BY MELISSA KANDEL
As activists descend upon Chicago in preparation of the upcoming North Atlantic Treaty Organization Summit, dusting off anti-War tee shirts and putting the finishing touches to demonstration signs, their collective actions may join a long but modest history of NATO and G-8 protests.
“For all the various arguments and controversies that have gone on in or around NATO in the recent years, there really haven’t been a lot of public protests,” said Sean Kay, professor of politics and government at Ohio Wesleyan University.
Kay cited general indifference as a major contributing factor to this lack of protest activity. “People might intellectually oppose it but will they make the time and effort to go out in a sustained way and protest it?”
Pat Hunt, an organizer at the Coalition Against NATO/G-8 War & Poverty Agenda, disagrees. “With NATO coming to Chicago, it is a real opportunity for people who are opposed to it.”
Others see the upcoming protests here as a relic of grievances from conflicts past.
“The Cold War ended 20 years ago and NATO could have ended its existence at that point,” suggested Lawrence Kaplan, a history professor at Georgetown University. “But at the moment the Soviet Union collapsed and the Warsaw Pact with it, the Yugoslavian crisis came up and there was a role for NATO.”
And in the early 1990s, with disaster looming in Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegoniva and Croatia, a new opportunity arose for NATO to re-define its objectives and goals.
“They created a purpose of NATO—managing crisis—but didn’t identify the scope of crisis and I think that was one of their problems,” Kaplan said.
More recently, even NATO’s intent to resolve issues of global security has evolved.
“NATO has become more than just a socializing institution for former communist states,” said Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the CATO Institute. “It suddenly looks like it is very active in terms of getting involved in other conflicts,” he said, citing NATO interventions in Libya and Afghanistan.
Though many oppose this expanded role of NATO, Bandow reasons that the ineffectiveness of protests may stem from lack of support among many Europeans.
“People on the left in Europe have been very active in promoting these sorts of interventions,” Bandow noted. “So it’s a bit harder to get active and effective protest movements when would-be allies on the other side are promoting the things you don’t like.”
Bandow expects more success for G-8 protests, in part because of the non-specific way countries are included in the economically-focused alliance. “That just looks a lot more like a selfish organization begging to be protested against.”
Kay agrees, anticipating less opposition against NATO policies than against G-8 agendas affecting the hot button issue of income equality. “At the end of the day, the biggest national security challenge is the global economy and our economy,” he said.
Chicago protesters are aware of this disparate support. “We have no illusions that we’re going to march to McCormick Place and the powers of NATO are going to say, ‘Well, we better stop doing this now,’” Hunt said. “It’s not going to happen.”
Still, demonstrators welcome the opportunity for public exposure of their concerns. “We talk about democracy?” Hunt asked with a slight laugh. “Well, this is what democracy looks like.”