NATO and the Construction of the Enemy
Now that NATO is aiming to redefine itself under the euphemism of Global NATO, it is scarcely hiding its intention to once again strengthen its limits (walls) of bloc politics, a scenario that antagonises the “other”, an “enemy” that justifies its existence and, above all, the enormous expenditure on defence that is made more expensive by NATO’s mere existence.
By reading President Joe Biden’s latest National Security Strategic Guidance from 2021, the following realisation can be clearly drawn: they are desperately trying to return to what they recall as the US of “before”, the rector of the “Pax Imperator” that defined the western hemisphere following the Second World War and reached its fever pitch during the Cold War, to which this newly refreshed NATO looks back upon with melancholy.
Once the Wall fell, NATO had no reason to exist, so it was and continues to be clear that a military organisation’s existence must be justified by positioning itself as a strong defence against... an enemy, a threat, an other to fight. This real and ideological antagonist was communism during the Cold War. After that chapter ended, who would be the enemy? Who is the other in the mirror to necessitate arming ourselves to the teeth? Who could be this other antagonist that the west could unify against under the auspices of the Pentagon? The creation of an enemy, its dehumanisation, its exaggeration, and its persecution are the common characteristics of bellicose thought that, let us never forget, aims for a policy of domination that is inherently reactionary.
Not only is the US in decline as a dominant empire, so is the very idea of the US as the most powerful nation in the world. I will not be analysing the material causes that provoke western militarisation and the new Atlantic Alliance strategy in this article, but rather the two super-structural ideas used to justify it culturally and ideologically: the construction of “The Other” that must be fought, and the racist supremacy used to do so.
A Brief History of “The Other”
It is well-known that communism was the enemy during the Cold War, with the West rolling out an anti-communist ideology machine that ran from political persecution through McCarthyism to a myriad of films that built a collectively imagined evil associated with the USSR to justify the arms race.
During the Cold War period, two military doctrines were established that we must dust off because, in a way, they remain quite valid today:
Mutual Assured Destruction, (or MAD) established that, given their nuclear arsenal, either of the warring parties using nuclear weapons would result in mutual annihilation. Although it may seem quite irrational to us, this is the angular doctrine with which dissuasive weapons policy is swung.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower took a step further in 1954 when he launched the Massive Retaliation proposal, which stated that any military action by the enemy would be responded to much more forcefully, or in other words, disproportionately. It was assumed that the aim was dissuasion based on the argument that striking harder would paralyse the enemy with fear.
While these two military doctrines may seem quite medieval, they continue to be the excuse that NATO maintains, no longer for their existence, but rather to increase their delirious expenditure on weapons and refuse denuclearising their arsenal.
After the Wall fell, the following road map was put forward by the Clinton Administration with the concept of Rouge States, which passed the enemy label on to a list of countries that the US deemed to be a threat, first including North Korea, Iraq, Iran, and Libya. Over time, other countries were added, although transparent inclusion criteria were never defined and it was never clear why some states were the enemy while others were not. It was always suspected that the Rouge State accusation was the perfect excuse to unleash anti-ballistic missiles against non-nuclear threats and maintain geostrategic control over energy, which was obviously never stated explicitly.
The September 11th attacks opened the door to a new definition of “The Other” focused on the Axis of Evil established by President George W. Bush in 2002, which contained a call back to the Axis countries during World War II and the Regan-era term “evil empire” that his predecessor used to classify the USSR. This new axis of evil (the others, those that should be destroyed) was comprised of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. The enemy was “states that favoured terrorism”, and the terrorist débuted as the new antagonist to fight, which opened the doors to various invasions and an unprecedented peacetime roll-back of rights and freedoms.
This doctrine continued almost up until present-day, when Joe Biden announced a new one with another enemy to fight: authoritarian states vs. democratic states. This is the central idea of his strategic agenda that does not even try to hide that the entire proposal is aimed at fighting China. To do this, the proposal attempts to shape hostilities into liberal democracy vs the rest. The Summit for Democracy organised by Biden was a fiasco, but it was a US attempt to define two blocs in a world where China is the enemy to defeat under the guise of being what his document various times calls an “authoritarian state”, a label shared by Russia alone.
Even more ambiguous but equally effective is the concept of a West against East that would serve as an imaginary enemy to fight, with colonial and racist overtones that are quite difficult to ignore.
The Other, the Enemy
One of the minds that has best studied the construction of “The Other” as an enemy-threat that must be destroyed, or even exterminated, was philosopher Hannah Arendt who warned that, even when analysing Nazism, “things are much more complicated than this idea of all or nothing that actually simplifies and distorts instead of explains”.1
The same could be applied to the simplistic construction that characterises prejudice against the abstract enemy (communists, Putin, China, Venezuela, terrorism and, by extension, anyone that does not condemn them) from the Pentagon’s exegetes: a “them” against which there is an “us” (the good guys, identified in official texts and in war propaganda as the US and its allies) that is under perpetual threat. According to Arendt, they simplify and distort reality to adapt it to the interests of the capitalism that sustains them, while passing themselves off as the victim. Let me linger on this point, because this is the foundation that builds the mass support that they need to drive hate towards the “other”.
An essential text when it comes to understanding this idea is The Reactionary Mind by Corey Robin2, which analyses Republican party thought in the US and concludes that it is the first time in history that the ruling class has based its agenda on victimisation.
This is the extreme right, the term for those that feel that they have lost something and, since they do not understand class struggle, they search for their identity, or simply identify with their lost place in the world. Robin reminds us that conservative thought is built on the experience of having (or having had) power, feeling threatened, and getting it back. It’s about holding onto power and the order of things (with the word order being understood here as hierarchy), where their version of “us” is always under an external threat (real or imaged: communists, the Chinese, immigrants, Arab terrorists, feminists, etc.), and thereby victimised. Whether real or not, there is always the fear of someone taking away their privileges, which provokes a victimised reaction to this threat.
This all refers to the moral and ethical justification for their hawkish doings, not what is real, but rather what they represent, repeat, spew, and impose as reality. This is an ideological construct, pure superstructure, that obscures, veils, and hides the operations of the capital. Just because it is not true does not mean that it does not work on the collective imagination of its target audience, aimed at those that have lost something or feel that they have lost something, be it either material or more abstractly their place in the world. This victimisation of the powerful aims to homogenise resent towards subordinates through a process of inverse identification and, by doing so, they ensure the entire cultural, political, and media spectre turns to more reactionary, even violent positions.
The construction of an enemy is a projection, and the best way to understand it is though analysis on racism and slavery where the desire for superiority operates by inverse identification: if I have a slave that means I am his/her master... Even if I don’t have anything, I will always be better than a black man or a woman. The nature of exploitation and the justification of violence work in unison: for this “us” to unify faithfully around the powerful, they claim that the “others” are capable of destroying us or our place in the world.
Judith Butler, in her essay Without Fear, recalls Sigmund Freud when analysing this projection:
“this consideration of the other as a bearer of destruction is only one of the many modalities of destruction, of categorising the other as unworthy of morn, precisely because they are not considered as living. For the national way of life, imbued with racial and ethnic phantasmagoria, projection and self-defence tend to go hand-in-hand, bringing about their destructive work in tandem.”3
Another American author, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and author of The Origin of Others, Toni Morrison, asks:
“What is the nature of Othering’s comfort, its allure, its power (social, psychological, or economical)? Is it the thrill of belonging — which implies being part of something bigger than one’s solo self, and therefore stronger? [...] the social/psychological need for a ‘stranger,’ an Other in order to define the estranged self.”4
But there are not only people that identify with it more strongly out of fear of losing privilege (real or assumed) or a desire to belong to the dominant group, rather this perversion goes beyond the bellicose discourse that NATO imposes on the world: in their eyes, taking pity on the stranger, the hated and eliminable other, means the possibility of becoming one. This is the work that media outlets so zealously carry out at the service of racist discourse in which otherness is a synonym of threat.
NATO as a Bellicose Expression of Supremacy
What this construct scarcely obscures is the supremacist self-perception of those at NATO who indicate and name the enemies of the West. Another philosopher, Alain Badiou, expressed this in his brilliant analysis on the Arab uprisings and the west’s reaction to them:
“Ultimately, our governments and media outlets have offered a simple interpretation of the uprisings in the Arab world. What they have expressed is what we could call a Western desire, a desire for them to finally be integrated into the civilised world that westerners, the incorrigible descendants of racist colonists, are so sure they represent.”5
Using Badiou’s argument and words, we could conclude that behind the categorisation of “The Other” is the powerful elites’ fear that their power is undermined, or something has cropped up that is anything other than immoderate lover for imperial civilisations. Those that are not westerners, whatever that means, must be like us, like a mirrored reflection of ourselves, or at least have the decency to be envious and want to be like “us”. If not, it is a challenge that is interpreted as a threat: if you are not like us, you are liable not to be equal, human, or worthy of morn, as Butler would say.
They scarcely hide their wounded pride over no longer being the only masters of the world. They know they are not in times of peace, that feminism, anti-racism, class, and the movements of our time are replacing and mocking them.
Wielding its control mechanism, NATO will embark on more desperate and violent military adventures using language that is no longer as convincing as it once was: white men of the western bourgeoisie as a yardstick for the world no longer fits with the 21st century. If it were not for their weapons, they no longer would be, which is why they use them. This is NATO: white supremacy in decline.
1) Arendt, H. (1963). Eichmann in Jerusalem. New York, ed. The Viking Press.
2) Robin, C. (2011). The Reactionary Mind. Oxford, ed. Oxford University Press.
3) Butler, J. (2020). The Force of Nonviolence. London / New York, ed. Verso.
4) Morrison, T. (2016). The Origin of Others. Harvard, ed. Harvard University Press.
5) Badiou, A. (2012). The Rebirth of History. London / New York, ed. Verso.
Marga Ferré is Co-President of transform! europe and Co-President of Europe of Citizens Foundation / Fundación por la Europa de los Ciudadanos (FEC, Spain).
transform! europe is a network of 39 European organisations from 23 countries, active in the field of political education and critical scientific analysis, and is the recognised political foundation corresponding to the Party of the European Left (EL).
This cooperative project of independent non-profit organisations, institutes, foundations, and individuals intends to use its work in contributing to peaceful relations among peoples and a transformation of the present world.
Overcoming war, the dominance of capital over labour, social injustice, patriarchy, imperial rule, and militarism, as well as racism, working towards the establishment of an association in which the uninhibited development of each and every person is the condition for the uninhibited development of all shall represent the highest goals of this undertaking. The equality of all people and their solidarity represent the most important values transform! is based on.