What is the problem with NATO?

By Uri Livne-Bar  

NATO was founded 75 years ago as a military alliance of capitalist countries under the leadership of the US to protect the interests of big business. In that time, it has collected a deadly resume of war, terrorism, mass killings and mass repression.

NATO’s early activities included clandestine terrorist attacks and assassinations as part of its Operation Gladio, “stay-behind” operations in Europe following WW2 which were designed to organize anti-communist and anti-Soviet networks. From this operation to the utter destruction of Libya in 2011 that left it a hotbed for open air slave markets, NATO’s goal has never been to safeguard democracy nor peace. Rather, it is dedicated to using war to smash the enemies of US imperialism, regardless of the disastrous consequences.

Every country NATO invades is left with countless people dead and an entire population objectively worse off, struggling without food, medicine or housing. Every government NATO topples, is replaced by a far-right government that is happy to deregulate the economy to the benefit of finance capital and at the expense of the working population. NATO has openly recruited Nazi war criminals into its ranks from the very start and has supported fascist groups throughout Europe.

Wherever capitalism is in danger, wherever resource-rich countries have tried to pursue an economic policy independent to the interests of the United States, NATO is called to threaten or wage war with those countries. As Norman Bethune wrote in 1939, “This is the secret of all wars. Profit. Business. Profit. Blood Money.”

Canada’s role in NATO

Canada’s membership in NATO is by no means symbolic. NATO membership heavily redirects our own foreign policy, driving Canada to finance and participate in wars that destroy the lives of millions of people around the world, all for the benefit of our own ruling class.

In 1999, Canada’s Air Force flew 10 percent of all NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia, dropping 500 bombs over the course of a campaign which killed thousands of civilians. Canadian forces dropped another 240 bombs in the NATO enforcement of a no-fly zone in Libya, and aided in the 20-year-long invasion and occupation of Afghanistan which killed hundreds of thousands. Canada has exported $4 billion in weapons to Ukraine since 2022, knowing full well that Ukraine’s military formally included fascist paramilitary groups. Currently, Canada actively helped plan the bombing of Houthi rebels in Yemen, and exported nearly $30 million in weapons to Israel in the first two months of its siege on Gaza.

Money for military, but not for people’s needs

NATO membership drives Canada to increase its military spending at the expense of services that working people actually need. Canada’s military budget in 2023 was $36.7 billion. For comparison, it would cost around $10 billion annually to make post-secondary education free for all students.

But even this is not enough for NATO, which has made every member country pledge to spend 2 percent of their GDP on military. For Canada, that’s more than $50 billion annually.

At the same time, Canada pursues the exact opposite policy for essential services like healthcare and education. Chronic underfunding has left hospitals overburdened and unable to provide basic emergency services. Burnout and wage freezes are forcing nurses to quit, while ICUs and emergency rooms are left vacant due to insufficient staff.

Post-secondary education receives a fraction of what it used to – public funding was 80 percent of university and college budgets a few decades ago but is now less than 50 percent. Institutions are making up for the lost funding through higher tuition fees and by having more curricula created and taught by corporations.

Canada also makes working people pay for the worst effects of the economic crisis, with exponentially rising costs in groceries, fuel, and rent. Instead of putting money towards raising the basic standard of living, the government instead puts towards overseas wars, NATO programs like the Joint Strike Fighter program, F-35 purchases that cost nearly 74 billion, maintaining warships overseas, and subsidizing the arms industry.

When working people ask for an end to tuition or a strong healthcare system, we hear the same excuse – “there’s not enough money!” But when it comes to war, the Canadian government happily pulls out their cheque book. Money is no object.

Young people in Canada look forward to a lifetime of immense precarity, squeezed between meager wages on one end and rising costs on the other, made worse each decade by another economic crisis. Most of their income goes toward keeping a roof over their head, and the mere idea of owning a house today is pure fantasy. The government utters vague promises for progressive reforms, which keep getting pushed further to sometime in the future. They disregard working people’s basic needs in favour of playing war games that drive us towards nuclear annihilation, which we’re now the closest we’ve been to since the height of the Cold War.

Canada must withdraw from NATO

At the same time, we are witnessing what happens when workers in Canada make a strong push against imperialism. Israel’s genocide in Gaza has brought working people to the forefront of a united anti-imperialist movement, and we’ve already begun to see the effect this pressure has on the government. Canada passing the first ever motion to end exports to Israel shows directly the effect working people have on the world, when they are united with the same political goal.

Canada needs to leave NATO now. Nothing forces a country to keep its membership – Article 13 of the North Atlantic Treaty allows any member nation to unilaterally withdraw. Canada needs to cut its military spending and redirect those funds towards expanding free universal healthcare, free post-secondary education, social housing and expanding public industry to create quality jobs. Canada should recall all its troops and patrol ships deployed around the world. The government should end its military shipments to Ukraine and diplomatic means to achieve a negotiated end to the war.

Withdrawing from NATO is a critical step towards an independent Canadian foreign policy of peace, disarmament and respect for national sovereignty.

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