Challenging the rhetoric and the actions which underpin Nato. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Nato stands for bombed-out Afghan schools, not Obama grinning for photo-ops

Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, explains why she has been protesting the arrival of the Nato Summit in Newport.

If you’ve been in Newport and Cardiff over the past week, you might have thought you’d entered a warzone.

As Nato warships drifted ominously into the harbour and US Osprey and Nighthawk helicopters thundered in the sky, above mile after mile of steel fencing, disgruntled residents were left taking to Twitter to complain about their desks shaking at work. "The amount of helicopters I have heard today makes it sound like we’re at war,” one said.

Here in the UK, we can view this dazzling array of weaponry with whimsy: with sardonic takes on social media.

But the sophistication of this security apparatus in Wales is a world away from the carnage in Afghanistan: a country left in ruins by a Nato-led force. Here, these same helicopters really do fly over a war zone. They fly over a country which has seen tens of thousands of its men, women and children killed. They fly over shattered institutions, a foundering security force, a state rocked to the point of collapse.

And that is what Nato stands for. It’s not Barack Obama grinning for a photo-op in a Newport school – it’s the bombed-out ruins of an Afghan school providing the only playground for local children.

Formed in 1949 as a "defensive" alliance, Nato prompted the creation of the Warsaw Pact. But while the end of the Cold War in 1990 may have meant the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, it was the beginning of a new era for Nato.

This "defensive" alliance decided to take on "out of area" operations. Sometimes "the best form of offence is defence", isn’t that how the saying goes? Defence through killing tens of thousands in Afghanistan? Defence through the bloody chaos in Libya, where militias compete in an all but lawless land? Few can now argue that these interventions have contributed anything to global security.

And of course there is Ukraine, which is set to be the primary item on the agenda at the Nato Summit in Newport. It is clear there is no military solution for the Ukraine crisis – from whatever quarter it comes. But few can deny that Nato’s insatiable expansion into eastern Europe has contributed to heightening tensions around Russia and Ukraine, raising the spectre of a new Cold War. Is it any surprise that Russia feels threatened? Do we really need to spell out how the US would react to a Russian-led military alliance pulling up at the border in Mexico?

For the past week, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has been working with partners in Europe and beyond to not only protest the arrival of the Nato Summit in Newport, but also to challenge the rhetoric and the actions which underpin it.

The No To Nato Counter-Summit was held in Cardiff and Newport last weekend. It saw peace campaigners and activists from across Europe, the US, and Russia come together to discuss alternatives and diplomatic routes towards true global security.

And the weight of the peace movement has been never been clearer. A potentially disastrous bombing campaign in Syria was averted last year, when more than a decade of protest against wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond hung heavily over the Parliamentary vote. A humiliated David Cameron was forced to abandon military action. The atrocities of the civil war in Syria are all too clear, but let’s not delude ourselves that bombing in favour of the rebels would have solved anything. Many of those who called for bombing in August 2013 are now telling us that we should be aligning with Assad to counter the barbarism of Islamic State. What a difference a year makes.

Back in Newport, the peace movement today prised open the gates of Fortress Nato. A delegation from the No To Nato protests was allowed through the steel fence to hand-in letters and messages of opposition to Nato. A symbolic act, of course, but one which shows the real strengths of the peace movement and its ability to actually shape politics in our country.

Tens of millions around the world oppose Nato’s interventionism, its expansionism and the fact that US/Nato nuclear weapons are hosted on European soil – in countries with staunchly anti-nuclear public opinion like Germany, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands. It is only through persisting with campaigns which call for political solutions over military actions, for diplomacy over air strikes, and for peace not war, can we hope to achieve real and lasting global security.

Kate Hudson is general secretary of the CND

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.