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NATO’S LISBON SUMMIT - Caught in a Cold War Time Warp

In the streets around NATO’s Lisbon summit, 40,000 take part in an international anti-NATO demonstration while in London a further 10,000 call for withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Inside the summit the heads of state follow the script. The war in Afghanistan, opposed by a majority in almost every member state, will continue for another 4 years. NATO’s new Strategic Concept, like its predecessor, is caught in a Cold War time warp. It pays lip service to the aim of a world free of nuclear weapons, and then goes on to reaffirm the concept of nuclear deterrence. The calls from three member states - Germany, Holland and Belgium - to have US tactical nuclear weapons removed from their soil are ignored.


It identifies new challenges in the form of international terrorism, cyber attacks and energy security but fails to draw the conclusion that any such ‘threats’ are blowback from its policy of war and occupation in Afghanistan. It claims that a ballistic missile attack is today ‘a significant threat to the Alliance’ but fails to explain from where this threat would come.  It commits the alliance to building a missile defence system to cover the continent of Europe but fails to come clean about the destabilising nature of this system and its real target - not Iran but Russia. Under these circumstances the offer to Russia to cooperate in NATO’s new missile defence system is likely to be a smokescreen. Indeed, Medvedev’s proposal for a sectoral missile defence system has already been rejected.

Moreover, it papers over the cracks in an alliance that is well past its ‘sell-by’ date. The post-Cold War project to expand NATO into an alliance for global intervention led by the United States has run into the sand. The new government of the Ukraine seeks to build a new relationship with Russia and no longer wishes to pursue membership of the alliance. The plan to admit Georgia is on hold due to opposition from key members states such as Germany and France. The growing death toll in Afghanistan is a source of conflict between those states who are involved in a combat role in that country - the US, Britain, Canada, France, Denmark - and those who are not. Meanwhile individual member states like the Netherlands and Canada have broken ranks and responded to domestic pressure by withdrawing their troops early. Indeed, the experience of becoming involved in such a pointless, unpopular and unwinnable war will make further overseas military intervention hard to sell. And in an age of growing austerity European NATO members can only meet the NATO demand for increased military spending at the expense of other public spending such as health, education and welfare. 


The price quoted for the new European Missile Defence project is a mere €200 million divided between 28 member states over a 10 year period. It is not exactly clear what this remarkably small sum will pay for, but the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) of missile defence may be the clue. In other words, this is only the first of a series of further developments of increasingly sophisticated radars, sensors and interceptors arranged in a layered defensive shield. Missile defence is an expensive, improbable and unproven way of defending any country from ballistic missile attacks. It can be easily overcome by decoys and countermeasures (which are also much cheaper). But missile defence is not really about defence. It is the shield that complements the nuclear sword and allows the United States, at least in theory, to launch a first strike with impunity. It is a bid for US global supremacy, the first stage in a plan to weaponise space and use it to control the world below. 


There are, of course, safer, cheaper and more rational methods of reducing the risk of nuclear war. Instead of building an elaborate and destabilising missile defence system, why not negotiate with other nuclear weapons states a phased and balanced reduction of these weapons leading to abolition - a Nuclear Weapons Convention? There is overwhelming support for such a treaty across the world. But that would hit the profits of Lockheed Martin and Raytheon who manufacture these systems. So the Pentagon prefers to exaggerate the threat from minnows like Iran and North Korea, create a demand for its military hardware, increase its involvement with the armed forces of other countries all over the world and create a security dependence on the United States. All of this plays to US military strength and economic weakness. And nowhere is this scheme more advanced that in the continent of Europe.

Alan Mackinnon