On the podcast this week I gave a rapid fire history of the Altlantic, structured around seven key dates. These dates provide glimpses into the multipolar history of the Atlantic Ocean, and the chameleon-like character of the Atlantic idea, institutions, alliance and civilization. It tells the story of how NATO emerged from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
950-600 BCE In the Late Bronze Age there was a shared culture on the Atlantic Rim of Europe and Northern Africa, from Gibraltrar to what we now know as Britain.
783 CE The Viking/Norse attacked Lindisfarne, and later spread Norse, non-Christian, non-classical culture to the “West”, and to Russia and Eurasia.
1492 CE was the critical year of the West European voyages that unlocked the Atlantic winds and current system, and enabled the formation of a trans-Atlantic community.
1497 CE was when the mass conversion of Portugese Jews (many of whom had fled from Spain) happened. It led many of them to settle on São Tome that became an offshore island base, like Cape Verde and Port Royal, for the Transatlantic Trade in slaves taken from Africa.
1812 CE The 1812 War between the USA and Britain began, coinciding with Russia’s defensive war against Napoleon. Russia liberated Europe, and in the Atlantic the 1812 War ended the enmity between the father and son Anglo-American Empires. They turned together against both their Spanish heritage and their Russian rivals.
1941 CE The Atlantic Charter was proclaimed by Roosevelt and Churchill on a boat on the Atlantic Ocean, while the USA still had not entered the war despite the German armies surrounding Moscow and Leningrad after Operation Barbarossa.
1999 CE NATO bombed Serbia and Montenegro, and enforced its partition of former Yugoslav states. Its claimed ‘right to protect’ transformed the Atlantic alliance from a defensive alliance to a warmongering crusade in pursuit of Western ideals of democracy.
I focussed my discussion of the fragment of the Burning Archive on the Atlantic Charter. You can read the Atlantic Charter here. Here you can also read Winston Churchill’s annotations of the draft charter.
I compared this 1940s media stunt to the announcement by Joe Biden and
Winston Churchill Boris Johnson in June 2021 of the New Atlantic Charter. The new version is rightly less celebrated.
I ended the story with the 1999 bombing of Serbia. This event continues to echo down to today. It has been referred to multiple times during the Ukraine-Russia-NATO War, and we should always remember that the defensive Atlantic Alliance bombed the civilians of Serbia mercilessly during this time, and even bombed the Chinese Embassy. The past is not dead. The past is not even past.
The significance of this event is not just a personal view or that of one side in the current world conflicts. On the podcast I quoted from Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Civilizations, on the NATO bombings. His words are prescient, and show how much the ‘brain dead NATO’ (in Emmanuel Macron’s words) needs to manufacture enemies to justify its continuation, and to conceal the competing interests and differences of Europe and USA. On the eve of the NATO Vilnius summit on 11 and 12 July, it is worth quoting Fernández-Armesto’s words from two decades ago at length.
The collapse of Soviet power did not, at first, weaken the Atlantic system – though it will surely do so in the long run, since without a common threat Europe and America will cease to have common interests. Now, instead of needing them as allies against communism, America wanted the Europeans as partners in global policing. From the last years of the twentieth century, as America’s share of the world economy shrank, the costs of global peacekeeping soared. A world ‘safe for democracy’ now had to be defended against the terrorism of irrational cults and factions, and the menace of rogue states under unpredictable dictators.” (Civilizations, p. 535)
He observed that this led to a reinvention of the Atlantic Alliance, and a dedication of NATO to American Progressive ideals, rooted in imperial exceptionalism.
Just war theory had to be extended to the point of distortion to justify a new role for the Atlantic alliance as a ‘humanitarian’ warrior, bombing people into compliance with a moral menu essentially unchanged since Woodrow Wilson involved America with the world: self-determination., democratic forms, non-aggression.” (Civilizations, p. 535)
But this humanitarian warrior conducted cruel bombings of civilians, and created legal sophistry to justify the establishment of a military base in the self-determined pseudo-state of Kosovo. The dispute between Serbia, NATO and Kosovo still simmers today. The precedent set by the crusading blunderers would be later quoted by Russian Foreign Ministry lawyers to support a similar act of national separation in the Donbass in 2022. Fernández-Armesto concluded:
Though NATO propaganda tried to justify it [bombing of Serbia and Montenegro] as a ‘war for civilization’, it was really undertaken to save face… When the Atlantic alliance finally breaks down, and western civilization is split by political schism, this thoughtless warmongering may be seen as one of the acts which deservedly condemned it, exposing its flaws, underming its ‘civilized’ credentials.’ (Civilizations, p. 536)
These words were published in 2000. They echo loudly today as NATO induces the Ruin of Ukraine, and justifies it as another ‘war for civilization’, another Northern Atlantic Crusade for Democracy.
Image rferl.org A man leads his daughter away from destroyed buildings after NATO air strikes hammered the center of Pristina, the city in Serbia that became the Kosovo capital.