Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

How Nato seduced the European Left


In January 2018, Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg held an unprecedented press conference with Angelina Jolie. While InStyle reported that Jolie “was dressed in a black off-the-shoulder sheath dress, a matching capelet and classic pumps (also black)”, there was a deeper purpose to this meeting: sexual violence in war. The pair had just co-authored a piece for the Guardian entitled “Why NATO must defend women’s rights”. The timing was significant. At the height of the #MeToo movement, the most powerful military alliance in the world had become a feminist ally. “Ending gender-based violence is a vital issue of peace and security as well as of social justice,” they wrote. “NATO can be a leader in this effort.”

This was a new and progressive face for Nato, the same one it has since used to seduce much of the European Left. Previously, in the Nordic countries, Atlanticists have had to sell war and militarism to largely pacifist publics. This was achieved in part by presenting Nato not as a rapacious, pro-war military alliance, but as an enlightened, “progressive” peace alliance. As Timothy Garton Ash effused in the Guardian in 2002, “NATO has become a European peace movement” where one could watch “John Lennon meet George Bush”. Today, by contrast, following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and Finland abandoned their long-standing traditions of neutrality and opted for membership. Nato is portrayed as a military alliance — and Ukraine a war­ — that even former pacifists can get behind. All its proponents seem to be singing is “Give War a Chance”.


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