You have before you a document prepared by people who are part of different nodes of XR with the aim that people in the movement and outside it know about NATO and the reasons why, as a movement for climate justice, we must mobilize.
In this text, we have compiled what we consider to be the main questions about NATO, its Summit in Madrid (which will take place on June 29th and 30th), but also about the armies of the European Union States in general, as well as some concepts such as security.
1.- What is NATO? A brief historical overview.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), also known as the Atlantic Alliance, is the military alliance (1) created in 1949 with the signing of the Treaty of Washington to contain the spread of communism and combat the Soviet Union. NATO is currently made up of 30 countries. The 12 signatories of the Washington Treaty: United States, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Holland, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, United Kingdom and Portugal. In addition to Greece and Turkey; the Federal Republic of Germany joined in 1955; Spain in 1986; Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Albania and Croatia, Montenegro and the last country to join was Macedonia, in 2020.
Born in the early years of the Cold War, the first 12 signatory countries committed themselves in its Article 5 to mutual defense in case any of its members were attacked by an external power. Since then, this principle has been invoked only once in the history of the organization, and that was in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. At the international level, NATO has been one of the fundamental structures of U.S. hegemony responsible for a form of development based on the dynamics of expropriation and overexploitation of the Planet’s natural resources, particularly in the Global South. Its history distinguishes two major phases:
- A phase prior to the fall of the Soviet Union (1949-1990).
- A later phase with an internal turning point in the 9/11 attacks (1990-2022).
During the Cold War (1949-1991), NATO carried out multiple military operations, both official and public and unofficial and covert, aimed at containing the political and cultural expansion of communism. Its official objective was to protect the allies from possible attacks by the USSR. Its unofficial objective was to generate networks of armed groups with which to operate secretly. The so-called «dirty war» and «covert operations» give shape to state terrorism directed and coordinated by the CIA and MI6 (intelligence services).
To carry out these operations, so-called Stay Behind networks were created: armed groups that were to be activated in case of enemy occupation, or in case socialist or communist groups in allied countries began to gain strength in their territories. In Europe, these networks became known as Operation Gladio (2), although it specifically refers to all these operations in Italy. The Gladio operations in Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Greece and France were collected by the Swedish researcher Daniele Ganser in his book «NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe» (2010).
At the end of the Cold War in 1989, the mission for which NATO was created (to protect member states against the USSR) seemed to have been accomplished. However, NATO members maintained the Western alliance, and this justified the search for a new role for NATO, which forced the first redefinition of the alliance (3).
NATO could have been dissolved at this point, but it was enlarged to include Poland, Romania and other countries in 1999, despite NATO’s promise to Gorbachev and Yeltsin that it would never accept the former Warsaw Pact countries as members, something that has since then weighed down the relationship between Russia and the European Union.
The strategic objectives of the alliance gradually abandoned their public offensive orientation and came to incorporate objectives such as the protection of strategic energy resources, the defense of territorial borders and even the «rights of the alliance» to conduct forms of «preventive war» such as those mentioned above. To this end, the NATO Washington Summit Treaty of 1999 marks a decisive turning point. In addition to NATO’s eastward expansion, contrary to what was agreed with Russia, it is understood that it is legitimized to intervene in those conflicts close to its borders, even if they are not those stipulated in Article 5.
The same treaty opposes the UN having a monopoly on the use of UN force, declaring its unilateral willingness to use force. This opened the door for NATO to systematically breach UN mandates and make this supranational organization an icon of political impotence in the 20th and 21st centuries.
In 1999 NATO bombed Kosovo without a mandate from the UN Security Council, constituting an illegal war of aggression that cost the lives of between 1,500 (NATO’s figure) and 5,700 civilians (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s figure). These bombings involved the use of cluster bombs, weapons noted for their non-specific destructive effects. Among the deaths caused by these bombers, the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade (May 7, 1999) and the bombing of a convoy of Albanian refugees near Gjakova (April 14, 1999) in which about 70 people were killed (16 of them were children) stand out.
After September 11, 2001, NATO resorted to its Article 5 and declared that not only the United States but all NATO countries were at war, and attacked Afghanistan in October 2001, in what we can call its «second refounding» whereby NATO justified its interventions under the umbrella of the fight against terrorism. At this point, NATO has already become a military instrument to secure energy sources, oil pipelines and control the transit routes of hydrocarbons in the Gulf of Aden, as Greenpeace explains in its report on «Military Missions to Protect the Interests of the Oil and Gas Industry» (4).
Ten years later, the occupation of Afghanistan by the United States and NATO (including Spain) destroyed infrastructures and institutions which, far from having favored the flourishing of freedom and democracy in its territories, has only chronified violence and misery. This military operation launched 20 years ago ended with the victory of the Taliban and the death of more than 10,000 Afghan civilian victims (5). However, we are still being told today that NATO’s intervention and participation in the war is a guarantee of «security».
2 – What NATO is coming to Madrid to do: the third refounding.
In the context of the war between Russia and Ukraine, NATO has a decisive advantage to legitimize both its reason for existence and its capacity for intervention: the invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin and the death of Ukrainian civilians. In this sense, NATO presents itself as a security guarantee for its allies and as a guardian of human rights in the face of a possible escalation of Russian military operations. However, NATO’s entire history denies that its interventions result in an increase in peace, security or democracy. But if not to defend peace, guarantee security or strengthen democracy: why is NATO coming to Madrid?
At the NATO Summit to be held in Madrid on June 29 and 30, the agenda will revolve around three issues: the increase in military spending, a new narrative to justify its enlargement and the preparation of states for the ecosocial crisis and the role that the armies of NATO member states will play in it.
First of all, there is the question of increasing the annual military spending of all Member States to 2% of GDP, a demand that Trump put on the table (6), that Biden has endorsed and that the rest of the States are willing to comply with (7). The costs involved in Spain’s participation in NATO and the organization of the summit in Madrid are overwhelming. In order to comply with the 2% of GDP investment required by NATO, S’pain would have to double its defense spending (8), or in other words, the amount equivalent to all that the public administrations spend on defense (9).
Secondly, NATO will put forward a new narrative whereby it proclaims itself the global guarantor of democracy and declares an open fight against «authoritarian states» as its own reports are already pointing out, such as that of the Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies The future of NATO after the Madrid 2022 summit: (10) «NATO exists to protect our peoples and our values: freedom, democracy and the rule of law» and given the «need to confront the Russian and Chinese advance in Latin America and Africa».
Finally, NATO countries have for years recognized the climate crisis and the need to prepare for it. Proof of this is the «Action Plan for Security and Climate Change» published in 2021 which notes that «Climate change is one of the defining challenges of our time. It is a threat multiplier that affects the security of allies» (11), from here follows a set of strategies to ensure resources and adaptive operations to cope with the impacts of the climate crisis, in addition to vague statements on the hypothetical need to address the reduction of military emissions (12), which have nothing to do with the concern of reducing them, as we will see below.
Moreover, the report of the Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies cited above recognizes that «the effects of climate change shape our geopolitical environment and may affect the behavior of states» and points to some of the specific issues to be addressed in Madrid: «NATO will also address the need to adapt its capabilities to climate change in a more relevant way in its procurement and in its partnership with industry».
In the face of these objectives, we must bear in mind that the democracies of the Global North do not even respect the agreements they themselves have signed up to, such as the Paris Climate Agreement. They are short-sighted democracies that only respond to the incentive of elections and, therefore, incapable of addressing the climate crisis at the pace we need and they have demonstrated this. The same democracies are responsible for the violent extraction of energy resources from the Global South and for passing repressive laws such as the one Boris Johnson passed to repress Extinction Rebellion in the UK (13) or laws against freedom of expression such as the (Spanish) Gag Rule (Ley Mordaza).
The main leaders of the industrialized countries come to Madrid to ensure that, despite the challenges they know the climate crisis poses, the status quo is maintained within a degraded planet. However, we cannot fail to emphasize that both colonialism and the squandering of material resources through increased military spending accelerate the climate and ecosocial crisis. In the context of planetary inequalities, extractivism coexists with the militarization of border policy: first, Europe and the United States plunder the territories of the Global South, forcing people to leave their territories and then blocking their way with walls, weapons and razor fences.
Just as in the post-Cold War period when NATO focused its activities on energy sources, a similar objective is now being pursued, but with a slight variation: to appropriate the last sources of oil and gas, as well as the strategic mineral resources needed in an era of energy and material scarcity. To this end, the third refounding of NATO means the perpetuation of colonialism and war as a strategy to adapt to the impacts of the ecosocial crisis. For centuries, extractivism, colonialism and militarism have caused unacceptable damage in the Global South that has not been repaired. We will not be accomplices in any attempt to perpetuate this racist and ecocidal system.
3. Why we mobilize.
3.1. Wars are incompatible with climate justice.
According to a Greenpeace report (7), in the last 50 years, at least one in four wars between states has been related to oil. NATO missions and operations in Iraq, Syria or Sea Guardian in the eastern Mediterranean are aimed at securing the flow of oil and gas to the United States and Europe. As a climate movement, we cannot talk about climate crisis without talking about justice. We have a responsibility to look beyond emissions and rising temperatures.
Where do the minerals needed to make lithium batteries and windmills come from? The technologies we use in our daily lives are composed of critical materials that require brutal oil-dependent extraction processes that deny the dignity of far too many human beings, especially in the global South (8). The transformations of the energy transition will require even more resources from the South. The world we have now has been based on bringing resources brutally from the North, through extractivism, colonization and war. The Western green world often looks too much like the world it intends to leave behind (9): we cannot accept simply having the same world, but eco-friendly.
Wars sustain the dynamics of the system responsible for the climate crisis. Our toxic system creates inequalities and maintains them through militarization and violence. Security-based solutions aim to ensure that nothing changes, no matter how unjust what exists. In their documents, warlords single out refugees and people we have chosen to act as threats because they see us as having «the potential to disrupt this status quo, oppose the existing economic order, and present a danger of instability» (10).
Militarization precludes collaborative solutions. To achieve climate justice, it will be imperative to reverse and change the toxic system that has caused this crisis. Frontline communities, who have been able to care for biodiversity so far, represent sources of inspiration and living solutions (10).
3.2. The military industry is one of the main causes of the climate crisis.
Expanding armies is incompatible with reducing emissions from the arms sector. The activity of armies generates a positive feedback loop: the increase in emissions increases the effects of climate change, which encourages the emergence of scenarios that lead to more military spending and more emissions. It will not be possible to escape from this loop as long as economic growth remains the main objective of our societies (11).
In addition to the direct damage to human lives intrinsic to any war, armies cause damage to life on the Planet mainly at three levels: CO2 emissions from the fossil fuels they use, the toxic remains of wars that destroy ecosystems and biodiversity, and the direct damage to natural environments such as military bases and training camps, which remain for many years without regenerative capacity. War is direct death for today, and indirect death for tomorrow.
NATO is part of a destructive system that deliberately ignores the Earth’s boundaries. The pollution and environmental degradation generated by armies before, after and during military conflicts is one of the major causes of the climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity. War has already left an indelible mark on the Earth: more than 2,000 detonated nuclear bombs, for example, have left an irreversible radioactive imprint on the composition of the atmosphere (12).
Military training generates emissions, disturbs landscapes and terrestrial and marine habitats. Vehicles and explosives generate chemical and acoustic pollution from the use of weapons. Seas are transformed into ammunition dumps (13), and spills carry with them large quantities of highly polluting chemical compounds. The huge quantities of fossil fuels consumed by armies just to move them explains why the Pentagon is the world’s largest institutional consumer.
In 2019, the carbon footprint of the military industry in Europe was approximately 24.8 million tons of CO2 equivalent – a value that groups together all greenhouse gases. This is equivalent to the emissions of at least 14 million cars, or, in other words, the total vehicle emissions of Portugal, Greece and Norway combined (14).
A report by the Centre Delàs d’Estudis per la Pau delves into the consequences of militarism for the climate and the environment. According to its study on militarism and environmental crisis, the main arms exporting countries – which represent 35.48% of the population – concentrate 82% of global military spending and generate 67.1% of the emissions that cause global warming. In addition, these countries concentrate the centers of power that effectively control more than 63,000 transnational corporations (14).
3.3. The ecological transition of the armed forces is worse than greenwashing.
According to some media, the member countries of the alliance intend to agree in Madrid that their armies will achieve climate neutrality by 2050 in an attempt at greenwashing. Eco-sustainable bullets? Electric tanks? A weapon will never be green, what kills does not sustain life.
The reduction of emissions proposed by NATO is not to act against the climate crisis nor to mitigate it, these changes only respond to the vulnerability generated by the extreme phenomena linked to the climate crisis and the dependence on climate change. NATO’s emission reductions are not about acting on or mitigating the climate crisis; these changes only respond to their vulnerability to extreme events linked to the climate crisis and their dependence on depleting fossil fuels. In the words of the former US Secretary of the Navy: «We are moving toward alternative fuels in the Navy and Marine Corps for one main reason, and that is to make us better warfighters».
The goal of the military is not to defend life, and not to reduce emissions, but to ensure the extraction and transport of fossil fuels and minerals needed for the energy transition to the consumption centers of the Global North. Greenpeace pointed out that in 2021, Germany, Italy and Spain spent some 1,200 M€ on military missions to protect the import of fossil fuels (15). It is not possible to understand the structure of the current planetary crisis (climate, energy, humanitarian and resource) without paying attention to the role of military systems as its guardians.
3.4 Militarization does not lead to security or peace.
As we are seeing in the media, an attempt is being made to impose the idea that our security depends on weapons, which legitimizes the increase in military spending. This is the same argument that the arms business has historically imposed in the USA to legitimize their possession (16), and it is enough to see the misfortunes that occur periodically in schools and public places to understand the implications.
In wealthy countries, the notion of security is associated with preserving one’s own and private property in the face of external threats. However, the United Nations in 1994 defined security as «taking care of people’s basic needs» (17). In a context of reduced material and energy availability, it is not military force that provides us with security. Wars will never end and will wear us down painfully. What truly provides us with security is building resilience and reducing dependence on finite resources.
It is necessary to emphasize that conflicts arise from inequalities and the misallocation of resources. In a context of reduced material and energy availability, it is not war power that provides us with security. Wars will never end and will wear us down painfully. What truly provides us with security is building resilience and reducing dependence on finite resources. It is necessary to emphasize that conflicts arise from inequalities and the misallocation of resources. On a global scale, we denounce the brutal inequalities between territories and the militarization of the borders of a fortress Europe. We also denounce the criminalization of migration by the EU, which in its 2008 report Climate change and international security ranked climate-induced migration as the 4th security problem (18).
On the other hand, we must understand that NATO has never been an organization that promotes peace. International relations are relations between states defined in terms of power and interests, not morals or ethics. Geopolitics is not Hollywood, and there is no such thing as «good guys fighting bad guys». International relations are relations between states defined in terms of power, not morality (19), or as Arantxa Tirado points out, «Geopolitics and geoeconomics do not have higher moral values, they are business» (20). As José Antonio Zorrilla, ex-diplomat and Spanish ambassador, said, «Arms do not lead to peace. Weapons lead to the arms race and from there to war».
As a climate justice movement, we do not accept imperialist wars as a means of conflict resolution. War will never be the answer to the ecosocial crisis.
Nonviolent direct action for peace
June 29, 10:00, Madrid
Training will be much needed on Monday afternoon, June 27, in Madrid.
See also: «Las guerras, la peor devastación ambiental.»
(6) ¿Armas contra el cambio climático? (I) – Alberto Coronel https://www.elsaltodiario.com/planeta-desarmado/armas-contra-el-cambio-climatico-(i)-militarizacion-desigualdad-y-conflicto-en-las-estrategias-de-la-seguridad-climatica
(7) ¿Armas contra el cambio climático? (II) – Alberto Coronel https://www.elsaltodiario.com/planeta-desarmado/armas-contra-el-cambio-climatico-(ii)-despilfarro-energetico-crisis-migratoria-y-destruccion-medioambiental
(10) https://publicaciones.defensa.gob.es/media/downloadable/files/links/e/l/el_futuro_de_la_otan_tras_la_cumbre_de_madrid_2022_ce211.pdf informe el futuro de la OTAN
(13) https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-gloucestershire-60166899 (8*) https://censat.org/es/analisis/alfons-perez-la-transicion-ecologica-que-plantea-la-ue-es-colonial-e-imposible-en-terminos-de-limites-biofisicos-del
(19) Zorrilla https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTJrmaJE2TM año ingreso 1982**: https://www.defensa.gob.es/portaldecultura/actividades/aniversarios/Aniversarios/25_anos_Espanna_OTAN.html