There is broad agreement among the peace movement and the left that NATO is a military alliance that should be dissolved, even if assessments of its character and role differ. What is debatable, however, is the importance of a commitment to the transatlantic alliance, the way in which it could be eliminated and the concrete demands to be made in Germany. Especially for the activists, who attach an important role to NATO in the current wars and crises, the simple demand for the “dissolution of NATO” is too vague. The Alliance has no mechanism for this and it is not expected that the members will decide to dissolve it together at a summit. By pointing this out, the slit-eared Gregor Gysi has signalled to the US ambassador that the Left Party’s demand for the abolition of NATO does not have to worry Washington, as this would require the approval of the US or the United Kingdom.
The only realistic scenario is that successiveindividual member states, or even, in concert, groups of countries would turn their backs on the alliance, thereby steadily losing their importance. This logically leads to the demand for the Federal Government to leave Germany. This address is addressed to a specific address responsible for this and would be easy to implement if the majorities were to be held: under Article 13 of the North Atlantic Treaty, “any party may withdraw from the Treaty, one year after notifying the United States government of its termination.”
Nevertheless, many leftists and peace-movers are struggling with the demand “Germany to leave NATO” or want to limit themselves to those after dissolution for reasons of principle.
A German exit alone would not fundamentally change NATO’s war policy, some argue, but Berlin would lose all influence over it.
However, the possibilities of influence are greatly overestimated. The Alliance is not a democratic club. Their policies are determined by the actions of their most powerful member states, especially, of course, that of the United States, for which NATO has been a crucial means from the outset of putting the European imperialist powers on a common, Washington-dominated course. If there is no agreement within NATO – this is rather the rule – then, as we have seen, the US simply operates with an alliance of willing people, but can use the complete infrastructure created within NATO and the cooperation played in maneuvers in its war actions.
In the second war against Iraq in 2003 and in the invasion of Libya, Germany was actively involved in the campaigns despite political opposition. It is well known that the US military bases in Germany were used to supply a large part of the supplies to the Middle East, and that German soldiers released US personnel for their operations against Iraq by taking on guard duties. The airstrikes on Libyan cities 8 years later were largely directed in Ramstein and Stuttgart.
Due to their central importance, the loss of their bases and infrastructure in Germany would significantly limit the us military capabilities in Europe, West Asia and Africa for a longer period of time. An exit and the logical termination of NATO troop status and the treaty on the stationing of foreign forces, which is also easily possible with a notice period of two years, could thus certainly reduce the scope of military intervention in these regions.
Many reject the slogan “get out of NATO” because it would aim for a national single-handedness and could attract support from right-wing, nationalist circles. In fact, the demand does not only refer to Germany’s exit, but to as many countries as possible and should, of course, be driven forward in alliance with movements of other member states. In many countries, such as Portugal or Greece, the anti-NATO sentiment is much more pronounced than here, and even in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn became a long-time fierce critic of NATO Labour.
Of course, there are capital factions in Germany that aspire to an independent German role of great power and could therefore support an exit from NATO. Out of NATO, however, was never an isolated demand, but always linked to the need for disarmament and the limitation of foreign policy to peaceful means. Since the commitment against NATO must of course go hand in hand with the demand for a far-reaching disarmament of the Bundeswehr, at least up to a structural non-aggression capability of the German armed forces, one would not have to fear applause from the wrong side.
The fear of the aggressiveness of an independent German great power, which is no longer part of an alliance of other powerful states, is also often raised against an exit. The idea, however, that German imperialism would be ensnared by membership of the Western alliance of aggression led by the United States seems rather absurd. As the development since the annexation of the former GDR shows, NATO was and is the indispensable framework for the development of the reunited Germany into a “normal” military superpower. It was the NATO war against Yugoslavia, in which it was able to give up its previous restraint and actively participate in a war again for the first time after 1945, and the war in Afghanistan again enabled the German armed forces to gain their first practical combat experience. Outside NATO, the Bundeswehr would have barely gone beyond Blue Helmet missions in unnations missions to date.
It is true that the ruling circles are endeavouring to develop a second pillar through the establishment of independent military structures of the EU. Nevertheless, the possibilities of using military means to assert their own interests would be quite limited for the foreseeable future after a break-up from the US-dominated camp. Not only in Washington, but also in the capitals of the other Western European powers, German politics would be extremely suspicious.
Above all, an exit would not be in isolation from the other political developments in the country. If the left and peace-moving forces will ever be so strong as to put it on the agenda, they will certainly also have the power to push back German militarism, enforce disarmament steps and limit the Bundeswehr’s ability to intervene. And, of course, in addition to leaving NATO, the withdrawal from the EU’s military structures would also be on the agenda.
In June 2016, the DIE LINKE Group tabled a motion in the Bundestag to “replace NATO with a collective system for peace and security in Europe, including Russia”. As a first step in this path, it calls for “the withdrawal from NATO’s military and command structures” and the termination of the NATO troop statute, as well as an agreement with the US, Great Britain and France on the withdrawal of their troops from Germany. Restricting it to withdrawal from military integration would not simply leave NATO to its own devices, according to the left-wing group, but would allow Berlin to continue to influence NATO’s decisions. It also sounds more realistic, since there are already precedents for such a move: in 1966 Charles de Gaulle had declared such an exit, Greece followed in 1974 and Spain in 1982. This led to some turbulence in the alliance, but did not lead to a break between these states and the United States and the other states of the alliance. All three, however, continued to support the US course politically during this period and later rejoined fully (Greece 1980, Spain in 1999 and France in 2009). This already shows the limitations of such a measure. Moreover, the idea that a military-disembarked Germany could moderate NATO’s war policy seems rather naive.
As a first step towards a complete withdrawal, coupled with the termination of the agreements that allow foreign troops to use military bases on German territory, leaving the military structures would, of course, be a huge success. In this sense, the initiative of the Left Group is to be welcomed. Nevertheless, the peace movement should continue to be consistent and easier to convey “get out of NATO”.