Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mediterranean Control: The NATO Ascendency

Following up on last week's piece on the recent discoveries of massive energy deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, below I will attempt to sketch the history behind NATO's current posture in the vital water that connects Europe to Africa and the Middle East.
Part I:  The NATO Ascendency

      NATO's Mediterrean presence can be traced back to the military alliance's origins in 1949, when France and Italy were two of the treaties twelve original member states, along with the U.S., U.K., Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, Portugal, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland.  At this time, the U.S. military also controlled Wheelus Air Force Base in Libya, as well as stationing what became the Navy's 6th fleet in Naples, Italy.  The U.K held on to their colony on the island of Cyprus, where they maintained two military bases--Akrotiri Air Base in the West and Dhekelia Army Base in the East.
     Shortly after NATO's birth, its true function as a Cold War political tool was revealed when Greece and Turkey, decidedly not on the North Atlantic, joined the alliance in 1952.  Both countries had been supported by American military aid since the declaration of the Truman doctrine in March 1947, which pledged to protect the two states from communist influences.  For Athens, this meant conducting a brutal civil war against the Greek communist party, the KKE, and its National Liberation Front (EAM) militia.  Historian Gabriel Kolko writes of this period:
The throttling of the opposition and the Left certainly provides the overriding framework within which one must assess the events in Greece; the repression persisted as the source of the domestic turmoil because it drove people to the mountains in desperation.  After the United States proclaimed the Truman Doctrine in March 1947 and assumed the military and economic costs that Greece's venal rules generated, the regime's incentive to find nonviolent, political solutions disappeared, and from the very beginning the U.S. consistently opposed a negotiated peace.  The cycle of repression and responses to it increased the scale of violence and eliminated human and civil rights, but the successive rightist regimes clearly initiated the casual chain...
Given their corruption and their inability to survive in a democratic political context, and the condition of the economy and the weakness of their army, repression was the Greek authorities' only recourse.  American officials nominally supported the demand of basic liberties but at the very same time encouraged a policy of massive forces evacuations in the regions where the rebels were strongest (Kolko, Century of War, 378). 

     Immediately after adding Greece and Turkey, NATO held a display of power in the Eastern Mediterranean with a military exercise--called "Grand Slam"--in March 1952. The exercise assembled a fleet of over 200 warships from the American British, French, and Italian Navy off the Turkish coast, where they simulated air and submarine attacks and defense maneuvers.  The importance of the Mediterranean to the U.S., and especially the U.S. Navy, in the early Cold War period was described by a 27 year old Samuel Huntington, writing in the May 1954 Naval Institute Bulletin:
The recognition of the crucial role of the Mediterranean Basin implementation of American foreign policy can be dated from the historic announcement by Secretary Forrestal on September 30, 1946, that American naval forces would be maintained in that area for the support of our national policy. The increase in the strength of these forces and the creation of the Sixth Task Fleet on June 1, 1948, were further steps in the implementation of this policy. The carrier aviation, surface power, and amphibious forces of this fleet have been recognized as being of crucial importance in supporting American policy in this area. This key role of the Mediterranean has been reflected in the attention devoted to it in naval writings, and it has even been described as the “sea of destiny” – a term previously reserved for the Pacific Ocean. This concentration of attention upon the Mediterranean does not, of course, mean that the application of naval power will not be important at other points along the littoral. But it does mean that at least for the foreseeable future the Mediterranean offers the most fruitful area for the Navy’s performance of its new function.
The "new function" for the Navy that Huntington wrote of was the establishment of "transoceanic" power, that is, "a navy oriented away from the oceans and toward the land masses on their far side." He continued: "Its purpose now is not to acquire command of the sea but rather to utilize its command of the sea to achieve supremacy on the land. More specifically, it is to apply naval power to that decisive strip of littoral encircling the Eurasian continent."
     In line with Huntington's proclamation, NATO held another Mediterranean exercise--Operation Deep Water--in 1957 that simulated holding back the Soviet Black Sea Naval Fleet at Turkey's Dardanelles Straight, both with Mediterranean based Naval forces as well as a contingent of 8,000 marines that landed on the shores of Galipoli, Turkey.
      Then, only one year later, the U.S. Navy's Sixth Fleet saw an opportunity to exhibit its new "transoceanic" power in Lebanon, following the White House's proclamation of its new Middle Eastern "Eisenhower Doctrine" that pledged to support friendly regimes in the region.  The backdrop, of course, was the growing popularity of Pan-Arab nationalism, led by Eygptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, which threatened to overthrow the numerous Western backed monarchs, who were seen as the last vestiges of colonial rule.  In 1952, Nasser and his coterie of "Free Army Officers" had overthrown the British backed king from his throne in Cairo. Although Nasser was originally friendly to the U.S. (see his 1955 article in Foreign Affairs where he laid out Egyptian development projects that needed financing), he had balked when the Pentagon would only sell weapons if they were paid for with cash, which Eygpt did not have.  Egypt then turned to the Soviet Union, and with the help of CIA operatives Miles Copeland and Kermit Roosevelt, arranged weapon purchases through Czechoslovakia.  In a related political gesture, Egypt also diplomatically recognized Communist China, angering U.S. and British officials so much that they pulled out their financing of the Aswan Dam development project.
     These developments all squarely put Nasser's Egypt on the outside of the "Free World" paradigm set up by the West during the early Cold War years, although American intelligence officials resolutely understood that he had wanted to work with the U.S. and had been pushed into the Soviet camp.
     As revenge for  the financial withdrawal from the Aswan Dam project, Nasser nationalized the Suez canal in July 1956, setting of a furor in London. The canal, built in 1869 by the British Empire's Suez Canal Company, connected the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, and then the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, connected, providing a waterway between Europe and Asia that avoided the long and treacherous journey around Africa.   Along with Iranian oil concessions, control of the Suez canal was one of the two posts on which the British had built its Middle Eastern Empire.  When Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosadeq had tried to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian oil company (the precurcor to todays BP) earlier in the decade, he was toppled by a CIA and MI6 organized coup.  With Nasser's nationalization, London had a similar plan, and soon machinated what historian Jeremy Salt called the "tripartite aggression" against Egypt:
 The plan of attack called for Israel to invade Sinai on October 29.  Britain and France would issue and ultimatum the following day calling on both sides to withdraw ten miles from the banks of the canal.  Nasser would refuse, and then Britain and France would send in troops to "restore order" and guarantee safe passage of ships through the canal (Salt, The Unmaking of the Middle East, 174). 
In this instance, the U.S. was flatly against London's plan.  President Eisenhower had told British Prime Minister Anthony Eden as much in September, writing "I am afraid, Anthony, that from this point forward our views on the situation diverge.  As to the use of force or the threat of force at this juncture I continue to feel as I expressed myself in the letter Foster carried to you some weeks ago...I must tell you, frankly, that the American public opinion flatly rejects the thought of using force." (Ibid).  Eisenhower knew that nationalization was the right of all sovereign governments, provided they pay reimbursements, and did not want to paint the U.S. as a new colonial power.
     Regardless, the plan was implemented, and on October 29th,  Israeli troops parachuted into the canal zone, and then three days later, Britain and France launched air and sea attacks on Egypt and landed troops at Port Said, at the mouth of the canal.  But within days, both the U.S. and the USSR issued condemnation of the invasion, and the invading forces were forced to withdraw.  For London, which was economically broke at the time and begging Washington for loans, the U.S. dangled a $1.5 billion credit package, conditional on a ceasefire in Egypt, and the British readily accepted.  The "tripartite aggressors" had to slink back home, and Nasser scored a major political victory by withstanding the attack.  Militarily, however, several thousand Egyptian soldier had been killed, as well as nearly a thousand civilians, while only 326 French, British, and Israeli men combined had been killed or wounded.
       As a result of the Suez crisis, waves of Pan-Arab nationalism spread across the Middle East, and soon colonial-era governments in Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan were being tested by their populations.  This led to President Eisenhower issuing his March 1958 Middle East doctrine, declaring that the U.S. would  prop-up friendly governments that were being threatened, ostensibly by "international communist forces," but really by their own nationalist populations.  Despite their differences over Suez,  Washington and London agreed that the friendly governments had to be supported, and decided to split up the duty.  After the British backed Hashemite King of Iraq was overthrow in a bloody coup on July 14th, President Eisenhower reified his doctrine by ordering Operation Bluebat, which landed Marines on the beaches of Beirut and sent the Navy's Sixth Fleet off its coast.  The show of force, however, did not turn violent, as the Lebanese government negotiated its own crisis.  Concurrent to this, the British sent paratroopers into Jordan to support its Hashemite King.
       This was not the only Western intrigue in the region at the time, as documents uncovered in 2003 indicate that Eisenhower and British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan approved of a covert plan in Syria to stage false flag operations on the border, triggering an invasion of Syria by Iraq, Jordan,  Lebanon and Turkey, as well as the assassination of three Syrian officials.  The document, found in the papers of British Defense Secretary Duncan Sandys, was drawn up by top level working group in September 1957, and laid out a top secret scenario for a regime change in Syria.  As laid out by the British Guardian Newspaper, the report stated:

Once a political decision is reached to proceed with internal disturbances in Syria, CIA is prepared, and SIS [MI6] will attempt, to mount minor sabotage and coup de main incidents within Syria, working through contacts with individuals.
The report said that once the necessary degree of fear had been created, frontier incidents and border clashes would be staged to provide a pretext for Iraqi and Jordanian military intervention. Syria had to be "made to appear as the sponsor of plots, sabotage and violence directed against neighbouring governments," the report says. "CIA and SIS should use their capabilities in both the psychological and action fields to augment tension." That meant operations in Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon, taking the form of "sabotage, national conspiracies and various strong-arm activities" to be blamed on Damascus.
The plan called for funding of a "Free Syria Committee", and the arming of "political factions with paramilitary or other actionist capabilities" within Syria. The CIA and MI6 would instigate internal uprisings, for instance by the Druze in the south, help to free political prisoners held in the Mezze prison, and stir up the Muslim Brotherhood in Damascus.The planners envisaged replacing the Ba'ath/Communist regime with one that was firmly anti-Soviet, but they conceded that this would not be popular and "would probably need to rely first upon repressive measures and arbitrary exercise of power".
While this chilling coup scenario was never implemented, it is yet another sign of the Western attitude at the time towards the eastern Mediterranean.  As can be seen, by the end of the 1950s the NATO powers had nearly total control of the region.  With NATO bases in France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey, and pro-Western governments in Lebanon, Israel, and Libya, the NATO powers were free to treat the region as its geopolitical plaything, scheming wars and coups, and deciding which governments to back and which to topple.  As was shown with the Suez crisis, Washington was now top dog in the region, and accordingly it was Washington that set the rules.

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