Protesters vs. NATO: Two Sides to Hold Live Debate Tonight
NOTE: The live webcast of the debate between NATO represe and anti-NATO demonstrators can be viewed here at 6 P.M. CST.
When President Obama announced that the G8 summit would be moved to Chicago from Camp David, many believed that this would undercut the momentum that was building for a showdown in Chicago. The G8 has a clear connection to the policies of austerity being protested by the Occupy movement, but NATO's function is more obscure to most Americans: We know that it's a defensive alliance (what it's defending against, in the post-Cold War era, is less clear), and that its primary military role has been in ostensibly humantarian wars such as that in Libya. When you first visit the website of the military alliance, a white dove floats across the screen.
Peace activists in Chicago to protest NATO, however, are unambiguous on what the military alliance represents: “NATO is a global, western-led military alliance that is used to create a checkmate over the Global South and those countries that we see as current or potential enemies,” says Kimber Heinz, an Organizing Coordinator with the War Resisters' League who is here to participate in both educational workshops and demonstrations in Chicago this week. “It is a Cold War relic that is now being used to forge humanitarian wars like those in Libya and also to continue wars in places like Afghanistan.”
Tonight, in an unprecedented event, peace activists will face off against representatives and supporters of NATO in a public debate held at the Pritzker Military Library.
Last week, NATO representatives announced that they would be willing to meet with demonstrators in a public forum. "Our public diplomacy people are reaching out to these groups," Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO's secretary general, told NBC news. "They will organize some meetings where there will be a possibility to exchange views." But according to a release from Iraq Veterans Against the War, the debate almost didn't occur:
Last week after NATO leaked news about the impending debate and the debaters on its side, those debaters pulled their participation from the event. Anti-NATO forces led by the Coalition Against the NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda(CANG8), organizers of the big Sunday, May 20th march on the NATO summit, lobbied to have the debate in a much larger venue so that all who wished to witness it in person could do so, but pro-NATO forces refused to participate in such an event. Therefore, there will only be a small, invitation-only audience evenly split between the two sides.
Representing the pro-NATO side will be Ambassador J.D. Vindenagel, a former U.S. Ambassador who served in Germany during the Cold War, and John Allen Williams, Professor of Political Science at Loyola University Chicago and retired Captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve who served with the NATO Inter-Allied Confederation of Reserve Officers (CIOR). On the anti-NATO side will be Iraq Veterans Against the War Chicago Chapter President Iris Feliciano and Rick Rozoff, who runs the Stop NATO website.
Along with U.S. activists hoping to educate the public about what NATO is—Occupy Chicago asserts, for example, that $800 million in U.S. tax dollars has been given to NATO—peace activists from Germany and other NATO member countries have begun arriving for this weekend's activities.
Peace activists from Sweden, which is not a NATO member country but which contributes troops to NATO's operations in Afghanistan, are also in Chicago to call attention to their country's contribution to NATO training and weapons testing. In doing so, they hope to underscore the continuing expansion of the world's largest military alliance and the global military industrial complex it sustains.
Sweden and other non-NATO member Eastern European countries have signed onto a “Partnership for Peace” framework that pledges cooperation in “select areas.” A 24,000 square kilometer range in the north of Sweden called the North European Aerospace Testrange (NEAT) is used for testing missiles, drones and other weaponry. The area is the largest overland military test range in Europe, and NATO and the U.S. Air Forces regularly use the area for air exercises.
“It's important to break the image of Sweden being a neutral country,” explains Andrea Pettersson, a member of the Swedish anti-militarist group Ofog and a representative of War Resisters International. “We have all these places where war starts, so we are here hoping for more Trans-Atlantic cooperation to also stop it in those places.”
Peace activists are hopeful that raising awareness about what NATO does, through the debate tonight as well as through educational workshops throughout the weekend, will help bolster opposition to it. Anna Sanne Göransson, another member of Ofog, told In These Times: “Even if we can't obstruct the NATO meeting itself, we can still obstruct their story of what they do.”