NATO does not, and never did, ‘defend’ democracy

A secretive alliance Canadians never voted to join that requires this country to defend faraway lands and funnel ever greater resources to warfare is presented as a tool of democracy. And pro-NATO propagandists ignore how the alliance once helped oust a Canadian government and its ties to undemocratic regimes.

As a result of a decision made at a private NATO get-together a decade ago Canadians have been told incessantly that we must spend ever more public resources on the war machine. At the alliance’s recent summit they determined the 2% of GDP threshold should now be considered the “floor” for military spending.

For three quarters of a century Canada has deployed troops abroad nearly constantly to fulfill its obligations under the permanent war alliance. NATO is why Ottawa recently announced plans to double its forces in a faraway country few could locate on a map. Prior to what is turning into a semipermanent deployment to Latvia 100,000 Canadian troops were stationed in Western Europe over 42 years. Two years after that deployment ended in 1993 a significant contingent of Canadian troops were deployed to the Balkans on a NATO mission, which climaxed with the 78-day bombing of Serbia in 1999.

Even further afield, Canadian troops occupied Afghanistan for 13 years to fulfill our “duty” to the alliance. They’ve also recently been deployed to Libya and Iraq to mete out NATO violence there.

Discussion on the “permanent war” alliance began in March 1948 when Lester Pearson represented Canada at top-secret talks with British and US officials on the possibility of creating a North Atlantic alliance. A year later NATO came into existence with 12 founding members. No referendum or election was held about joining the militarist conspiracy.

Canadians were never asked if they wanted to be duty bound to protect Portugal’s fascist government. For two decades António Salazar ruled that founding NATO member country and between 1967 and 1974 another alliance member was led by a military junta that usurped power from Greece’s left. In 1997 the Czech Republic was set to hold a referendum on joining NATO, but it was scrapped when the “no” vote looked set to win. Two years later NATO officials accepted that country into the alliance without a vote.

As NATO expanded during the 1990s Canadians never voted on whether they wanted to be treaty bound to defend more faraway lands. Nor did Members of Parliament. The government simply agreed to defend evermore countries without any debate in parliament.

When NATO promoted Ukraine’s adhesion to the alliance in 2008 most Ukrainians opposed joining. Subsequently, NATO countries supported the ouster of elected president Viktor Yanukovych who passed legislation codifying Ukrainian neutrality. Over the past 18 months Canadians have given more than $8 billion to Ukraine partly as a result of these disastrous decisions.

Internally NATO was employed by Washington to topple a Canadian government. John Diefenbaker didn’t provide unconditional support during the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis so President John F. Kennedy used NATO as part of a multifaceted effort to precipitate the downfall of his minority Conservative government. On January 3, 1963, the outgoing commander of NATO, US General Lauris Norstad, came to Ottawa on an unplanned visit in which he claimed Canada would not be fulfilling her commitments to the alliance if the country did not acquire nuclear warheads. It was part of a series of moves by the Kennedy administration to weaken Diefenbaker, which led to the fall of his minority government. During the subsequent election campaign Kennedy’s top pollster, Lou Harris, helped longtime external affairs official Lester Pearson defeat Diefenbaker.

Complaining that NATO determined “all” of Canada’s defence and foreign policy, new prime minister Pierre Trudeau initiated a review of Canadian foreign policy that questioned participation in the alliance. Horrified, Pearson immediately asked to discuss the issue with Trudeau and External Affairs Minister Mitchell Sharp. It was the only time the “deep state” NATO instigator got involved in government business after retiring and no government has openly questioned the alliance since.

Within the CCF/NDP no subject has elicited more undemocratic behavior from the leadership than NATO. Over many years party officials sought to suppress members pushing for withdrawal. On one occasion, MJ Coldwell threatened to resign as CCF leader if members did not support the North Atlantic treaty. When a group of Manitoba CCF members, including individuals elected to the provincial legislature, organized an anti-NATO group the provincial secretary blocked their access to the party’s mailing list. Federal MP and future party leader, Stanley Knowles also intervened to pressure the Manitoba CCF to punish prominent opponents of NATO and the provincial party expelled two former members of the Manitoba legislature for campaigning against the North Atlantic accord.

After two decades of seeking to kneecap grassroots criticism NDP members finally overcame the subterfuge at the 1969 convention, winning a resolution calling on Ottawa to withdraw from NATO. But, without any vote this position was partially reversed by the 1980s. When members have submitted resolutions critical of NATO at recent NDP conventions the motions have been bureaucratically buried.

Today critics of NATO are derided as “Russian stooges”, “pro-Putin” and “tankies”. Their public events are often targeted for shutdown.

Its record demonstrates that NATO is not a consensual, popular alliance to defend democracy. NATO is not only a hazard to peace, it is a threat to democracy.

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