. In early 2004 the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) took control of the country, largely by default, and established an indigenous leadership that didn’t represent Western interests. For the first time in decades, there was a real prospect for peace. The US, fearful of losing control over the longest coastline in Africa and crucial access to the Red Sea, backed an invasion by neighbouring Ethiopia. US air support helped destroy the ICU. Labeled a “humanitarian” mission by the US to rid Somalia of Islamist rule and “protect women’s rights,” it has led to years of warlord rule and the return of rape gangs. The US and its proxies made the state fail.

The Canadian government and its NATO partners have their own interests at heart whenever they use invoke R2P. They have no intention of liberating anyone from tyranny. Instead, they want to maintain strategic dominance for Western imperialism—at any cost. The utter failure of “humanitarian interventions” to achieve their publicly stated goals is proof that the concept is bankrupt.

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