The thing about NATO is that it’s only possible to support it uncritically if you’ve never been anywhere near it. And sadly for me, I have. I find myself back here again, well over a year after writing this piece on why picking a side from NATO or Russia is a mug’s game for big babies.
Let’s be clear, being critical of NATO isn’t to accept the arguments of the Twitter conspiracists who flood the Canary’s mentions each time we criticise one of their faux-anti-imperialist favourites. Yes, that would be the ‘Gaddafi/Assad/Putin/Insert Authoritarian was actually just misunderstood’ crowd. Rather, it’s a call for a serious analysis of what NATO is and what it does. I extend the same call in regard to Putin’s Russia.
In truth, the pro- and anti-NATO camps are united in a key aspect of their politics: fervent anti-intellectualism. For them, politics seems to be a sort of real-world game of Warhammer or Dungeons and Dragons. In their minds, they push pieces around a tabletop battlefield. There’s lots of partisan emotion, as if they’re supporting a football team. It involves little by way of even-handed analysis.
I can’t imagine formulating a political identity around an indifferent military alliance, or around a version of anti-imperialism which exists only in my own head. It would be hard not to look at all this and feel a bit sad for them, if they weren’t such vacuous arseholes.
On numerous occasions, I’ve seen even mild critiques of NATO attacked. On two occasions in person, I’ve had grown adults melt down when it’s been suggested they exercise reason over emotion in the context of Ukraine. But unthinking fanboying and fangirling doesn’t cut it for me. You see, I’m not a centrist, liberal, or a social democrat. I’m not that easily taken in. And I know NATO’s record in Afghanistan and Libya, and it’s Cold War era dalliances with fascism.
Nor do I have a hard-on for a fantasised anti-imperialist version of the Soviet Union. I’d hope my politics are a bit more sophisticated than cosplaying Uncle Joe Stalin down the pub with my two clammy mates or, God forbid, on Twitter to a large audience. Please, all of you, bear in mind that your poor mum might see this stuff.
This is because I’m on the anarchist end of politics. I distrust all states and their military alliances. I ended up in these positions precisely because I took part in the NATO mission in Afghanistan. So if you expect me to morph into some kind of NATO-shagger over Ukraine, you’re set for a rude awakening.
Many people have been pulled into uncritical support for NATO on the basis of emotion. And that’s understandable. The constant images and stories which have emerged from Ukraine are shocking. There’s no doubt Russia is the aggressor, just as the US and UK were in Iraq. But emotion alone doesn’t cut it. If you subtract rationale and reason from your analysis what you have left is good-old fashioned war fever.
Of course, people are pulled into NATO fandom for slightly different reasons. Most prominently, the brand of simpering centrists who made up the FBPE (Follow Back, Pro EU) cohort on Twitter. For them, solidarity starts and ends at adding the Ukraine flag next to the EU one in their bio.
It’s not for nothing I accuse them of mistaking NATO for ‘FBPE with Guns’, though in fairness it could just as easily be ‘Eurovision fans with F-16s’. In the end though, these are low-calibre people with low calibre politics. Anyone to the left of Tony Blair should hold themselves to a higher standard.
For my part, I’ll continue to view NATO with critical eye born out of hard experience. But keep on vacuously stanning your team, by all means.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/US Gov, cropped to 1900 x 1000.