By Shiraz Paracha
During the weekend, leaders of 28 NATO countries gathered in Lisbon, Portugal, for a face-saving meeting as it became clear that the Western military alliance could face a humiliating defeat in one of the world’s poorest countries.
Contrary to the NATO’s official statement about providing security in Afghanistan as long as it takes, the NATO commanders know that the longer they stay in Afghanistan, the deeper their troubles would become in the war zone as well as at home fronts.
In 2005, NATO sent thousands of troops to Afghanistan to support the US occupation amid tall claims about the “noble Afghan mission” and how it would bring peace and security to Afghanistan.
Five years on, peace and stability are distant dreams in Afghanistan. The security situation has worsened under the NATO control. The foreign occupation has brought further death and destruction to the country. The people of Afghanistan are suffering, while NATO soldiers die on a daily basis, and there are other signs that the mighty NATO has miserably failed in Afghanistan.
One aim of NATO gathering in Lisbon was to find a way out of Afghanistan. The reality is that the Afghan mission was wrong from the outset. NATO's presence in Afghanistan violates the organisation's own charter and the heavy Afghan engagement is beyond NATO's basic mandate.
It was apparent that Afghans would never accept foreign troops, especially Western forces, on their land, but NATO forced its agenda upon the UN and instead of involving the wider world, particularly Muslim states and neighbours of Afghanistan, the West took direct charge of Afghanistan at gunpoint.
It is possible that building peace and security was just the stated purpose of the military intervention in Afghanistan, and the actual and wider aim of the Afghan mission could be taking control of vital energy routes out of Central Asia. Perhaps encircling China and Russia could be another reason for the NATO Afghan misadventure.
It was amusing and ironic, however, to observe NATO leaders flattering Russia, a country that NATO intended to defeat and destroy. After all, 61 years ago, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was created to counter Moscow's global influence. Interestingly, in 2010, NATO leaders were inflated when president of the proud and strong Russia granted the Lisbon gathering an audience and agreed that his country could consider cooperating with NATO.
At the Portuguese capital, the most 'advanced and civilised' nations again lied to their public almost in the same way as they did back in 1949 when NATO was established. Back then, a manufactured hysteria about the Soviet threat led to the creation of NATO.
During the Cold War, Europe and the United States exaggerated the Soviet military threat and justified the existence of NATO. But when the Cold War ended in 1991, NATO lost its purpose and became irrelevant.
To date, no country on earth can match the US military might. Europe is not under threat by a state or states; however, warmongering Western leaders and generals are looking for new and perceived enemies to continue the fear game. The war and weapons industry also want to keep the 'White Elephant', therefore the capitalist world is, now, inventing threats to justify the otherwise redundant NATO to maintain the Western military hegemony.
In the middle of the Second World War, Britain and the United States were drawing the contours of the Cold War. Together, they plotted against their own ally, the Soviet Union. Western countries considered the Communist Soviet Union as a bigger threat to the capitalist system than the Nazi Germany.
A careful and detailed strategy to counter the Soviet Union was in play during the war years. The main target of the 1941 Atlantic Charter was the Soviet Union. The Anglo-American leaders had created the Charter to defeat the Communist threat. It was based on certain freedoms - freedom of thought and expression, freedom from want, freedom of religion and freedom of movement. These freedoms were boosted as the founding principles of the Western Free World by then US president Franklin D Roosevelt and then British prime minister Winston Churchill. The underlying message was that the Western world was the beacon of hope and prosperity and was superior to Communist countries where no such freedoms existed.
The 1941 Charter was a calculated move to stab the Soviet Union and sabotage her image and credibility at a time when the USSR was already a Western ally. It was the Soviet Union which took the real brunt in the Second World War. More than 25 million Soviet troops and citizens lost their lives at the hand of Germans but at the end it was Stalin's strong policies and Soviets' bravery that Germany was defeated. However, the West never really recognised the Soviet role in the Second World War. On the contrary, the West stole the credit for winning the war from the Soviet Union.
The United Nations was established in 1945 to protect and pursue Anglo-American interests. The 1941 Atlantic Charter was the base of the UN and the West wanted to use the international body to discredit the Soviet Union and indeed the whole Communist-Socialist model. It is another matter that a decade later, newly independent states from the developing world started joining the United Nations and Western countries became a minority. Nevertheless, the West tried to undermine the UN General Assembly and manipulated the UN through the Security Council.
When the socialist revolution occurred in China and from East Europe to East Asia Communist and Socialist ideas gained popularity, the West openly launched a new war against the Communist Bloc. It was a Cold War mainly because the Soviets, too, had developed the nuclear capability and it was impossible to bulldoze the USSR by a military conflict.
The start of the Cold War is also interesting. In the late 1940s, Churchill, who was rejected by the British public in elections, was sitting at home but was hungry for a role in international politics. A depressed and angry Churchill was missing the limelight that he had become used to during the war years. He saw himself as a statesman and a saviour of Britain but the ‘thankless’ Britons sent him home exactly at the time when he returned to Britain after ‘winning’ the war.
Shrewd and opportunist Churchill used the Soviet threat as an opportunity for his return to the international political stage. He became the drumbeater of the Communist threat. It was Churchill who had coined the term 'iron curtain' in a speech at a US university.
The launch of the Cold War gave birth to NATO. For the following 40 years, the world was divided between the Good and the Evil and NATO was on the side of the Good. It was a defender of democracy and freedom. It was a guaranter of Western security and from a Western perspective, NATO protected the civilised world. It was simple and easy as the world was seen in black and white. The organised propaganda through the Western media presented NATO and the West on a 'high moral ground'.
But in 1991, all that ended abruptly with the smooth and peaceful split of the Soviet Union. The West painted the Soviet demise as its victory. But in fact, it was the biggest shock for the huge Western military and propaganda machine.
The Cold War mindset was not ready to accept the new change. The mysterious attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001 and the subsequent 'war on terror' filled the enemy vacuum for the Cold War warriors, but it did not help an organisation like NATO that was created on the concept of traditional warfare.
In the post-1945 era, despite their technological superiority and military and economic power, Western countries did not fight directly against powerful states. Proxy wars were the West's preferred method throughout the Cold War period.
Nevertheless, in the 1990s, the West opted for military interventions and regime changes. Western countries acted as a pack of wolves and attacked small and weak states. The strategy provided an opportunity to lightweights such as Bush and Blair to imitate Churchill and Roosevelt and appear strong and victorious.
But the US defeat in Iraq and the NATO's failed mission in Afghanistan have proven that military occupations and interventions are counterproductive and expose weaknesses of occupiers and aggressors.
Today, NATO is disillusioned and disoriented. It is demanding from its member states to allocate at least two percent of their GDPs to defence budgets. In a desperate effort to keep its large and bureaucratic structures and huge budget, NATO has been adding vague, unrealistic and ambiguous aims and objectives to its mission. It has committed blunders like Afghanistan but its commanders did not seem to have learned any lessons.
Regardless of the Lisbon rhetoric, not all NATO member states can afford ever-increasing military budgets to counter open-ended threats and fight unspecified enemies. Weakening European economies need trade and investment rather than wars. They rely on energy but the energy sources are out of Europe. Skilled labour and markets are beyond the geographical sphere of the most NATO states. And most NATO countries certainly do not have the will and capacity for missions impossible, like the one in Afghanistan.
Shiraz Paracha is a journalist and analyst. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org