NATO Summit: Panel Explores NATO History and Current Issues


NATO LogoBy Lisa Klier
The Red Line Project

Posted: Tuesday, April 17, 2012

With the NATO summit just more than a month away, some Chicagoans are wondering what to make of the controversy surrounding it. 

A group of panelists addressed some of those questions at an April 11 “Michigan Avenue Forums at Fourth Presbyterian Church” panel that was co-produced by WBEZ.

The panelists were political theory scholar Bernard Harcourt, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence Kathy Kelly, former U.S. Ambassador and DePaul Vice President J.D. Bindenagel, and theologian and author William Schweiker.

Bindenagel began the discussion with a history of NATO to show where NATO has been, and where it is heading. His key moments in NATO history: 

December 1948: The UN created a universal Declaration of Human Rights after World War II.                                

April 1949: NATO was founded in response to World War II, the Declaration of Human Rights and the Soviet Union’s threat to continue war in Europe.     

1962: The Cuban Missile Crisis led NATO to move toward a principle of flexible response rather than just military retaliation.

1967: The Harmel Report encouraged political dialogue along with military defense, a dual-track approach to ease tensions in Europe.        
1979: The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and deployed intermediate range nuclear forces in range of Western Europe.    

1980s:  Western Europe requested missiles to counter Soviet Union missiles.

1983: NATO deployed U.S. missiles to Western Europe, while creating dialogue with the Soviet Union to discuss eliminating missiles on both sides.  The negotiations were successful and all missiles were removed.

1989: The fall of the Berlin Wall was one of the greatest peaceful, nonviolent revolutions to take place in Europe.  The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, NATO had served its purpose, and Europe had gone 40 years with no wars.

1991:  The ethnic cleansing and civil war in Yugoslavia was outside of NATO territory.  After 250,000 deaths, the UN finally intervened and NATO bombed the Serbian army in Bosnia.  

March-June 1999: Balkan wars continued and Madeleine Albright persuaded NATO that a bombing campaign was necessary to stop the ethnic cleansing; it was successful.

A new set of NATO principles was established.  They had a responsibility to protect humanity by means of international military intervention.  They would fight against war crimes against humanity, genocide and ethnic cleansing.

September 2001: First time in the history of NATO that Article 5 was invoked after the 9/11 attacks.  Article 5 states an attack on one, is an attack on all.

December 2010: Arab Spring.  NATO partnered with the U.S. and joined the Libyan campaign to stop Gaddafi and the genocide.

These events have led to some of the key issues that will be addressed at the upcoming NATO summit. 

Bindenagel summarized some of the main issues: “It will talk about collective defense and Article 5, what we can do together.  We’ll talk about crisis management, what happens in the Libya case or others, and cooperative security.  What will happen in Afghanistan after we withdraw?”  

So why is all of this significant to Chicago?  According to Bindenagel, it gives the city a chance to promote itself. It is also the first NATO summit held in the U.S. outside of Washington D.C.  This gives Chicagoans a chance to play a role and discuss the issues.

Audio: J.D. Bindenagel talks about NATO's importance to Chicago 

Some Chicagoans have already begun to take a role in protesting the summits. The Coalition Against NATO/ G8 War and Poverty Agenda handed out fliers outside the debate.  

The fliers state, “The main source of violence in the world today is the wars being waged by NATO and the U.S.”  The group also believes that the money spent on wars should be spent on education, healthcare, housing, environment, and jobs.  

Panelist Bernard Harcourt addressed the issue of spending, and believes the NATO summit and protests provide an opportunity to focus on this issue in the U.S.

“I think that overall it should be thought of as an opportunity to think more about our own spending and our own disproportionate investment in defense in contrast to our own spending in social programs,” he said.

The U.S. represents 50 percent of the world’s military spending, and spends $687 billion on military defense.

Schweiker discussed how religion plays a role in the debate. He gave a Christian Realist interpretation of NATO.  He claims that the issues going on in the world are ambiguous, therefore, whatever peace and security we find is never morally perfect.  There will always be a struggle then for relative peace based on our different belief systems.

He also said: “Partly because of NATO, there is less war between nations, even if also there seems to be more warfare within nations. Too often, the lambs, the innocent, poor, and powerless are forced to lie down with the lion, forces of tyranny, violence and poverty, and when possible, NATO can and I believe should act to protect those who suffer knowing the ambiguity of all such action.”

Kelly said she believes NATO started as a credible defense organization given the brutality of Stalin's regime. However, Kelly believes the U.S and NATO have missed many opportunities to find more peaceful resolutions since the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

She stresses the importance of finding ways to turn away from our dependence on weapons and to find a better way. Kelly also suggests that interventions are driven more by economic interests in oil, rather than by humanitarian interests.

Regardless of their different stances on NATO, the panelists agreed that holding the NATO summit in Chicago has given people a platform to have their voices heard.

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