Sunday 6 March 2022

The US Empire, NATO and Ukraine


The US Imperium

Written by Allan Todd 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine - which, despite having a strongly-neoliberal pro-West government, is nonetheless still a sovereign country and therefore has the right to be independent - has justly been condemned by most people. Unsurprisingly, it’s also been widely covered by the mainstream media, which has focussed mainly on the plight of civilians and the land-grabbing ‘adventures’ of Putin’s Russia over recent years. 

To its credit, the left generally - in the UK, Russia and elsewhere - have taken part in demonstrations, demanding an immediate end to the fighting, the immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces, and the resumption of meaningful diplomatic negotiations to resolve the crisis.  We must stand with all anti-war campaigners. 

Expansion of NATO 

However, much of the media coverage has been somewhat one-sided, with the main focus being on the threats posed by Putin’s ‘Greater Russia’ imperialism.  Even Channel 4 News seems reluctant to comment on how the USA’s use of NATO has been a major factor in this current Ukraine Crisis. Only recently, Denmark has entered talks which would mean, for the first time, that foreign - i.e. US - troops could be stationed on its territory.  Yet that factor seems to be the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’. As the saying goes: context is (almost!) everything.

The ‘elephant’ that is NATO’s continual expansion

Certainly, there’s incredible hypocrisy around US/Western dismissal of Russian concerns about having a powerful global nuclear alliance right on its borders. Quite a contrast with how the USA’s fears were treated in 1962, concerning the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba - located in a region the US has, since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, identified as its ‘backyard’.  Given that, in the 20th.C., Russia was invaded twice via Poland/Ukraine, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that present-day Russia is concerned about what happens on its western borders. 

In 1989 and 1990, US Secretary of State James Baker assured Soviet leaders that, if they accepted German reunification and disbanded the Warsaw Pact (the USSR’s response, in 1955, to NATO), the US would not expand NATO eastwards from what was then West Germany. The US broke those promises and, since then, has expanded NATO - which remains an alliance prepared to use nuclear weapons - right up to Russia’s western borders. Those developments have greatly contributed to the present Ukraine Crisis.

The ever-eastwards march of NATO

Birth of the US Empire 

After the USA’s Monroe Doctrine - which identified all of Latin America and the Caribbean as its ‘backyard’ - the construction of the US Empire began. To begin with, the US challenged the Spanish Empire in the Americas - defeating it in the Spanish-American War in 1898 and, as a result, acquiring its first set of colonies in the region: Cuba and Puerto Rico; as well as the Philippines, Hawaii and Guam in the Pacific.

The birth of the US Empire

From 1890-1932 alone, US troops intervened in the Americas directly - or indirectly via militarily-supported ‘regime change’ coups - no less than 34 times. However, that same period also saw the US Empire increasingly move from being a regional empire to a global one.  In particular, the US began to pursue an expansionist foreign policy in the Pacific. In fact, as early as 1868, it had forced Japan to open up to US trade; while, after the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War, it acted to limit Japan’s territorial gains.   

From 1918-20, the US sent troops to Siberia, in support of the Whites during the Russian Civil War.  While, in the 1930s, it increasingly came into competition with Imperial Japan’s ambitions for its own Asian empire in the Pacific. US stances over Japan’s invasions of Manchuria and then China led, eventually, to war with Japan in 1941, after the US had imposed a ban on vital supplies to Japan and frozen all Japanese assets in the US. Thus one of the main destabilising factors in world politics between the two world wars was the rapid emergence of the US empire. 

The ‘permanent arms economy’ 

During World War II, many major US companies became highly dependent on government expenditure on armaments and other military-related products. This ‘Military-Industrial Complex’ - a term first used by Eisenhower in 1961 - saw the end of WWII as a potential disaster. Consequently, in 1949, the US identified the Soviet Union - war-ravaged and, at best, merely a regional power - as a dangerous enemy, and decided this new ‘threat’ required a Cold War, the creation of NATO, and a ‘permanent arms economy’.

The USSR’s loss of life in WWII: c. 25 million  

The ‘argument’ that the US and the Soviet Union were both ‘equally powerful’ superpowers was always a Cold War myth - as only the US was a truly global power. But, immediately after WWII, it was clear to any neutral observer that the USSR, given the huge loss of life and the destruction of most of its industrial infrastructure, was in no state to launch any invasion of Western Europe. But the USA’s ‘permanent arms economy’ demanded a new enemy, how ever unlikely. (For more on this aspect, see W. I. Robinson, 2020, The Global Police State). 

During the Cold War there were numerous US military interventions in Latin America - and elsewhere. However, when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, thus ending the Cold War, the USA in particular was faced with a potentially serious economic ‘problem’.  So, instead of the world benefitting from an economic ‘peace dividend’, the US - with the support of its NATO allies - discovered the ‘need’ for a ‘war on drugs’ and then a ‘war on terror’. 

All these required continued massive military expenditure, along with numerous military ‘interventions’ and even out-right invasions - which, in turn, required yet more military expenditure to replace what had been used up or destroyed. The most recent US/NATO invasions were those of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003): both of which were, of course, ‘sovereign states’. 

The USA’s war on Yugoslavia 

However, of particular interest to Putin’s authoritarian-nationalist regime is no doubt what the US, via NATO, did in the former Yugoslavia in 1999. When it became clear that the UN’s Security Council was not prepared to support any military attack on Serbia, and instead continued its call for dialogue, the US decided to use NATO without getting UN justification for any military action. When it seemed, during discussions at Rambouillet, that Serbia was finally prepared to compromise, the US unilaterally insisted on the inclusion of additional demands which no sovereign country would ever agree. 

Even Kissinger, a former US Secretary of State actually said that the Rambouillet Accords were “not a document that an angelic Serb could have accepted”.  (For more on this, see K. Hudson, 2003, Breaking The South Slav Dream). Consequently, in 1999, the US/NATO began a bombing campaign which was illegal - and which involved the use of depleted uranium warheads and shells, and cluster bombs: the use of both of which were themselves deemed to be illegal.   

NATO acts - without UN approval 

The threat of aggressive examples

If what happened in Yugoslavia in 1999 - and, later, in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) - was not enough to worry Putin’s Russia, there’s always the evidence of other ‘sovereign states’ which were also bombed by the US/NATO. Excluding those three instances, there have been another 31 occasions on the US have dropped bombs on non-compliant countries.      

Bombs away!

Thus, as well as calling for an immediate end of the Russian invasion, we should also be opposing any UK military involvement, whilst also calling for the disbandment of NATO. We should also be calling for the complete banning of all nuclear weapons, as per the UN’s recent Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons: 

 Time to make possession of nuclear weapons illegal

Allan Todd is a member of Left Unity, an ecosocialist/environmental and anti-fascist activist, and author of Revolutions 1789-1917 and the forthcoming (July 2022) Trotsky: The Passionate Revolutionary.  


  1. Putins totalitarianism is far more a threat to world peace than US capitalist military expansion.
    It has been argued by some commentators that Americas shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan may have been a factor in Putins decision to invade, The US is under pressure not t to involve military in foreign wars which is why Biden is not giving much to Zelensky's pleas, the behaviour of a despot is the major problem, which as always is due to the suppression of democracy,the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, the horrible assassination of the renowned Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 there are dozens more,Finland who had a similar crisis in 1939 and lost thousands against a confident Stalin, with Sweden were in the US last week wanting membership if NATO, similar to world war2 this is Democracy versus Fascism. P. Wilmott

    1. As you know, Paul - I've never supported Putin & his actions (including in Syria), & I don't now. Interesting that you mention Afghanistan - the entry of Soviet troops into that country (accepted by the West for most of the Cold War as being in the Soviet sphere of influence, because of the long common border) was largely provoked by US financing/arming/training of Islamist fundamentalist groups (as confirmed by released CIA documents), in the hope that it would prove to be the USSR's 'Vietnam' & thus weaken the Soviet Union. NATO's 'restraint' over Ukraine is almost certainly down to wanting Putin to get bogged down in a similar situation & so weaken Russia &, hopefully, provoke another 'regime change' the US is so fond of (one US strategic think-tank even envisages breaking Russia up into several smaller statelets, so that it can focus on its competition with China (soon likely to surpass the US as the world's strongest economy). Putin's totally unsupportable assassination of individuals doesn't detract from the fact that, since 1991, the ever-eastwards expansion of NATO - including Russian fears that Finland might now join, along with Georgia - has been, & continues to be, a major destabilising factor in all this. Two awful empires in conflict here: the regional Russian one, AND the global US one. A plague on BOTH their houses!

  2. excellent article from Allan. Spot on!
    ive been suggesting that Nato and USUK contributed to the current crisis, provoking Putin Putin's invasion. But Allan has done his research and marshalled the facts of history to validate this view.

  3. Allan is absolutely right about the oppressive nature of NATO. At its creation in 1949 half of its members (6 - Belgium, France, Netherlands, Portugal, UK and USA) were involved in colonial wars. The inclusion of the fascist regime in Portugal as well as Italy in which many former supporters of Mussolini still held posts in state institutions demonstrates clearly that NATO had nothing to do with supporting/defending democracy. This was reinforced in 1952 when right-wing governments in Greece and Turkey were admitted. So much for Keir Starmer's claim that the foundation of NATO was one of Labour's greatest achievement unless, of course, Starmer considers allying with Portuguese fascists, brutal colonisers, corrupt and often murderous right-wing regimes is something to be proud of.
    However I don't agree with some of the arguments Allan puts forward. If course it is correct to claim that NATO is expansionist but we have to be careful in how we present this. Since 2004, when there was a big expansion of NATO involving some former members of the Warsaw Pact only 4 states have joined: Albania and Croatia (2009), Montenegro (2017) and North Macedonia (2020). None of these states have powerful militaries and none of them is even close to bordering Russia. So in the last 18 years the border between Russia and NATO had not changed by a centimetre. So there is no justification for Putin's claims that he had to invade Ukraine because of NATO encroachment and encirclement of Russia.
    Of course this would change if Ukraine (or Georgia) were to be admitted to NATO but that isn't currently on the agenda. And far from preventing NATO expansion Putin's actions are making it more likely. Allan refers to the Danish government agreeing to allow US troops to be stationed in Denmark but he suggests this is entirely the work of the US. However it could also be a decision by the Danish government based on a perceived increased threat from Putin. Equally the possibility of applications to join NATO by Finland and Sweden are most likely a result of Putin's aggression, as is the decision of the German government to supply arms to Ukraine. Yes the USA is undoubtedly the most powerful imperialist state on the planet but I think it is dangerous for us to view everything as orchestrated by the US. That can lead to patronising attitudes towards those struggling against Russian imperialism, portraying them merely as dupes of the US government and military. This is certainly the attitude of sections of the British left towards the Maidan movement which forced Yanukovych into exile - though to his credit Allan hasn't put this forward.

    1. Thanks for taking the trouble to comment - and for seeing that I don't put the 'Colour' Revolutions down to just US influence (tho' US involvement was quite open): they clearly had significant grassroot support. But I didn't think I was arguing for seeing "everything as orchestrated by the US." My point is that we simply cannot ignore the machinations of US imperialism in this current crisis - theres' a lot of History behind it.

  4. Allan is right to draw attention to the bombing of Serbia by NATO , including the use of illegal weapons but he doesn't explain why NATO carried out the bombing. In my view most western governments had by then come to the conclusion that Milosevic could no longer be relied upon to bring any conclusion to the wars in the former Yugoslavia, wars that Milosevic had himself unleashed. Despite being rewarded by western governments in the Dayton accords with essentially Serbian control over half of Bosnia-Herzegovina he then became enrolled in a further war in Kosova.
    NATO eventually intervened with its bombing campaign. It did so because no western government was willing to contemplate the alternative - arming the Kosova Liberation Army. This was hardly surprising since every NATO state had opposed giving arms to the multi-ethnic, multi-national government of Bosnia-Herzegovina, let alone to the working class resistance to Milosevic and Great Serb nationalism. For western governments providing weapons to a guerrilla army like the KLA carried far too many dangers. Those arms could be used to create a socialist revolution whatever the intentions of the KLA leadership.
    Of course we should have (and did) oppose NATO's bombs but we should also try to understand why many Kosovars and Albanians called for military intervention by NATO. Primarily they were facing death at the hands of a much more powerful military machine and the only way they thought could survive was by a more powerful military alliance intervening. They were wrong but their call for NATO intervention is completely understandable. Similarly the call for NATO intervention by Ukrainians is equally wrong but equally understandable.
    If we are to build a powerful anti-war movement in Britain (and the movement in Britain is far smaller than throughout the rest of Europe) we have to put the Ukrainian community, particularly the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign, at the centre, alongside CND and Stop the War Campaign. But that means not imposing the obsession with attacking NATO of much of the left in Britain on the campaign. Of course everyone participating participating in the campaign should have the right to put forward their own slogans and policies but I think the central demands of the campaign should be Russian
    Troops Out Now and No To War. This is the way to involve the greatest possible numbers in the campaign, including the Ukrainian community. It is also the way in which previous campaigns - Vietnam, Chile, South Africa, Ireland and others - have been organised.

    1. Totally agree that the main calls have to be: 'Stop the war!' & 'Russian troops out of Ukraine!' But also valid to add: 'No expansion of NATO!' and 'Disband NATO!'