With President Obama announcing his new strategy for US/NATO escalation in Afghanistan, the April 3-4 NATO Summit in Baden-Baden and Kehl, Germany, and in Strasbourg, France, takes on added urgency — as will the demonstrations by thousands of protestors from over 20 European countries and the US.
Member states will attempt to use the summit as an occasion to celebrate the alliance’s 60th anniversary, France’s return to NATO, and perhaps offer a new “Strategic Concept” as an interventionist force around the world. Activists will articulate an alternative vision focused on securing global peace and confronting domestic challenges at home, including a call for the dissolution of NATO.
Beginning April 1, a diverse coalition of activists will participate in training camps, demonstrations, conferences, workshops, and non-violent blockades. At a moment when international cooperation on economic and human security interests is needed more than ever, the protestors view a US-led, expansionist NATO as destabilizing and dangerous. What was originally designed as a defense alliance against the Warsaw Pact has taken on a very different post-Cold War, global interventionist role.
Activists see a NATO with bases on every continent; a military force that organizers say accounts for more than 75 percent of global military expenditures and drains resources that might otherwise address needs like education, job creation, and poverty; “out of area” operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan, the Mediterranean Sea, and a training mission in Iraq; a destabilizing presence pushing a “missile defense” system, ignoring international law, expanding to Russia’s doorstep, and maintaining a first-strike option — all fueling a renewed arms race. (Recently, popular opposition to the proposed Czech-based radar system for US missile defense was a key factor in bringing down the ruling government there. Peace activist Jan Tamas led a hunger strike that galvanized opposition and he will be speaking at the “counter summit” in Strasbourg.)
Elsa Rassbach, a US citizen and filmmaker who has lived much of the time in Berlin since the mid-1990s, is a member of the International Coordinating Committee that is planning many of the activities of this broad coalition. She said that the need to respond to the occasion of NATO’s 60th anniversary has brought “a lot of different strands” together to collaborate since last June. “For example,” she said, “in the German peace movement — not only the large peace organizations and some Members of the German Parliament, but also smaller groups concerned about military bases used to conduct US/NATO wars, people concerned about atomic weapons…the social movements — the fact that militarization is costing too much. German youth and people concerned with soldier resistance and conscientious objector issues…. We’re bringing disparate movements and organizations together — both large and small — for the NATO action.”
Participants will include national and international groups representing the peace, human rights and anti-globalization movements, as well as students and youth groups. Also represented are trade unions, parliamentary Left and Green parties, and Attac. In all, 600 organizations from 33 countries — including Iraq, Afghanistan, Japan, Georgia, Brazil, Guinea, the Philippines and Turkey — have endorsed the campaign’s “No to War, No to NATO” appeal.
US participants include United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), Code Pink, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Iraq Veterans against the War (IVAW), Peace Action, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and others.
Perhaps no issue will be more prominent at the Summit and the protests than the War in Afghanistan and Pakistan. EU and NATO troops and resources are key to President Obama’s new plan for escalation, and most Europeans are strongly opposed to the war (though many favor humanitarian aid, reconstruction projects, etc.) In Germany, for example, surveys suggest opposition as high as 70 percent.
Andreas Speck, member of the International Coordination Committee, and also the War Resisters’ International which is participating in non-violent, civil disobedience, said: “This Summit is really important to NATO for taking its next step in becoming a global intervention force — obviously, NATO’s operation in Afghanistan will be an important topic. We want to show that Afghanistan is no better than Iraq — it’s a war that is not justified and we are completely opposed to this military operation.”
Rassbach agreed. “We want Americans to understand that the reason this opposition to NATO is emerging is that NATO — originally supposed to be a defensive alliance — is being converted into a very aggressive force to intervene around the world, and Afghanistan is a prime example,” she said. “Afghanistan is a key test for the ‘out of area’ intervention concept.”
The current schedule calls for: a camp near Strasbourg April 1-5; a conference on NATO and Human Rights on April 1; a hearing on the War in Afghanistan in Karlsruhe, Germany on April 2; a congress/counter summit of leading intellectuals, activists, and representatives of European political parties in Strasbourg on April 3 and April 5; actions in Baden-Baden on April 3 in conjunction with German Chancellor Merkel’s dinner for the heads of state; and also on the morning of April 4 in Strasbourg when a photo-op is scheduled at the pedestrian bridge Passerelle des deux Rives, and the NATO Summit begins in the Palais De La Musique Et Des Congres; the climactic international demonstration in Strasbourg on the afternoon of April 4.
The organizing challenges are enormous.
Just for the civil disobedience coalition — “Block NATO“, which is smaller than the broader coalition — Speck said there will be thousands of people coming in from Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Britain “and a few other countries.”
“It’s a big challenge for us in terms of communication — during the actions, the trainings, and the conference” he said. “Because we will need translation for a lot of these things.”
The coalition has also reached out to the French police to let them know they will be protesting non-violently. They will meet with them on the morning of April 1.
“We fear that the police will not act non-violently against us, so we want them to know that there’s no threat from our side,” Speck said. “The problem is we never know what the police will do and also if they will use agent provocateurs to create the images that they want.”
Perhaps even more pressing is the proposed route for the larger demonstration. The French authorities have relegated it to the outskirts far from the cordoned off Strasbourg city center where the Summit will be held. (The security within the city is extreme and controversial. The French court is currently hearing complaints from residents who are already being asked by police to take down peace flags hanging from their balconies, and who will be forced to wear badges during the summit to move about the city.) Under French law, there are no opportunities to appeal the demonstration route but organizers continue to press their case.
“Nobody’s demanding that we demonstrate very close to the Summit, just something reasonably close,” Speck said. “My fear is that if it’s very far out then people will not accept this.… And maybe that’s what [the authorities] want — a confrontation. Because then you have people upset, trying to make their way to the center of the city, and that will give the police the opportunity to provoke some violent confrontation. I hope that’s not going to happen, we don’t want this to happen.”
(Speck said people in the US can help by writing the French Embassy and speaking out against this infringement on the human right to freedom of expression and assembly.)
Of course, there will be no such negotiations regarding time and place for acts of civil disobedience. “The aim is… to effectively blockade the NATO summit venue basically with our bodies… And to obstruct the functioning of the summit by cutting off the leaders from the infrastructure that they need. There will be no material-blockades or actions which, for example, attack the police.”
Joanne Landy, co-director of the Campaign for Peace and Democracyin the US, said these events and the fervor surrounding them are something the US should be paying attention to. “NATO is very much part and parcel to how the US tries to marshal other countries to do some of the heavy-lifting for an imperial policy,” she said. “This imperial policy is catastrophic for us…. it completely distorts our resources, and it’s just fundamentally the wrong relationship to have with the rest of the world. I would like to have a world in which we could actually be in solidarity with labor movements and women’s movements and so forth. But right now whatever the US does is suspect and for good reason. So you really need a very different foreign policy all together in which the military wouldn’t play the role that it does now, and where the US could really support the needs of ordinary people everywhere.”
“American activists can see this anti-NATO protest as how Europe is protesting the Afghanistan War,” Rassbach said. “But it’s also more than that. It’s against all the military costs and the military bases in Europe and NATO’s nuclear first-strike policy that includes the proposed missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Cold War is over, so why should NATO continue?”
There is another important achievement here that the American peace movement is working towards as well.
“For many people it’s new to work in such a broad coalition,” Speck said. “Sometimes there is quite a bit of tension in the international committee. But on the other hand, everyone wants to work together, with our differences, to counter what NATO is doing, what the EU is doing, and all the militarization that we see going on…. That’s what our work in diverse movements is about, to deal with the differences. We want to create a much more diverse and democratic society so we need to learn to live with these kinds of differences.”