NATO expansion strategy and the militarization of Europe

NATO expansion strategy and the militarization of Europe

Speech given by Ingeborg Breines, Co-President of the International Peace Bureau, in Helsinki on the 5th of September 2015, at the “NATO and Russia in the Baltic Sea Area” conference organised by the ‘No to war – No to NATO’ campaign group.

I would have preferred so much more to speak here in Helsinki about the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe 40 years after the signing of the forward-looking OSCE treaty in this city, instead of about NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which should long since have been a thing of the past!

How much more would I have liked to speak about human security, so intensively important these days when people from countries whose misery we have contributed to are desperately trying to seek refuge in Fortress Europe, instead of speaking about an insane militarization that we cannot afford, don’t need, and perhaps cannot even survive!

We must change this mind-set which considers that the enormous challenges of the day can be solved by dysfunctional military means. We need a Helsinki II!


Since I am probably the only one here coming from outside the EU, I will leave others to look at the militarization of the EU and EU-NATO relations. But maybe we will have to discuss what is Europe – where are its outside borders? Some seem to limit Europe to those countries that are members of the EU. In the UN, some assumed politically likeminded countries are gathered in Geographical Group I, including Israel. Turkey is sometimes considered to be European, as in the case of NATO, even though this is not yet acceptable to the EU, and sometimes, it is Asian. And does the Europe we speak about include Russia or only those countries previously called the Eastern European countries that presently are members of the EU? Russia is geographically partly in Europe and partly in Asia, yet it is not really included in the common concept of Europe. And in the present contest for the hearts and minds of its people; both the West and Russia are stressing differences in identity and culture instead of common features. We are unfortunately moving away from Gorbachev’s vision of a European House. What a mistake!


Maybe we also have to define what militarization is. Obviously militarization means increasing military budgets, the visible strengthening and modernization of arms production and trade in more and more lethal arms. Aude Fleurant from SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, speaking yesterday at the EuPRA conference in Tromsø, The Framing of Europe, highlighted the additional difficulties in developing the yearly SIPRI overview of the world’s military expenditure when a new generation of weapons is being designed, such as autonomous weapons, lasers, hypersonics and quantum computing, significantly decreasing transparency. How to know what is civil and what is military when there is an increase in dual-use (civil and military) production, and the manufacturing of individual parts of a weapon system are being put together in some other country? Modern warfare is linked to new technologies, to intelligence, surveillance and control of space, preparing also for so-called hybrid wars and for “unknown unknowns”.

Additionally it is the militarization of the mind that may come from strong propaganda insisting that a perceived threat is so dangerous that the only answer is a military one. The Constitution of UNESCO says: Since wars begin in the minds of men it is in the minds of men that defences for war must be constructed and this remains valid. And then it is this subtle use of words that hides reality when for instance war in Afghanistan is described as a humanitarian intervention. This false use of terminology is not only concealing reality but also dangerously blurring the line between civilian/humanitarian action and military attacks, making it difficult for people to know what they are up against. In Norway we have recently achieved so-called “gender-neutral military service”. In the name of gender equality young women are militarily put on equal footing with young men, an attempt, as I see it, to try to militarize also female minds that traditionally have been the strongest opponents of military systems.

I assume, in this well-informed gathering, that NATO’s expansion strategy and the militarization of Europe is very well known. As for NATO, my intention this morning is just to help facilitate our debate over these two days by recapitulating some facts and then try to analyse feelings around NATO as aroused by the NATO followers and all the people who live off war and off the inflated, hysterical and mostly useless post September 11th ‘protection and security’ schemes, as well as the “power-lickers” in the media. I will also, if time permits, look at the militarization by NATO of my ancestral land in Northern Norway and the politics of the High North, or the so-called Northern Areas. I would like in this context to draw your attention to a useful report made by the Norwegian Peace Council called “Suverenitet, Samarbeid og Sikkerhet i Nordområdene”, soon to be translated into English, outlining the roles and activities of the different major institutions and organizations in the area, including, of course, the important Arctic Council.


With the change in climate, the circumpolar Arctic area has become of high political, economic and military interest, as rich resources are becoming more available: fisheries, minerals, oil and gas. In addition new transport routes are opening up during summer months both in the Northeast Passage and the Northwest Passage allowing for quicker and more secured intercontinental traffic by sea. This affects not least Norway whose long coast benefits from the warm waters of the Gulfstream and in that sense distinguishes itself from the rest of the Arctic. It seems important to pay attention to what is happening in the Arctic when looking at the Baltic region as we do today.

With Stoltenberg as Secretary General of NATO, Norway is in a double bind. In addition to the very conservative Norwegian government, which by definition is pro-NATO and pro a strong military, most social-democrats would support the charming and good-looking former Norwegian Prime Minister. Even people with no knowledge or interest in NATO think it must be ok since he is there. What a media scoop by NATO, at least for now! Unfortunately, to discuss the dissolving of NATO in Norway seems to be a non-starter for the time being.

Stoltenberg is presently touring European countries to inspire them to strengthen their defence – read military – budgets to reach two per cent of GDP as agreed in the NATO Summit in Wales in 2013. And two per cent, to so-called ordinary people, may not seem a lot, so in order for people to understand, it would have been more correct to say that they want some 10% of taxpayer’s money to go for the military.

Norwegian newspapers recently reported that Stoltenberg had full success with his meetings in Norway. Norwegian newspapers also reported that Stoltenberg had been four times in Berlin for the same purpose and that he thought that Merkel now was getting positive. A militarization of Germany is perhaps not on the wish list of the WWII veterans, nor is it on the wish list of the international peace movement, which for many years has been inspired by the strong and active German peace activists. How much I hope that he will not have any success in Sweden and Finland. The world needs neutral and non-aligned countries that can speak truth to major power structures and be an inspiration for others.


The North Atlantic Treaty was initiated by the USA and signed in 1949 by 12 countries fearing their former ally, the Soviet Union, and communist expansion. The countries agreed in article 5 that attacks on one of the 12 would be like an attack on all. It gave a mutual feeling of military security. Germany came in, in 1955, and France left in 1966 due to too much American dominance (but came back in 1993), and Spain joined in 1982. The HQ moved from Paris to Mons.

The Soviet Union answered in 1955 by establishing the Warsaw Pact with countries in Eastern Europe. A deadly arms race and spiralling military costs started, and with a growing distrust between the East and the West, the Cold War became a fact. What a relief and what a joy when finally in 1989 the Wall separating the two sides fell and a new period of potential cooperation, instead of fierce military competition, could start. We were all planning how to use the peace dividend, the money freed from the military confrontation that finally could be used to meet real human needs. At the initiative of UNESCO the year 2000 became the International Year for a Culture of Peace and the UN launched a Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World 2001 – 2010. We are unfortunately not there anymore.

Out-of-area strategy

The Warsaw Pact was closed down in 1991 with perestroika and the break-up of the Soviet Union, but NATO survived. Instead of closing down they developed a new concept the same year, opening the way for NATO to intervene even when not attacked, and not necessarily with Security Council blessings, pre-emptively, in what is called Non-article 5 operations. The new NATO strategy of 1999 formalized the “out-of-area” strategy. That year several former Eastern European states started joining NATO. By now NATO has 28 member states and with more in the queue – probably also Ukraine, which is likely to involve crossing what the regime in Russia would consider their red line. In addition there are the “Partners in Peace” (mind the terminology!), which to a large extent are de facto members participating in NATO military exercises and allowing training on their land.

The 11th September 2001 attacks in New York triggered the US attacks on Afghanistan, and the wider “War on Terror”. Article 5 was activated for the first and only time when NATO countries expressed their solidarity with the USA. NATO, however, did not join the US and their coalition of the willing immediately. The lengthy transition between US and NATO responsibility for the war in Afghanistan exposes the lack of clarity between what are the interests of the US and what are the interests of NATO. The following US attack on Iraq triggered a crisis in NATO as some European countries were strongly against.


People in the West seem wary of NATO participation in far-away wars in Muslim countries based on a sometimes created, sometimes exaggerated Islamophobia. Was it also, perhaps, an understanding in the inner circles in NATO that the out-of-area strategy was not really functioning and that there was a need for a closer enemy. Did the Ukraine crisis come in handy for providing new meaning to a sclerotic NATO?

NATO is presently opening new operating centres in Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Estonia – all nations between Western Europe and Russia, countries where the United States promised Russia that NATO would never enter; and the missile shield is reinforced. The relationship between Russia and the West and notably NATO has deteriorated considerably over the last years. It now appears to be bringing with it an action-reaction cycle in terms not only of Cold War rhetoric, but also of military exercises on both sides.

There is a changed profile of the military exercises. They are much bigger, broader and closer to the borders. Both sides seem to train for increasing combat readiness and full-blown confrontations. As NATO is now preparing a major exercise in southern Europe, another one is planned in Northern Norway close to the Russian border where there have previously been some constraints. McCain just visited and underlined that it was important to deliver the F35, the Joint Strike Fighters, quickly to North Norway to counter Russian aspirations in the north.

And the media message is clear: The world is dangerous – we need a strengthened military for our safety. And strangely enough, there are also strong simultaneous attempts to sell the message that we also need the military to tackle environmental and humanitarian crises, even migration.

Warfare or welfare?

The world presently spends more than 1.74 trillion US dollars a year on the military, according to SIPRI. Probably the full total is even much higher. This colossal heap of money could and should instead have been used for education, peace-building, health, development of a green economy, infrastructure and humanitarian relief, as Ruth Leger Sivard so ably showed us in her yearly publications comparing military and social expenditure.

Recent figures indicate that for every 100,000 people in the world, there are 556 soldiers, and only 85 doctors. Every soldier costs approximately $20,000 per year, while the average spent on education is only some $380 per school-aged child. In this period of joblessness and precariousness in many parts of Europe, some would argue that the military and the military industry provide many jobs. Research shows, however, that one job in the military costs in general three times as much as a civilian job, so it would be much more cost effective also in this sense to convert to a production that meets real challenges and needs.

When urging that NATO should be dissolved since it is not providing people with better security it is for several reasons:

  • its out-of-area policy – Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya..
  • the confrontational and expansionist policy towards eastern Europe and Eurasia, including missile shields and new infrastructure
  • an unacceptable nuclear policy and first-strike doctrine
  • the US stationing and upgrading of nuclear weapons in several European countries, such as Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey
  • the lack of respect for and violation of international law
  • exaggerated military expenditure undermining the possibility to meet basic needs of people and implement the new UN Post 2015 development agenda – i.e. warfare instead of welfare
  • reducing the importance of the role of the UN in security matters
  • blurring the lines between humanitarian and military action
  • a seeming readiness to be an instrument for Western search for natural resources and power
  • the undermining of the importance of human security
  • the hardening of the security narrative: preparing for the worst, and actively rehearsing it

If you want peace, prepare for peace!

No country should be allowed to feel pride any more in being militarily strong. Deterrence is an obsolete word belonging to the Cold War period. We must get out of the old Roman thinking that if you want peace, prepare for war. If we want peace, then we have to prepare for peace, and stop allowing the military industry and security-gurus to misguide us on threats and to portray “the other” as evil. In the future strong countries will be seen as those who manage to create security by non-military means and use their resources to build human security and a true culture of peace.