NATO – from the Cold War to Ukraine



NATO has always been one of the most powerful protectors of colonialism and even today it seeks to impose dependency and subordination.

The accession processes of Finland and Sweden to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) incited voices in the journalistic and university circles to argue that the government of Vladimir Putin suffered a profound setback, as it strengthened the military alliance that it seeks to fight. Among speculations about miscalculation, collateral effect and others, the basic argument is the following: the expansion of NATO is a fallacious speech of the Vladimir Putin government, since its initiatives resulted in the strengthening of the organization; Vladimir Putin is an autocrat who needs to justify maintaining his power with the threat of NATO and the fight against it, the War in Ukraine. More extreme voices even say that Vladimir Putin made NATO reborn, that he gave it a raison d'être. The purpose of this text is to show that NATO has always had a reason for being and that the War in Ukraine is yet another chapter in the life of the military alliance.

NATO was created on April 04, 1949 in Washington by the North Atlantic Treaty (or Washington Treaty) by 12 States: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, United States, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Netherlands, Portugal and United Kingdom. The Treaty does not mention a specific enemy, nor the Soviet Union as a threat, only indicating elements that affect the peace and security of the members. It is a collective security treaty, whose formal objectives are to defend its members and guarantee democracy within them. But, from the point of view of international politics, there is no doubt that NATO's objectives in the Cold War were to destroy the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and, in general, to guarantee the resolution peaceful conflict between the allies in Europe, which had been marked by major wars.

Without any military operations during the Cold War, in the early 1990s the alliance lost two of its foundational political motivations, the end of the USSR and the GDR. Thus, supposedly their activities would cool down, however, the opposite occurred. The number of members has only increased:

Table 1 – NATO Expansion

Greece and Türkiye1952
ocidental Germany1955
Spain (España)1982
East Germany (German reunification)1990
Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland1999
Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia2004
Albania and Croatia2009
Northern Macedonia2020
finland and sweden2023

During the Cold War NATO incorporated Greece and Turkey (1952), West Germany (1955) and Spain (1982), having now 16 members. After 1990, it added 16 more members, including countries previously identified as potential aggressors of the Warsaw Pact. Before the War in Ukraine, its members numbered 30, a much larger number than at its founding. NATO has nearly tripled its membership since 1949 to 32 today, including Sweden.

Its institutional organization went beyond the military area. Throughout its life, it was constituted as a political community, which aggregates the common interests of the participating States, under the leadership of the USA. NATO diversified its operations by creating programs in the areas of meteorology, education, scientific and environmental research, among others. NATO became a political organization and a permanent and enthusiastic foreign policy instrument of the core capitalist states.

The global intention of the alliance is long-lasting, it does not restrict operations in its members. In 1954, the The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), an organization planned to be an Asian version of NATO. It was composed of eight members: Australia, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, Great Britain, United States; and three observers: Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The armed forces of each of its members would be coordinated to defend the signatory countries against the USSR and China.

In 1955, the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) at the initiative of the USA. Its members were Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Türkiye and the United Kingdom. An offensive against Moscow and Beijing was forming with NATO in the West, SEATO in Asia and CENTO in the Middle East. However, SEATO ended in 1977, with the US defeat in Vietnam, and CENTO was dissolved in 1979, with the Iranian Revolution.

In the 1990s, NATO revamped its global pretensions with initiatives to gravitate allies into its orbit, which are still in force today. Programs such as the Partnership for Peace are launched in 1994 and alliance tactics called NATO Global Partner and Non-NATO Ally (the latter include Japan and South Korea) are elaborated. The Partnership for Peace is mainly aimed at the countries of the former USSR. It has Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Austria, Ireland, Malta, Sweden and Switzerland (we have no news about Russia leaving and its allies with the current war).

The Mediterranean Dialogue, also launched in 1994, brings together NATO and seven Mediterranean countries and its founding document states that its objective is to promote regional security and stability and to explain NATO's policies and goals. Members: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia. In 2004, the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative was launched, complementing previous programs. Facing the Middle East, it comprises Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. NATO sees all these partnerships as a response to the new challenges of the XNUMXst century.

NATO did not carry out military operations during the Cold War. Its first robust operation was outside its member countries in 1922 in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And it continued with the intervention in Kosovo in 1999. Both operations were in the context of the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. The territory that constituted Yugoslavia was marked by geopolitical disputes and independence struggles since the end of the USSR.

Kosovo was the scene of a conflict between Serbian and Albanian forces, who claimed autonomy in the region. NATO intervened on behalf of the Albanians, not for independence, but to install a pro-US government and limit Russia's zone of influence. In 2001 the US declared War on Terror resulted in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. The justification of combating terrorism was transformed into practice in intervention in a region rich in energy resources and an important geopolitical location that allows access to Russia and China.

It is important to note that NATO member countries used Afghanistan as a springboard to overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq and put pressure on Iran. In 2011 NATO bombed and intervened militarily in Libya amid the rebellions known as the Arab Spring. Muammar Gaddafi, president of Libya for 42 years, who maintained good relations with the USSR, was overthrown. In addition to NATO's military participation, Western countries funded rebel groups against the West-averse government. It is important to mention the country's geopolitical role in the Mediterranean, with large oil and gas reserves and strategic location in the passage of refugees coming from sub-Saharan Africa.

Peace, security, defense, democracy, community, common interests, partnership, challenges. These are some euphemistic terms that express NATO's mission, which we can summarize as follows: States and the ruling classes of NATO's leading countries do not admit national projects of autonomy and independence, whether within the framework of capitalism (as seems to be the Russian case) , be out of it (as seems to be the Chinese case). As the famous Bandung Conference of 1955 denounced, NATO is one of the most powerful protectors of colonialism and, we add, still seeks to impose dependence and subordination.

Such a mission has been and has been in operation for decades with the official expansion of its membership, its institutional transformation from a military alliance to an international political community/organization, global partnerships and military operations such as in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Libya and others. Now the modus operandi, even if he is behind a battering ram, he is in Ukraine. NATO has not been reborn; she lives the imperialism intrinsic to global capitalism.

* Caio Bugiato Professor of Political Science and International Relations at UFRRJ and at the Graduate Program in International Relations at UFABC.

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