NATO: After 60 Years, Out of Area - or Out of Business?

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Massive Security Preparations for Demonstrations in Germany and France during Visit of Barack Obama
By Elsa Rassbach
 International Committee, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ)            
 Tel.:+49 (0) 30 326 01540, Mobile: +49(0)170 738 1450

Berlin, March 27, 2009.  On the morning of April 4th, some twenty heads of state (including U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel) will shake hands for a photo-op on the bridge across the Rhine River  that connects the German town of Kehl with Strasbourg in France, seat of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe.  At this, the 60th anniversary of the NATO Alliance, which France has recently rejoined, the heads of NATO states will consider ratifying a new Strategic Concept for NATO as a military force intervening in countries around the world.  The preceding night the NATO heads of state will attend a gala dinner in the German spa resort city of Baden-Baden. 
On both sides of the Rhine, President Obama and the other NATO heads of state will be greeted by demonstrations expected to be at least as large as those that met President Bush at the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, in 2007.  Since last June, activists from at least 20 European countries and the U.S. (including intellectuals, scholars, trade unionists, and people of all ages and walks of life) have been planning the demonstrations. Now they are contending with massive police and military security preparations in France and in Germany. So far, the protesters have not yet received permission form the French authorities for a peaceful demonstration in the city center of Strasbourg to oppose decisions by NATO heads of state that will have an impact on European citizens far into the future.
Some 900 security personnel are to be flown in from the U.S. to accompany President Obama, who will be staying at the Strasbourg Hilton. More than 30,000 German and French police and military personnel have been engaged to suppress the protests in "security precautions" that even exceed those for the visits of President George W. Bush to Stralsund, Germany, in 2006 and to Heiligendamm in 2007. Already last week, 450 anti-NATO demonstrators were arrested on March 21st near NATO headquarters in Belgium. French and German citizens have been issued curfews, and many must carry special badges just to enter their own neighborhoods. Citizens have even been ordered by police to remove peace flags from their windows.  There are indications that the German and French police and military are receiving their orders directly from U.S. Homeland Security. 
NATO is on the threshold of a fundamental reconfiguration. The Strasbourg NATO Summit will be the official start of the discussion on a new Strategic Concept that will define the direction of NATO for the years to come. NATO was founded in 1949 during the Cold War with a mandate to defend the member nations on their own soil.  Rather than disbanding NATO at the end of the Cold War, the U.S. and other world leaders have pursued an expansionist agenda since 1991, including “out of area” wars in the Balkans and in Afghanistan/Pakistan, along with escalating military budgets: NATO countries now account for 75% of global military expenditure..
Under U.S. leadership, NATO seeks to make decisions regarding military missions without agreement by the United Nations.  In Strasbourg some NATO leaders will even seek to abolish the consensus decision-making process within NATO itself, thus forcing "unwilling" nations in NATO to go along with wars with which they disagree. At the same time, more countries are being offered NATO membership in an effort to encircle Russia and strategically important areas in the Middle East.  Proponents and opponents of NATO both view the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to which the U.S. is committing significantly more troops, as a key test for the “out of area” intervention concept.
Large numbers of European citizens do not want their countries to be drawn into wars, whether through paying for the costs or through contributing soldiers or through allowing the U.S. and/or NATO to conduct wars using military bases on European soil. According to some surveys, more than 70% of Germans oppose the Afghanistan war, but German citizens were not allowed to carry any protest banners when presidential candidate Obama spoke in Berlin last July.  French citizens have long been proud of some measure of independence from the U.S., and many strongly disagree with President Sarkozy’s decision to bring France back into NATO.  There have been massive protests and civil disobedience against U.S. and NATO military bases in Italy, Greece, and Spain.  In Ireland, widespread public opposition forced the U.S. to shift much of the U.S. troop transport away from Shannon commercial airport to the Leipzig commercial airport in Germany. And the Czech government fell on March 24th, in large measure due to opposition to the government’s support of the proposed U.S. “Star Wars” radar base that is opposed by ca. 70% of Czech citizens.  (Following the NATO Summit in Strasburg, President Obama will travel to Prague for a U.S.-European Union Summit on April 5th, where he will also be met by protests.)
Anti-NATO protesters’ plans in France and in Germany April 1st to 5th include:
- a camp near Strasbourg April 1st to 5th;
- a hearing on the war in Afghanistan in Karlsruhe, Germany April 2nd;
- a congress of leading intellectuals, activists, and representatives of European political parties in Strasbourg April 3rd and 5th;
- demonstrations and civil disobedience in Baden-Baden April 3rd;
- civil disobedience and, separately, a peaceful demonstration in Strasbourg April 4th.
U.S. peace organizations have endorsed the appeal for the anti-NATO demonstrations, among them the largest U.S. umbrella peace organization, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ – with more than 1000 member organizations), and Code Pink. For the full text of the NATO appeal and endorsing organizations in the U.S. and in 32 other countries, see
Speakers from the U.S. who will be in Strasbourg include Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), Joseph Gerson of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and the international No Bases Network, Jacqueline Cabasso of Mayors for Peace and the Western States Legal Foundation, and Matthis Chiroux, a member of Iraq Veterans against the War (IVAW) who was in Afghanistan.  Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky is sending a videotaped speech. The many international guests who will be speaking in Strasbourg include Tariq Ali from the United Kingdom, Malalai Joya from Afghanistan, and Tadaaki Kawata from Japan. 
Websites with information about the NATO protests/congress in English:

Studies on NATO from the Information Center on Militarization in Tübingen, Germany (in English translation):