To Say 'Destroy Nato, Yes We Can'
By Michael Galvin
09 April, 2009
As protesters begin to build barricades and set them on fire, the Franco-German border bridge is brimming with cops in full riot gear. People are milling about, exchanging flyers, watching the dozens of police boats zip around on the Rhine, and walking back and forth from the large meeting ground 500 yards or so away. The atmosphere is tense. Police surround the island that is the Port of Strasbourg, yet on the island itself protesters have free reign. Destruction is in the air.
Thursday (April 2) already saw the 1,500 strong black block wreak havoc in the south part of the city, smashing windows at the police headquarters and a military base, graffiti-ing all along the way. Police repression followed with an invasion of the 10,000 strong protesters. camp ground and 140 arrests. Later on Thursday, an attempted invasion of the camp was fought back as police launched tear gas into surrounding residential neighborhoods, and protesters lit barricades on fire and responded with Molotov cocktails. Friday was a .lighter. day as the anti-NATO conferences went ahead with big speakers such as Tariq Ali and Noam Chomsky, though following the conferences there were once again skirmishes on the outskirts of the camp.
Saturday however was the first official day of the NATO Summit in Strasbourg hosting all the leaders of NATO countries and the announcement of their .New Strategic Concept for the 21st Century. in which NATO, in effect, intends to replace the UN as the deciding international body. This .concept. will undoubtedly continue NATO.s post-1989 trajectory of encircling Russia by pursuing military bases in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, and its missile defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland despite massive popular opinion against the project.
However, the clearest motive of Barack Obama.s American delegation is the .comprehensive strategy. in Afghanistan which intends to continue the occupation.s escalation by the Bush administration - between 2004 and 2007 the number of air strikes increased from 86 to 2,926 - by adding 21,000 troops to the already 38,000 plus on the ground there. As the country is already divided into occupied sectors of Italians, Americans, French, Germans, and Dutch/Canadian/British like post-Nazi Germany or Austria, the current intervention continues a war that has hardly ceased for 30 years with 8,000 dead in 2007, 260,000 having fled the country, and ¼ of the population lacking adequate food and water. Additionally, only $15 billion of the $25 billion in promised aid from NATO has reached the country, albeit with 40% of the aid given to European and American companies contracted to maintain the occupation there and thus never actually reaching the population.
The situation is dire, as 46,000 Afghans have already died avoidable deaths in the first 40 days of the Obama presidency. And while Obama claims he desires a more global outlook by reaching out to other world leaders, he is also demanding more .responsibility. on their part by fighting America.s wars in the Muslim world. Just one month before the NATO summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the full reintegration of France in NATO.s military command after a 40-year absence. This peaked people.s interest: would this mean that France - and other European countries - will send more troops to fight the illegal war in Afghanistan? And could this compromise France.s future capability to challenge illegal American wars as they did in Iraq?
Regardless, the move proved a rallying cry for the anti-war movement and the roughly 30,000 protestors who gathered in Strasbourg to say no to NATO.
Despite initial police provocation preventing protesters from safely reaching the meeting point for the protest on Saturday, large groups began to amass in the residential area of the Port of Strasbourg around 1 o.clock. Contingents made their way to the German border bridge where police had formed a formidable obstacle for the 7,000 German protesters on the other side - who were emptily told they could join the French protest - and consequently set fire to the customs office. Helicopters zoomed overhead, their view obscured by the smoke. Desks came out of the building to fuel the fiery barricades. Graffiti scrawled on the walls proclaimed .social war,. .this is for the Afghans,. and .down with NATO, down with capitalism.. Walking toward the meeting grounds, protesters start dismantling billboards, security cameras, and ATMs. With the protest still unable to start as police cordoned off the zone preventing more protesters from entering and those inside from leaving, the destruction begins to take on a new element. A joint bank-pharmacy, like the customs office, goes up in flames sending huge waves of smoke into the sky. Bus stations are obliterated with crow bars, street signs are thrown on developing barricade fires, and church doors are graffiti-ed with quotations from the Enlightenment. The next target is a 6-story hotel which is pillaged and set on fire. Shortly after, the police arrive with tear gas, forcing out the last protesters. A cloud of tear gas envelopes the zone, reaching the assembled 30,000 protesters just 100 yards away. Thousands are coughing and spraying serum into their eyes to alleviate the unbearable burning sensation. Nevertheless, the speeches continue with the overwhelming majority condemning the police actions against the crowd.
The protest finally begins at roughly 3 o.clock as the large mass makes its way along the port to the entrance bridge into the city. Thousands of riot police block the passage, forcing the protest to turn right and circle its way back into the embattled neighborhood. Arriving at the railroad crossing over the entrance back into the neighborhood, the passage is once again blocked. Police begin to close people in on both sides, shooting rubber bullets, tear gas, deafening grenades and spray from a water cannon. Offices are once again smashed, a post office ransacked. Rocks from the train tracks rain down on police who respond with more tear gas. Police violence reaches a peak when they regain control of the tracks and corner a group of pacifists against a wall raining tear gas down upon them. They consequently herd the defenseless and weary mass out of the port zone arresting anyone dressed in black. In the end, roughly 300 are arrested - though only 12 remain in custody - with around 50 injured - ¼ of which are police.
Of course the following day the consensus in the media was shock and condemnation. The only interesting perspective was that of residents in the ravaged working class neighborhood who directed their shock at the authorities who .allowed their community to be sacrificed.. While they were confused and afflicted by the destruction of their neighborhood, they seemed to understand that a city which welcomes a NATO summit in the current environment will not come out unscathed. To the contrary, a city which welcomes the 60th anniversary celebration of NATO.s war crimes must inevitably pay a heavy price. Yet, they were the ones forced to shoulder the burden.
Michael Galvin Originally from St. Louis, MO, Michael Galvin attended a liberal arts college in Minnesota from 2004-2008 where he worked with various anti-war organizations. Spending his entirely politically conscious life in George W. Bush's America, Michael decided to leave following the end of his studies, taking a job with the French government where he teaches English to 4th and 5th grade near Toulouse, France. He will be going to Palestine this summer in solidarity with Palestinians working to end the Israeli occupation.
Too Many Overseas Bases
By David Vine
12 March, 2009
In the midst of an economic crisis that.s getting scarier by the day, it.s time to ask whether USA can really afford some 1,000 military bases overseas. For those unfamiliar with the issue, you read that number correctly. One thousand. One thousand U.S. military bases outside the 50 states and Washington, DC, representing the largest collection of bases in world history.
Officially the Pentagon counts 865 base sites, but this notoriously unreliable number omits all our bases in Iraq (likely over 100) and Afghanistan (80 and counting), among many other well-known and secretive bases. More than half a century after World War II and the Korean War, we still have 268 bases in Germany, 124 in Japan, and 87 in South Korea. Others are scattered around the globe in places like Aruba and Australia, Bulgaria and Bahrain, Colombia and Greece, Djibouti, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Romania, Singapore, and of course, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba . just to name a few. Among the installations considered critical to our national security are a ski center in the Bavarian Alps, resorts in Seoul and Tokyo, and 234 golf courses the Pentagon runs worldwide.
Unlike domestic bases, which set off local alarms when threatened by closure, our collection of overseas bases is particularly galling because almost all our taxpayer money leaves the United States (much goes to enriching private base contractors like corruption-plagued former Halliburton subsidiary KBR). One part of the massive Ramstein airbase near Landstuhl, Germany, has an estimated value of $3.3 billion. Just think how local communities could use that kind of money to make investments in schools, hospitals, jobs, and infrastructure.
Even the Bush administration saw the wastefulness of our overseas basing network. In 2004, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced plans to close more than one-third of the nation.s overseas installations, moving 70,000 troops and 100,000 family members and civilians back to the United States. National Security Adviser Jim Jones, then commander of U.S. forces in Europe, called for closing 20% of our bases in Europe. According to Rumsfeld.s estimates, we could save at least $12 billion by closing 200 to 300 bases alone. While the closures were derailed by claims that closing bases could cost us in the short term, even if this is true, it.s no reason to continue our profligate ways in the longer term.
Costs Far Exceeding Dollars and Cents
Unfortunately, the financial costs of our overseas bases are only part of the problem. Other costs to people at home and abroad are just as devastating. Military families suffer painful dislocations as troops stationed overseas separate from loved ones or uproot their families through frequent moves around the world. While some foreign governments like U.S. bases for their perceived economic benefits, many locals living near the bases suffer environmental and health damage from military toxins and pollution, disrupted economic, social, and cultural systems, military accidents, and increased prostitution and crime.
In undemocratic nations like Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Saudi Arabia, our bases support governments responsible for repression and human rights abuses. In too many recurring cases, soldiers have raped, assaulted, or killed locals, most prominently of late in South Korea, Okinawa, and Italy. The forced expulsion of the entire Chagossian people to create our secretive base on British Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean is another extreme but not so aberrant example.
Bases abroad have become a major and unacknowledged .face. of the United States, frequently damaging the nation.s reputation, engendering grievances and anger, and generally creating antagonistic rather than cooperative relationships between the United States and others. Most dangerously, as we have seen in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and as we are seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan, foreign bases create breeding grounds for radicalism, anti-Americanism, and attacks on the United States, reducing, rather than improving, our national security.
Proponents of maintaining the overseas base status quo will argue, however, that our foreign bases are critical to national and global security. A closer examination shows that overseas bases have often heightened military tensions and discouraged diplomatic solutions to international conflicts. Rather than stabilizing dangerous regions, our overseas bases have often increased global militarization, enlarging security threats faced by other nations who respond by boosting military spending (and in cases like China and Russia, foreign base acquisition) in an escalating spiral. Overseas bases actually make war more likely, not less.
The Benefits of Fewer Bases
This isn.t a call for isolationism or a protectionism that would prevent us from spending money overseas. As the Obama administration and others have recognized, we must recommit to cooperative forms of engagement with the rest of the world that rely on diplomatic, economic, and cultural ties rather than military means. In addition to freeing money to meet critical human needs at home and abroad, fewer overseas bases would help rebuild our military into a less overstretched, defensive force committed to defending the nation.s territory from attack.
In these difficult economic times, the Obama administration and Congress should initiate a major reassessment of our 1,000 overseas bases. Now is the time to ask if, as a nation and a world, we can really afford the 1,000 bases that are pushing the nation deeper into debt and making the United States and the planet less secure? With so many needs facing our nation, it.s unconscionable to have 1,000 overseas bases. It.s time to begin closing them.
David Vine, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at American University in Washington, DC and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus, is organizing the Security Without Empire conference that will bring together leading U.S. peace activists and scholars, as well as base opponents from 11 nations from February 27-March 2. He is the author of Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia (Princeton University Press), to be released in April.