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Militar bases: An aspect of the NATO strategy

This is the CSO contribution to the International Conference on Foreign Military Bases
La Havana , 7 to 10 th November 2005

1) Belgium 's particular position

Belgium 's small territory is site for two NATO essential decision-making centres: SHAPE, and the NATO's HQ itself in Brussels .

SHAPE, the Supreme Headquarters for Allied Powers, it is near Mons : It is the all-European centre for NATO's military commandment. NATO's military decisions are taken at the SHAPE, and in particular, all those preparing and implementing military plans relative to the nuclear weapons of the NATO's nuclear bases, such as at Kleine Brogel in Belgium .

At Brussels ' general-quarters, the Northern Atlantic Council takes the political decisions, and it concerns itself with NATO's nuclear strategy under the Nuclear Planning Group. The Council is the principal decision-making body supervising political and military processes on security matters of interest to the whole Alliance .

All decisions are taken by common agreement between the 26 member countries; but this semblance of unanimity is more like a gross charade. In informal talks, the services of the Belgian Defence Ministry recently commented on how huge the machinery of NATO is compared to Belgium 's feeble weight, and how you oppose that machinery at a cost. That cost is still being paid, right now, for our opposition to aggression against Iraq .

But this official unanimity is not without underlining the part of responsibility our elected leaders bear in NATO's decisions – a responsibility the citizens of our country are very largely ignorant about.

In 1963, the Belgian air base of Kleine Brogel became home to 10 to 20 US nuclear warheads, equivalent each to more than 10 Hiroshima . These weapons are placed under the control of some 110 US soldiers. But in time of war, Belgian airmen are expected to pilot the Belgian F16's, and drop the bombs - a thing that will potentially make them accomplices to this crime against humanity.

The stationing of nuclear bombs in Belgium is in violation of the non-proliferation treaty which our country signed, but our belonging to NATO foists this over us. In fact, NATO's Strategic Concept specifies that “To make it so that the Alliance's nuclear arsenal should stay credible, and to demonstrate its unflinching solidarity in its common war prevention purpose, the European allies (…) must continue to take a large part in nuclear roles and in stationing nuclear forces on their territories in times of peace” (declaration by General Secretary Joop de Scheffer).

And this is how the following nuclear forces are directly allocated to NATO in Europe :

• 480 nuclear ‘tactical' bombs stationed in bases in Belgium , Germany , Italy , Holland , Turkey and Great Britain;

• The nuclear missiles on board the 4 British ‘Trident' submarines (each sub with a maximum of 48 nuclear heads aboard);

• The nuclear missiles on board the 4 US ‘Trident' subs allocated to NATO.

There are other bases in Belgium at NATO's disposal, still unbeknown to the Belgian public. In particular:

The air base at Chievre : Since 1967 a convention was signed with the Supreme Allied Commander (SACEUR) to allow the use of the Chievres by SHAPE. A part of the infrastructure – runways, taxi tracks, parking bays, hangars, etc. – was financed by NATO. The rest of it, deemed not to be under NATO's remit, has been identified as national infrastructure, either Belgian or American. The whole Chievre infrastructure falls thereby under NATO's inventory. Its services are presently reckoned by NATO as indispensable.

The ACO-TPL (Allied Command Operations - Tactical Leadership Programme) purports to aim at the increased efficiency of NATO's air power: [“To increase the effectiveness of allied tactical air forces through the development of leadership skills, tactical flying capabilities, mission planning and tasking capabilities and conceptual and doctrinal initiatives”]. This is operating the Belgian airbase of Florennes at, where the NATO pilots are being trained for the greater efficiency of future NATO's forays. It is from this air-base that the Belgian F-16's were taking off in 1999, bound for Yugoslavia with orders to bomb it, since NATO had attacked. Also from Florennes, F-16's fly off as part of their NATO's missions to Afghanistan .

Moreover, even the civilian infrastructure is put at contribution by the US forces, when need arises, courtesy of agreements passed with NATO and the indulgence of governments in place.

2) Belgium 's policy towards NATO

Successive Belgian governments - representing in power whichever party (Socialists, Liberals, Social-Christians, Ecologists, Flemish nationalists) – only ever managed to maintain the same policy, in defence of such military alliances. From the Second World War on, they kept adhering to the Atlantic Alliance Treaty and to the European Union. In 1967, NATO moved its main seat in Brussels and its military command in Mons . Since then, Belgium has already supplied NATO two general secretaries.

The treaties constitutive to the European Union and up to the recent project for a European Constitution did not nothing but reinforce the military and strategic links between Europe and the United States . In this European Constitution Project, it is the first time that a treaty ties the European Union explicitly up with NATO, stipulating that NATO's directives must override any European directive in matters of security and defence.

By choosing this military alliance, successive governments have been driven into giving away the ‘national sovereignty', with no control over Kleine Brogel and its nuclear bombs for instance (the latter having no acknowledged public existence to this day). Instead, governments kept passing secret agreements with the USA as to the use of airports, air corridors, ports and railways for troop and goods transport. This is how, when Iraq was attacked in 2003, US military material and troops had no difficulty in using the Ostend civilian airport and the port of Anvers . They crossed over Belgium under the cloak of the NATO's military secret; and quite oblivious to popular hostility or to the declarations by government members. Some days later, there came thundering declarations by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence, in opposition to the war. About one hundred demonstrators considered it their duty - our own selves included - to go and block the transport trains loaded with US military hardware. Very discreetly, and very preventatively, they were arrested near Anvers .

Belgian governments, of whatever sort, are left with small margins in which to register whatever vague longing for independence they might have, or whatever opposition they might feel against the policies dictated by NATO.

War and occupation in Iraq by the NATO-sustained Coalition provides a gloomy example: The most the Belgian Defence Minister could do was to declare a state of “constructive abstention” against an aggression where NATO keeps dragging along its members behind itself:

• As early as 2003, officially (and discretely) for the part Poland was taking in the military occupation of Iraq , NATO started supplying it with logistical support;

• In 2004, NATO decided on a mission to form officers for a new Iraqi army to be set in place by the collaborator government there. This way, NATO could take an actual part in the fighting against the legitimate Iraqi resistance to occupation;

• NATO has now just decided to shore up the occupation of Afghanistan with an extra 15,000 men, thereby directly freeing more US soldiers for Iraq .

3) But what is NATO really used for?

After the disappearance of USSR and Warsaw Pact, NATO itself should have been dissolved. Hadn't it lost all its official justification for a continued existence, since there was no further need to defend the territory of member countries' against the claimed menace of the Warsaw Pact? Instead of that, NATO gradually replaced the UN Blue Helmets and turned itself into the guardian of the new world order as defined by the US and Europe . This transformation comes in variegated attire, like the safeguard of democracy, the Rights of Man, the struggle against terrorism or the duty of humanitarian intervention. In reality, NATO is an enormous war machine with most of the planet's weapons of mass destruction at hand, nuclear weapons foremost - all for the following purposes:

  • To be Western imperialism's - mainly the United States ' - police force;
  • To collaborate in the US geo-strategic plans, and notably encircle Russia ;
  • To prevent any uprising on the part of populations in member countries.

3.1). Through NATO, the United States mean to take upon themselves the role of ‘world gendarme'

Presently, it is NATO that overseas the Kosovo protectorate, having largely retired from Bosnia where it posted instead a European Union Armed Force.

NATO is having more and more functions and territorial space in Afghanistan; some member countries go on objecting to this, all the more so because of the amalgamation the US is making between NATO's missions and the US ‘immutable liberty' operations; of course, this inevitably immerses the NATO's allies into the Afghan war.

A NATO academy has been installed in Baghdad with the view to form new cadres for an Iraqi army; and this amounts to member states giving support to the US , GB and other coalition forces.

Following US pressures, the President of the African Union has officially called for the intervention of NATO in the Darfour region, conveniently by-passing foible French opposition.

In the name of the struggle against terrorism, NATO has been involved since 2001 in the Mediterranean operation ‘active endeavour' whose purpose is to protect petrol tankers. Since February 2003, NATO ships regularly escort consignments that cross the Gibraltar Detroit.

The territories in the US line of sight stretch all over the world: They go from Palestine , Syria , Iran , the Caucasus , the Balkans, over to Africa , Asia Latin America. Just an example: To replace US surveillance boats, NATO Dutch and Belgian ones were sent off the costs of Venezuela , to arrive fittingly just as a State military Coup was being staged against Chavez. Since NATO's declared brief is the defence Members states' territories, this bears no more relation whatever to NATO's official justification for existing.

3.2) Russia 's encirclement

Since its last enlargement, NATO now counts 26 member countries, bringing its Alliance right up against Russia 's frontiers, and inside the former USSR . A number of countries that used to belong to the Warsaw Pact are now members of both NATO and the European Union. They bring a peculiar eagerness to this world strategy, offering their territories to the better spread of NATO military bases, sending their military forces to help NATO's war expeditions; they also lend their police services and humanitarian organisations to help NATO occupy many countries.

Since 2004, there have been NATO's AWAC spy-planes patrolling the Baltic countries right along the Russian frontiers. Latvia has now allowed the installation of Lockheed- Martin long-range last-generation reconnaissance radars pat on the Russian border. Radars integrated into the NATO infrastructures have a nice view 400 km deep inside the North West part of Russia . NATO Soldiers and aeroplanes have taken up position at the former Soviet airport in the Lithuanian town of Chiauliai . In 2004, the Russian Foreign Affairs Minister wanted to know: “Who could explain what are the objectives of an anti-terrorist struggle, and in what specific regions, when they bring NATO military bases into Poland and the Balkans?”, adding that “No one in Russia can see why the expansion of the European Union must be accompanied by NATO bases in the Balkans”. Indeed, the hazy-fuzzy war against terrorism had finally managed to place US military bases, and NATO soldiers, on Russia 's Southern flank.

In Afghanistan , NATO has now settled for a long time, in the own admission of its very chiefs: “How long is NATO to stay? Well, 5 or 10 years, or however long it takes” - in the words of its General Secretary. The destabilising manoeuvres in Ukraine and in the Caucasus countries are routinely accompanied by a policy of unmitigated support for NATO, eliciting promises of quick membership. Azerbaidjan has already declared that it ‘might envisage the possibility' of welcoming NATO bases; and NATO is keenest on a permanent presence amongst the Caucasus countries. Anyone observing objectively the evolution of this situation cannot avoid seeing how NATO is up to a systematic policy of encirclement of Russia, and beyond, of China.

3.3) Role in the repression of own populations

In the name of an anti-terror struggle in all member countries, the NATO organisation contributes to the instauration of sophisticated systems for the surveillance of the populations, complete with the reduction of all democratic rights and individual liberties. This organisation is committed to a central role in the strategy of nipping in the bud any hint of resistance to the US-led imperialist order.

The deployment of combat troops against the black population of New Orleans at the beginning of September was a spectacular demonstration that, if the system has a ghastly nightmare, it is not terrorism at all, but its dread of an armed popular insurrection. The ‘struggle against terrorism' has suddenly dropped its mask. The vast swindle that it really was has appeared suddenly, and for all to see, whilst the National Guard - who are supposed to protect the US territory and succour the people - was sent over to Iraq to destroy it, to the greatest profit of the likes of Halliburton, Betchel and such other oil multinationals.

Two years ago in Colorado Spring, there was a meeting of the NATO defence ministers. This opened on an expensive war game (seven million US dollars). The scenario was: urban guerrillas allied to terrorists had taken power, and the ousted President was clamouring for NATO's intervention. These were the days when the idea of a NATO Rapid Reaction Force was being ‘sold'. And no great pains were taken to cover up the fact that member states were now expected to ‘react' within hours to a popular uprising in a friendly country - a not unlikely thing.

This is of a nature to render vassal countries particularly docile, their ruling classes taking State preservation so very seriously indeed. The Eastwards extension of NATO in Europe partly follows this scheme too. For Eastwards, you are dealing with populations that have known socialism, State funding for health and education, full employment… The rich minority now in power there - not infrequently originating from an expatriate diaspora nurtured in the US - is very correct in fearing revolt from impoverished masses; and this is why this minority sells at the lowest price the independence of these countries, in exchange for a good NATO protection cover.

And this is how willy-nilly the members states accept to bend the back to US demand that they should much increase their military budgets and thus reduce social and cultural expenditure: in 10 years, the military budget of the European countries has known an 11% increase in real terms. In the year 2000, the military budget of the NATO countries was already 60% of the world military budgets (798 billion US dollars). And this tendency is not to be reversed soon: Germany , for instance, has already obeyed a NATO injunction according to which it must spend 7.8 billion Euros (about the same in US dollars) yearly, starting in 2010, and this represents a 78% increase on its present expenditure.

4) Fighting NATO

The presence on our soil of NATO adjudication centres puts a particular responsibility on the peace movement in Belgium . Some of peace supporters remain very dependent on political parties; even though these parties claim to be progressive you always find them ending up on government benches where they toady to the traditional doctrine of the Atlantic Alliance.

At the time of the war against Yugoslavia , it was felt particularly necessary to denounce NATO and clearly combat it. It is then, in 1999, that the NSC/CSO was born, whilst NATO was conducting its bombing raids over Yugoslavia . The NSC/CSO gathers militants from various tendencies of the radical left, who encouraged in the peace movement the clearest opposition to that war, and who now denounce the more and more aggressive role of NATO as it turns into the world's policeman. The NSC/CSO wishes to stress the need to break all dependency upon NATO, a dependency that leads the peace movement to send aggressor and aggressed back to back. This happened over Yugoslavia , it now happens over Iraq . In effect, this leads to the paralysing policy of the “neither-nor”, as follows: “neither NATO nor Milosevic” and “neither Bush nor Saddam”; this sort of thing leads to a justification of military intervention in the name of a so-called ‘right of humanitarian interference'.

The NSC/CSO militates so that the progressive political organisations, and the peace movement, should profoundly revise the conditions under which Belgium adheres to the Atlantic Alliance, and propose the pure and simple dissolution of NATO.

Together with other peace organisations, the NSC/CSO fights for better targeted objectives. For instance, and regarding NATO and nuclear weapons in Europe , the US 480 nuclear bombs stationed in various NATO countries must be withdrawn and destroyed. The ‘Bomspotting campaign' has already alerted Belgian parliamentarians and obtained the reaction of those who want to put this matter on the statute book; they demand that the secret arrangements that have led to placing those bombs in Belgium , be made public.

The appeal of the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for complete denuclearisation by 2020, starting with the denuclearisation of specific communal territories, has been mightily heard. More than 250 Burgh-masters (Justices of the Peace, JPs), in various constituencies in Belgium , have agreed. Amongst them, there was the JP of the area where the Kleine Brogel military base is situated.

The struggle for the dismantlement of the military bases is intimately linked with the struggle to becoming detached from NATO. In the campaign for the ‘No' to the proposed European Constitution, the aspect of how one is actually being driven into NATO dependency, was widely evidenced, and denounced. The security of Europe and of the world is not to be found in any policy for massive rearmament. Instead, it resides in the fight to make the world more just; and to arrive at relations on an equal footing between sovereign countries. Not a penny for war, but for social security, health and education!

We struggle too with the view that Belgium should have no participation, direct or indirect, in the occupation of Iraq . The ‘constructive abstention' of the present government is not enough. One must refuse to give to NATO any contribution in troops, logistics, materials or monies intended for attacks on Iraq or Afghanistan , on Bosnia or on Kosovo. One must deny to NATO, and to its needs, the utilisation of any military base, the air space or any civilian infrastructure of any sort.

We struggle so that Belgium should come out of NATO and for the dissolution of the Atlantic Alliance.