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What is the point of Nato? Membership is no guarantee of democracy

Protests on the anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic uprising. (ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Protests on the anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic uprising. (ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)


January 2, 2024   7 mins

It was early September in 1971. My mother had taken me in a taxi to a boutique hotel in a leafy northern Athenian suburb to visit my favourite uncle, her beloved brother. Before we got out the car, she put her arm around me and whispered words of courage in my ear. You see, Hotel Pefkakia had been commandeered by the ESA, the Greek military regime’s version of the Gestapo, which had turned it into a holding cell for VIP dissidents. What I saw inside, including my uncle’s tortured face, ensured that, from the age of 10, I understood what it meant to live in a brutish dictatorship.

Everyone remembers that a swathe of Eastern European countries were once communist dictatorships. From the Baltic Sea to Poland to the Black Sea, they lingered under one-party rule, their peoples at the mercy of secret policemen. Less often discussed is the fact that, half a century ago, three of the European Union’s current member-states were fascist dictatorships: Portugal, Spain and Greece. But this history of Western European peoples toiling under Rightist, ultra-nationalist, fascist regimes is relevant, now that we are experiencing a surge of nationalism, a moral panic over migrants and refugees, and a craving for strongmen or women to make our countries “great again”. With this year’s European Parliament elections on the horizon, there are important lessons in this half-forgotten history.

I grew up in the supposed cradle of democracy, in a Greece ruled by tyrants swearing allegiance to an ideology not too different to the one making a comeback today across Europe. Establishment figures such as my uncle — who at the time was managing director of Siemens in Greece — rose up against it, and failed. But two years after I visited him that day, in November 1973, students spontaneously occupied Greece’s most prestigious university, the Athens Polytechnic. After five glorious days, during which the city centre was temporarily liberated from the regime, the army entered the city and, with a column of US-built tanks leading the way, liquidated the Polytechnic uprising. Following the tank that crushed the Polytechnic’s front gate, commandos and gendarmes — handpicked for their fascist allegiances — mopped up any remaining resistance. For weeks afterwards, police cells would echo with the screams of the students tortured therein.

The uprising was crushed, but the regime never recovered its poise. A couple of days later, a Brigadier General overthrew the Colonels in office and took the Rightist regime even further toward unfettered viciousness. This paroxysm of authoritarianism appeared in its most comical form on our television screens: news bulletins were read by stern, uniformed, be-medalled army officers barking orders at their viewers.

Six months later, perhaps in a desperate bid to stabilise their regime, our dictators overreached, with a shambolic attempt to extend their rule over the independent Republic of Cyprus. All they managed to do was trigger a brutal Turkish invasion of the island, which brought Greece and Turkey to the brink of war and resulted in countless dead, wounded and displaced Cypriots — a tragedy whose repercussions are still with us, in the form of the ugly Green Line dividing the island to this day. One might have thought a military regime would lovingly maintain its armed forces, but that episode exposed the weakness of Greece’s. It also crushed our economy just as the demise of Bretton Woods and the oil crisis were putting global capitalism into a tailspin. Within days, the junta crumpled. This year, in July, the nation will mark the 50th anniversary of a version of liberal democracy returning to Greece.

Just as well, given that the history of how the Greek junta came to be has largely been forgotten. It was imposed by rogue military officers in April 1967, but it was planned and enabled by various branches of the US government, as far back as the Fifties. Greece’s was part of a long series of coups d’état that the CIA staged around the world — from the 1953 coup that overthrew Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iran’s last democratically elected Prime Minister, to General Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 murder of President Salvador Allende in Chile.

What is relevant here is not why Washington felt the need to overthrow the centrist, pro-Western government of George Papandreou in 1965, before giving the green light to the Colonels, two years later, to dissolve Parliament and put Greek society “in plaster, exactly as the surgeon must do with a broken limb” — to quote the inimitable Colonel Geórgios Papadopoulos, the junta’s chief. Given the questions currently swirling round Europe, what I think matters is that, in 1967, the governments of France, Germany, Austria and to some extent Britain were vocally and tangibly opposed to the coup. The arrival of fascism in Greece caused a rift between Europe’s main powers and the United States, even though they were all on the same side of the Iron Curtain. Europe was an ally of Greece’s democrats, who were struggling against the Nato-aligned junta that the US supported.

In the summers of this era, my parents would drive us to Vienna or Munich, to “breathe the air of freedom”. The rest of the year, especially during the bleak nights, we would crouch next to the wireless to listen to Deutsche Welle and the BBC — covering ourselves with a red blanket to minimise the chances of being overheard by neighbours eager to inform on us. The Greek-language programmes on these channels, unlike the pro-junta Voice of America, were brimming with support for the democratic resistance.

In short, Europe supported a free Greece, while America betrayed it. It was thus not surprising that, once the junta had collapsed, a large cross-section of Greek society — including the conservative Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis — were inimical to Nato but sympathetic, some enthusiastically so, toward the European Common Market, the forerunner of the EU. Contrary to what many Northern Europeans believe, most Greeks did not see the EU as the cash cow it became later on, but as a guarantee that the tanks would stay idle and the secret police at bay — something Eastern Europeans would also long for after the collapse of their dictatorships in 1991.

This explains why Greeks who remember our resistance to the junta proudly tend to have a very different view of Nato than Eastern Europeans with memories of their communist dictatorships. When Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine, I condemned the Kremlin’s invasion as criminal, referred to Putin as a “ruthless killer”, called for all democrats to stand with Ukraine, and advocated for the West to negotiate an immediate end of the Ukraine war by trading the retreat of Russian troops for a pledge to keep Ukraine out of Nato. To me, what mattered most was that the West did whatever it took to push Russia’s troops back to where they were on 22 February 2022, while enabling Ukraine to flourish within liberal democratic Western Europe.

Alas, my comrades in Eastern Europe were not impressed. Razem, a Left-leaning Polish party, denounced me for failure to “support Ukrainian sovereignty”. On social media I was labelled a “westsplainer” and Putin’s useful idiot.

This split in our pan-European movement saddened me, but I tried to focus on its historical causes. In the eyes of my Eastern European comrades, Nato appears as a club of states that throws a protective shield around liberal democracies. From their perspective, Nato membership is crucial to Ukraine’s independence, and my suggestion that the country should stay out of Nato seemed like a betrayal of its democrats. To me, by contrast, having grown up under fascist regimes that not only had the blessing of Nato but which were largely engineered by CIA and Nato functionaries, seeing Ukraine’s membership as the key to its democratic future seemed absurd.

Of all the slogans that they could have written on the Polytechnic’s gate, the heroic Athens Polytechnic students who risked their lives to help restore Greek democracy chose two two-word phrases: OUT USA and OUT NATO. With their blue jeans and their predilection for jazz, they were not anti-American, but they were supremely resistant to the facts of living in a quasi-US colony where our national budget had to have the US Ambassador’s informal approval and in which Nato and the CIA controlled our military, our skies and seas, our secret police.

And while it is true that, in many advanced nations — such as the Netherlands and Denmark — Nato membership was fully consistent with liberal democracy, Greece was not the odd country out. The Portuguese, too, lived both under fascism and within Nato. Successive generations of Turkish democrats will tell you that it is utterly feasible to live in a Nato country that is oppressed by mind-numbing levels of authoritarianism. Indeed, no less a Western statesman than General Charles De Gaulle believed that Nato was detrimental to his nation’s sovereignty.

And yet, ever since Putin’s regime invaded Ukraine, we have lost our capacity, as Europeans, to have a rational and historically-grounded debate about whether Nato membership is detrimental to, or essential for, European liberal democracies.

Of course, some would argue that Nato membership is about defending a country from external threats, rather than guaranteeing democracy. But, arguably, Nato membership is neither necessary nor sufficient for a country’s defence. Greece’s greatest territorial threat is from Turkey, but Nato policy is that it only intervenes when a non-Nato country threatens one of its members. If Turkey, a Nato member,  were to invade a Greek island, Nato would stay out of it. At the other extreme, Jordan, Egypt and, of course, Israel are fully under the US and Nato defence umbrella, even though they are not Nato members.

So, what is the point of Nato? A decade or so ago, I enjoyed an informal conversation with a former Chief of Staff of Nato’s forces in Europe. The American, a staunch Republican, was candid when I asked him whether Nato remained fit for purpose. “It depends on how you define its purpose,” he replied with a smile. I asked how he defined it. “It’s three-fold,” he said. “First, to keep us in Europe. Second to keep the Russians out. Third, to keep Germany down.” No analysis of Nato’s role in Europe that I have encountered since has been more accurate or prescient.

The question for Europeans today, as the war in Ukraine rolls on and the European Parliament elections loom, is simple: is it wise to assume that our democracies are strengthened when we hand over our foreign policy and defence to Nato — in other words, to the US government? Or did the Athens Polytechnic students, along with General De Gaulle, have a point when they feared that unthinking allegiance to Nato would accelerate Europe’s steady slide into vassal continent status? Personally, I will always side with the students.


Yanis Varoufakis is an economist and former Greek Minister of Finance. He is the author of several best-selling books, most recently Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternative Present.

yanisvaroufakis

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Nell Clover
NC
Nell Clover
3 months ago

For four centuries Greece was occupied by the Ottomans. Greeks weren’t freed by hiding under a blanket sharing subversive thoughts but by rough men and boys organised into a military doing violence against the Ottomans. Yet those protesting Athens Polytechnic students weren’t just anti-government, they were invariably pacifistic and opposed to the use of military power. Highlighting yet again that some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.

Those Athens students, and their peers across Europe, are now Europe’s governing class. Embarrassed by overt military power and consistent with their ideals, Europe’s leaders have shrivelled their militaries and spent the savings on social programmes and countless political follies. Along with a lack of military manpower and hardware, Europe’s governments now even lack the basic strategic thinking needed to usefully use military power overseas let alone do so independently.

A Europe that once carried the biggest sticks to make itself relevant and is now dependent on a complex global trade network to fund, feed, clothe and warm itself has opted to no longer have its own big stick, and would be very unwilling to use a big stick should it find one. So when other powers with big sticks start waving theirs around and threatening European interests, Europe is left with only two choices: submission or relying on the big stick of another power to defend mutual strategic interests. Wanting the mutual partner to also “strengthen” Europe’s democracies is a luxury choice Europe has refused to pay for or help with.

The fantasy of remaining a relevant industrial global centre of power without a strong military was an indulgence made possible by NATO, not caused by NATO. It is ridiculous to complain about NATO not strengthening European democracies when those same democracies have chosen to rely on NATO security entirely underwritten by a foreign power, i.e., the USA. It is the indulgence of European intellectuals themselves that has accelerated Europe’s steady slide into vassal status on the fringes of global affairs. And after fringe vassal status come backwardness, irrelevance and poverty, something Greeks should be painfully aware.

To illustrate the bind intellectuals have placed Europe in, imagine if tomorrow a new set of European leaders doubled military spending, conjured up a fully supplied all-arms expeditionary military capable of power projection anywhere across the globe, set out global strategic objectives such as defending and strengthening democracies, and committed to independently use force to defend those objectives. It doesn’t take a genius to know that the first and loudest to complain, to criticise, and protest would be students and their graduate intellectual peers who form the elite of Europe today.

Europe is in rapid decline by any metric you care to choose. The problems are multiplying. For over a generation it has been very poorly served by its intellectuals. Those same intellectuals are now getting very chippy that the people are demanding fresh ideas from outside the intellectual bubble. Labels such as “populist”, “strongman”, “fascist” and “far right” are fast losing any meaning when they’re used to hose all and any opposition to the intellectuals’ monopoly of governance.

Last edited 3 months ago by Nell Clover
Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

It is also strange that Varoufakis fails to mention that Greece is now an EU colony with little control over its financial affairs. Or that the EU is dominated by Germany to an extent that makes it fair to ask what Germany would now be doing if it were also a major military power. Yanis seems to have either forgotten his experiences from 2015, blocked them our or not understood how Merkel and Schauble played him.

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
3 months ago

Varoufakis is a successful academic. You can only have a successful academic career if you are willing to submit to the prevailing academic orthodoxy of your employing institution. Huddled in an ivory tower requires an acceptance of consensus inside in order to deny the dissonance with practicality reality outside. What happened in 2015 was just such a practical reality that remains at odds with Varoufakis’ academic writing.

Last edited 3 months ago by Nell Clover
Chris Hayes
CH
Chris Hayes
3 months ago

Worse than that Christopher, it’s dominated by the Germans on economic matters and the French on military matters. But the issue they face is that there is no consensus on Common Foreign & Security Policy and certainly no consensus on Energy Security.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago

Huh? No. he spent his whole time as Finance minister protesting against Brussels’ (the Troika) control over the Greek economy… And not just over the Greek economy but others’ as well.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

What utter nonsense! You know full well that wretched Greeks did NOT free themselves from Ottoman control. In fact they had been crushed by Ibrahim Pasha and were only saved by the timely intervention of Great Britain, France and Russia, particularly at the Battle Navarino.
As to the rest of your polemic nothing new there, and far too long sadly.

Nell Clover
NC
Nell Clover
3 months ago

Erm, the Greek War of Independence began in 1821… the UK intervened a full 5 years later in 1826 to destroy the Ottoman-Egyptian navy, an intervention that would never have happened without the Greeks first revolting and successfully fighting the Ottomans. I never once said the Greeks overthrew the Ottomans on their own, but it was Greek men and Greek boys that initiated the first rebellions and it was those same Greek revolutionaries that fought and won the land war for Central Greece.

Perhaps my polemic wouldn’t have taken as long to read if you hadn’t invented things I’d written…

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
3 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

I don’t wish to be unkind but that is utter nonsense.
When you say “Greeks weren’t freed by hiding under a blanket sharing subversive thoughts but by rough men and boys organised into a military doing violence against the Ottomans”, the clear implication is that they freed themselves…..they didn’t, and if you are to use an historical analogy you must get it right.

To remind you by 1826 Ibrahim Pasha and his Egyptian army had virtually crushed the rebellion and had Great Britain, France and Russia NOT intervened it would, like all previous rebellions, have been “all over bar the shouting” would it not?

I look forward to reading you on the 1916 Easter Rising at some stage.

Mark Melvin
MM
Mark Melvin
3 months ago

What I found telling was that the initial phases of the rebellion saw the Turks almost entirely kicked out but then the Greeks then decided to have a civil war themselves, which enabled the Turks to return refreshed and rearmed with Egyptian troops and nearly crush the remaining Greeks. The country was a vassal state for 2000 years since the Romans rolled in around 180 BC. They were peeved that one Greek king gave safe harbour to Hannibal. And so it goes…

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
3 months ago
Reply to  Mark Melvin

Indeed a rather miserable history since at least the conquest of the terrifying Philip II and his son, the homicidal Macedonian pygmy, sometimes referred to as Alexander the Great.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
3 months ago

You’re sort of missing the point aren’t you. Some sort of military force is always essential in maintaining ideals of democracy, freedom, autonomy, etc, and can never be superseded by ideals in themselves

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
3 months ago

Did I not just say that?
It was Ms,Clover who implied that passionate if unprofessional Greek peasants managed to free themselves of their own volition! They couldn’t and didn’t.
No surprise there as you correctly say.

Benedict Waterson
BW
Benedict Waterson
3 months ago

It sounds like she’s just making a general point about military power versus studenty revolutionary posturing, and you are being too pedantic

Carl Valentine
CV
Carl Valentine
3 months ago

I have to agree with you Charles, Nell made a serious omission re GB, France and Russia’s involvement. Apparently she doesn’t know everything…

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
3 months ago
Reply to  Carl Valentine

Thank you.
I suspect she knew the truth but it didn’t fit her narrative, so substituted a half truth and hoped it would go unnoticed.

Jae
Jae
3 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

It’s not certain why anyone listens to this man at all. Academics are the cause of most of the ills we now face, why would we seek their advice. Yet Unherd seems to think it worth it, why?

Varoufakis is a Marxist, as if that is a recommendation of any sort if you have half a brain. But his personal worth is not insubstantial. Hypocrisy at work again, rules for you but not for me. Typical Leftist spouting off at every turn but not actually of any practical use unless it’s to make life miserable for everyone. In that at least they’re “equitable”.

Steve Murray
LL
Steve Murray
3 months ago
Reply to  Jae

The article was well worth it, simply to invoke the typically robust Comments. And isn’t that rather the point?

Bernard Hill
BH
Bernard Hill
3 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

…zigackly.

Gordon Arta
GA
Gordon Arta
3 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Beats the hell out of the article.

Mike Bell
MB
Mike Bell
3 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

This should be an article in its own right.

Christopher Barclay
CB
Christopher Barclay
3 months ago

No mention of the reason why NATO is dominated by the US – the disproportionate share of the expense of NATO borne by the US. Europe needs to recognise that, if you pay the piper, you call the tunes.

Martin M
MM
Martin M
3 months ago

Europe might do well to realise that the Russian army is just beyond the horizon, and some increase in military expenditure is likely to be a good investment.

Stewart Cazier
SC
Stewart Cazier
3 months ago

The US military expenditure is required to keep its vassal states and to maintain economic dominance over those aren’t. It is a small price to pay for the privilege of forcing the rest of the world to pay for its financial incontinence. Take the Ukraine – the US is making a fortune selling replacement energy to the Germans at inflated prices who are paying the real price for Ukrainian support through an economy crashed as a result.

Jae
Jae
3 months ago

Thank you.

Peter B
PB
Peter B
3 months ago

If it weren’t for NATO, Mr Varoufakis might well not be free to write this article. He seems to have a fixed idea that the USA is always a bad actor and that Europe/the EU is always good. He somehow persists in this view even after the EU’s treamtment of his country after the Greek Debt Crisis (and the mutual pact to pretend that Greece actually qualified to join the Euro in the first place). It’s a childish over-simplification. But too late to realistically suppose that he’ll over grow out of it.
Yes, the USA actions in the 1950s to 1980s often overshot and may have been counterproductive to the Western cause they were trying to defend. But does anyone seriously doubt that the Western side was the good one in the Cold War. Or seriously expect that mistakes would never be made.
Interesting to learn about the era of the Greek Colonels which I knew very little about. Sound pretty grim. Curiously, that didn’t seem to stop the Varoufakis family summering in Vienna and Munich during this period. Not an option for those behind the Iron Curtain.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

No mention of Alexandros Giotopoulosand (AG) and his loathsome Marxist assassination group, 17 November or 17N, that murdered and robbed its way was across Greece from 1975-2002. Amongst its victims were the CIA Station Chief and the British Military Attaché Brigadier Stephen Saunders.

Fortunately Athens desire to hold the Olympic Games allowed ‘pressure’ to be exerted on the wretched Greeks and AG and his odious acolytes were duly ‘shopped’ and now rot in various Greek gaols.For the record AG was a ‘well qualified’ academic.
I wonder if Mr Yanis Varoufakis knew him?

Muiris de Bhulbh
MD
Muiris de Bhulbh
3 months ago

The old ones are best ‘the Americans in’ etc. ‘;Si vis pacem para bellum’ is another old one. Europeans have not been prepared to ‘para bellum’ enough to stand on our own feet, to protect & project perhaps, our values which overlap with, but are definitely not the same as the US. Until we do, we have to tolerate the American mistakes, the three cited, Vietnam, & now Isreal, to name but a few.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
3 months ago

How very concise and spot on. Well done Sir!

Jae
J
Jae
3 months ago

You’re applauding Israel as a “mistake”?

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
3 months ago
Reply to  Jae

Not specifically, but now that you mention it, perhaps it’s in the wrong place. Austria would have been a better and more apposite choice.
Still too late now as they say!

Susan Grabston
SG
Susan Grabston
3 months ago

Whilst there is little to compare with the US military and their masters for hubris, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent End of History complacency is up there. Sun Tzu: the greatest war is the one you never fight. We voted for subsidies not for deterrence.

Peter B
PB
Peter B
3 months ago

But not all the American actions were mistakes, were they ?
Would you prefer it – to give but one example – if they hadn’t run the Berlin Airlift in 1948-49 ?

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

Their (US) behaviour in Iraq, Syria and their use of extensive torture fell FAR below the standards of what one might expect from a civilised people, but otherwise their record wasn’t that bad, all said and done.

I think you would agree that had the Russians or even Chinese been in control things would be far less benign.

Peter B
PB
Peter B
3 months ago

Totally. We shan’t agree on everything this year, but 100% on that. On both points.

Jae
Jae
3 months ago

Are you for real? Russians or even Chinese Benign? What planet are you living on for goodness sake!

Without the U.S. you’d likely be writing in German or maybe not even alive.

The selective memory loss by those who love to bash the U.S. is astounding.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
3 months ago
Reply to  Jae

What’s wrong with your powers of comprehension, or is English NOT your native tongue?

Katja Sipple
KS
Katja Sipple
3 months ago
Reply to  Jae

As my late grandmother always said: Those who can read and comprehend have a clear advantage in life! Charles never stated that Russia and China are, or have ever been, benign; quite the contrary. Here is what he wrote: “I think you would agree that had the Russians or even Chinese been in control things would be far less benign.”

Charles Hedges
CH
Charles Hedges
3 months ago

The vast majority of Europeans have lost the physical and mental toughness combined with the fighting spirit required to win wars. The Romans said the Greeks had lost their martial valour when they conquered them in 146 BC. Genghis Khan said it was not the height of the walls or the number of soldiers on them which was important but the fighting spirit of the soldier on the walls.
The reason why Bagnold recruited so many New Zealanders and Rhodesians into the Long Range Desert Group was their toughness, fighting spirit and practical skills. In the 1950s Rhodesians provided a whole Squadron of SAS – C squadron. How long would it take to train the average European to the levels of toughness and fighting spirit of a New Zealander of 1940s vintage  ?
Ronald
Joseph Moore – Wikipedia
In the 1940s in WW2, Greek communists stole equipment from SOE supplies to kill other Greeks and started a Civil War which lasted from 1944-47. Greeks killed British soldiers in the Civil War during WW2.

Martin M
MM
Martin M
3 months ago

NATO was established as a bulwark against the Soviet Union and Communism. It can’t be surprising that in furtherance of its goal, common cause was made with the occasional fascist.

A D Kent
AK
A D Kent
3 months ago

I think (now retired) Professor Richard Sakwar nicely summed all this up in a single sentence, that [there is a…] “fateful geographical paradox: that NATO exists to manage the risks created by its existence.”

I’d add to that that NATO is now completely structured to launder cash from it’s various constituent nations into the hands of the various corporate interests of Eisenhower’s Military Industrial Complex. That the US is hell-bent on expanding this model into the South Pacific with their AUKUS project, is taking this properly global now.  

Carl Valentine
Carl Valentine
3 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Well said.

Jae
J
Jae
3 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

So according to you the biggest monetary supporter of NATO is “laundering” its own money back to itself?

By the way it was Eisenhower who warned of the Military Industrial Complex.

A D Kent
A D Kent
3 months ago
Reply to  Jae

Yes I’m aware that Eisenhower was warning about the MIC – I was thinking that it was his in respect to his coining of the term rather than his ownership of the complex itself.

As for the money laundering – it’s laundered from the populations to the corporations across the board – including internally in the US.

John Riordan
JR
John Riordan
3 months ago

“The question for Europeans today, as the war in Ukraine rolls on and the European Parliament elections loom, is simple: is it wise to assume that our democracies are strengthened when we hand over our foreign policy and defence to Nato — in other words, to the US government?”

This question operates on a minor deceit, namely ignoring the effect on democracy of being a small non-NATO nation bordering hostile neighbours. Quite frankly I would argue that more damage is done to such a nation’s democracy by accepting the authority of the EU than by accepting the foreign and military policy constraints imposed by a US-centric NATO membership.

If we paraphrase the deal reprsented in each case, how do they compare?

NATO: “Spend 2%(ish) GDP on your own armed forces, don’t do anything aggressive unless the rest of the club agrees, and this club will stop Russia invading you or making nuclear-backed threaets against your interests.”

EU: “Hand over regulatory, legislative, border, fiscal and monetary control to Brussels for an anuual fee, take the currency Brussels controls, submit to the EU’s supreme court and accept an unofficial infiltration of EU-centric influence into all public institutions.”

The first is a deal that an independent nation can make, the second is the last ever deal an independent nation would make.

Alex Lekas
AL
Alex Lekas
3 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

I like how he assumes that the EU is comprised of “democracies” while being managed, to a degree, from Brussels. He also demonstrates a distaste for some of the results of recent democratic elections, with people daring to push back against those who would destroy societies from within, either through rampant immigration or other means.

Chris Hayes
CH
Chris Hayes
3 months ago

NATO pools (certain aspects of) sovereignty for collection defence. The EU does the same for collective governance – and there’s an important difference – and a reason the former pre-dates the latter – and there were late joiners to both.
There’s been tension over the two, the focal point of which has been successive French Governments pushing to extent the EU’s competences into collective defence – almost certainly because they would exert more control over the institutions.
I wouldn’t be the first to point out, however, that the French don’t have a great track record when it comes to springing to the defence of their neighbours – but, more fundamentally, the EU would need an agreed upon common foreign and security policy to determine how and when the EU would deploy its forces. I won’t bother to go into energy security here, but as the collective response on Ukraine demonstrates, they are a long way from that.

William Cameron
William Cameron
3 months ago

The point of NATO is that it provides protection for all members – in particular members with borders with an enemy like Russia. Without NATOP Putin would by now be attacking Poland Hungary Finland etc.

Alex Lekas
AL
Alex Lekas
3 months ago

Without NATOP Putin would by now be attacking Poland Hungary Finland etc.
There is absolutely zero evidence of that and Putin’s been around for a long time. Until a pipeline mishap, he was doing business with Europe, not invading it. The one point on which Varoufakis is correct is the connection among NATO, Ukraine, and the Russians doing what they did.

Stewart Cazier
Stewart Cazier
3 months ago

I believe that the quote attributed to a private conversation a decade ago was actually coined by Lord Ismay who died in 1965.

Richard Rolfe
Richard Rolfe
3 months ago
Reply to  Stewart Cazier

Just so—-the Ismay quote is often in WW2 histories and Churchill biographies.

El Uro
El Uro
3 months ago

What is the point of NATO? Membership is no guarantee of democracyThe author cannot understand that for Ukraine it is a matter of survival, not democracy.
PS. Personally, I will always side with the students. Always side with the students? Strange, I commented on “Energy crisis looms as Houthi attacks intensify” before I saw this

Last edited 3 months ago by El Uro
Mark Melvin
MM
Mark Melvin
3 months ago

The author is dead right. Cancel Nato and let the European super armies take control of their own defense. Sounds like the SNP whining about Westminster again.

Alex Lekas
AL
Alex Lekas
3 months ago

As an American of Greek heritage, I have zero concern in stating that NATO is among the creations that have outlived their usefulness and it’s long past time for the alliance to be dismantled. It serves no purpose. There is no Soviet Union, no matter what the most wild-eyed fantasist things of Mr. Putin. Second, the American taxpayer can no longer afford the expense of being the world’s policeman, not when our own border is being overrun by people of unknown origin entering for unknown purposes. I will, however, take exception to the author’s cavalier use of terminology and with this assumption:
Everyone remembers that a swathe of Eastern European countries were once communist dictatorships.
Actually, everyone does NOT remember. The older population does, but it should be evident from the pro-Hamas rallies in the West that the younger people do not. Nor are they as enamored of democracy as Mr. Varoufakis would like to believe and they are not alone.
Personally, I will always side with the students.
And that’s worked out so well. From the US to the UK to Australia and much of the EU, current and former students have demonstrated open hostility to bedrock democratic values such as free speech. They are the cohort that couches every aspect of human life as being evidence of racism, colonialism, or some other ism and phobia. They are among the Western leadership that gives cover and no small amount of support autocratic unelected bodies like the WEF, the WHO, and the EU.
Perhaps the author might consider the cause of his pearl clutching over the cause of this newfound nationalism that has him in such a lather. Maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with years worth of importing people who are hostile to the native cultures and citizens noticing that they’re suddenly playing second fiddle to non-citizens. Maybe it has something to do with the rampant cronyism, i.e. fascism, that is evident in the growing alliance between govt and corporate interests. Maybe it has something to do with people noticing that their elected representatives represent only the donor class and moneyed interests.
I would be delighted with NATO’s end and do not take personally anyone’s wish that American forces depart the theater. It’s long overdue along with a similar move in South Korea, and everywhere else our defense umbrella reaches. We have a border in dire need of policing and we are long overdue for a rethinking of the military’s purpose and role. It’s 2024, not 1948. NATO achieved its mission. Now, Mr. Varoufakis can channel the former finance minister within him to figure out how EU nations can fund their own defense while figuring out how to accommodate the migrants who keep walking ashore. In the meantime, a thank you would be nice; there were far worse alternatives to the alliance during his lifetime.

Last edited 3 months ago by Alex Lekas
Benedict Waterson
BW
Benedict Waterson
3 months ago

Varafakoukakis thinks that the current wave of European parties favouring democratic national sovereignty over global economic integration and the interests of international business and finance all secretly want to impose fascist military dictatorships.

Benedict Waterson
BW
Benedict Waterson
3 months ago

Varafoukakakis thinks that the current wave of European parties favouring democratic national sovereignty over global economic integration and the interests of international business and finance all secretly want to impose fascist military dictatorships.

Jonathan Story
JS
Jonathan Story
3 months ago

The point of NATO is that it hitches the US and Canada to Europe, and helps to ensure the peace-something that the Europeans cannot and will not be able to do on their own. Its really simple.

Burke S.
BS
Burke S.
3 months ago

For the record I’m much more ashamed of the CIA not backing the 2002 Venezuelan Coup than its support of the Chilean or Greek ones. If only Venezuela had been given a Pinochet, they’d be a wealthy nation already returned to democracy…and not eating zoo animals to stay alive as millions flee!

Don’t get me started on Ortega and his scumbag Sandinistas shooting so many priests even Francis is calling him out.

Juan Manuel Pérez Porrúa
JP
Juan Manuel Pérez Porrúa
3 months ago

Well, NATO was a military alliance for mutual defense, or rather for the American defense of Europe (some European countries), first against armed international Communism (the Warsaw Pact countries led by the USSR), and now against a diminished, technically non-Communist but still quite aggressive and revisionist Russian Federation. The United States, by the way, formed similar alliances in East Asia against Red China and eventually against Red Korea and Red Vietnam as well. The point being that it was the opposition to the spread of International Communism, rather than advocacy for the positive spread of democracy that made NATO then a defensive alliance of containment (defense against international Communism, containing the Communist powers of the day) rather than an aggressive, messianic Round Table of Democracies, in the style of the Delian League.

Now that International Communism was severely weakened by the collapse of the USSR, the Warsaw Pact, and that the advances made by international Communism immediately after the Second World War in Europe have been beaten back (although the same cannot be said about International Communism in East Asia or even in Cuba, for example), NATO has become less ideological and more of a pure defensive military alliance. Again, promoting democracy is orthogonal to its purpose, as well it should be.

Jerry Carroll
JC
Jerry Carroll
3 months ago

This article ignores the fact that Greece and other smaller countries faced the threat of Communist subversion with the aim of taking over their governments, a possibility which was a lingering hangover from WW2. The choice back then was did they want to be crushed in the Soviet embrace like Eastern Europe or accept help from America to retain their independence?

Doug Israel
Doug Israel
3 months ago

NATO is a creature of the Cold War designed as noted, to keep the Americans in the Germans down and the Soviets out. The protective purpose necessitated having members which were part of the Western bloc but not free. Also why Turkey, a non Western, non free but vital part of the anti-communist bloc was included. With the USSR distant history there is no longer any real purpose to NATO and it should have been dissolved and replaced with something different a long time ago. It makes NO sense that an Islamist country like Turkey is in a military alliance with the United States. But organizations once created rarely declare “mission complete” and dissolve themselves.

Janos Abel
JA
Janos Abel
3 months ago

Does anyone remember the unkept agreement in the early 1990s not to expand the NATO alliance?
Everything follows from that failure.

Peter Rechniewski
PR
Peter Rechniewski
2 months ago
Reply to  Janos Abel

No, they don’t because there was no such agreement. Agreements between nations require articles that are signed, they aren’t informal remarks made in corridors or at entrances to lifts.

If NATO expansion was such an issue for Russia why was it not raised during the discussions leading up to the Budapest Memorandum? Or during the negotiations for the treaty between Russia and Ukraine made a few years later?

Perry de Havilland
Perry de Havilland
3 months ago

What is the point of NATO? To state the bleedin’ obvious, to contain aggressive Imperial Russia.

Mike Bell
MB
Mike Bell
3 months ago

You make a good case, Yanis.
One of the mistakes the non-US West makes again and again is to believe that the US is a defender of democracy or that their version is an excellent example. Consider these:
Election winners have usually depended on $milions in funding: The position is largely ‘bought’.Regular House/Senate paralysis results in government by diktat (Executive Order).Major decisions, such as those you describe, by-pass the democratic process.

JOHN CAMPBELL
JC
JOHN CAMPBELL
3 months ago

I have never tasted Greek cake but presumably Varoufarkis is familiar with Greek gateau. The article is a classic give me the cake and as well I will eat it.
De Gaulle never took France out of NATO: Does Varoufarkis really want to be out of NATO or even the EU?
Greek on its own is just “inimaginable” as De Gaulle might have put it: a basket case waiting for someone to empty the basket.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago

People generally overestimate the influence the US (or, here, NATO) has over the internal political affairs and machinations of other countries. And, also, the importance the US presidential administrations and spy services assign to smaller countries on the periphery of importance, like Greece. Hell, the people who run the US can’t even control what happens in the US, much less an entirely different country thousands of miles away. And the US no doubt tried to take advantage of political instability in Greece, Chile, Iran, etc., to try to nudge local politics in a particular way. But the Greek battles for independence, Greek socialism/marxism, and the Greek military and right-wing response, like all that in Chile and Iran, etc., were largely domestic events. Greeks, like Americans, do have agency and are not empty vessels into which the US pours action.

Martin Smith
MS
Martin Smith
3 months ago

What has happened to Yanis? Has he forgotten the globalist EU ‘liberal’ cabal that drove working-class Greeks into penury under his watch? Why is it that so many so-called socialists these days are so happy to see the proletariat sidelined and driven into irrelevance in the interests of international capital? Funny old world.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
3 months ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

Isn’t that the time he did a runner ?

JOHN CAMPBELL
JC
JOHN CAMPBELL
3 months ago

I have never tasted Greek cake but presumably Varoufarkis is familiar withGreek gateau. The article is a classic give me the cake and as well I will eat it.
De Gaulle never took France out of NATO: Does Varoufarkis really want to be out of NATO or even the EU?
Greek on its own is just “inimaginable” as De Gaulle might have put it: a basket case waiting for someone to empty the basket.

Richard Calhoun
RC
Richard Calhoun
3 months ago

““It’s three-fold,” he said. “First, to keep us in Europe. Second to keep the Russians out. Third, to keep Germany down.” No analysis of Nato’s role in Europe that I have encountered since has been more accurate or prescient.”

Varoufakis will be writing a different story when Trump pulls the US out of NATO and the Russian bear moves to the borders of Romania and Bulgaria .. a mere stone’s throw from Greece.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago

Really interesting background useful to a segment of people younger than a certain age

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
3 months ago

NATO is simply at the service of the modern military-industrial complex, meaning expanding trade between Western governments and multinational arms corporations.
As a neoconservative construction, it also aids the equivalent trade between Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. Cheney, Rummy and Biden’s baby was ever thus.