NATO as a malignant growth (2). The ‘strategy of tension’


NATO’s core task was to keep the Left in its own alliance area in check, in particular the communists. In Asia, the Americans waged war after war, coups in Latin America coups were the order of the day; but in Europe the Yalta agreements at the end of World War II laid down the dividing lines. Each bloc was entitled to keep order in its own domain, and NATO did that on our side.


We are used to hearing how the Soviet Union kept order in the eastern bloc (GDR in 1953, Hungary 1956, and Czechoslovakia 1968). Less often, we hear about the military coups in NATO countries Turkey (1960, 1971 and 1980) and Greece (1967). Most people know even less of NATO involvement in France and Italy (pictured).

In France, De Gaulle had been brought to power in 1958 to prevent a coup by the army in Algeria. In 1961, when it became evident the French president wanted to give up the North African colony after all, the army revolted again. The leader of the new uprising, General Challe, former NATO supreme commander for Central Europe and with close contacts at the Pentagon, had been assured of American support, but the coup failed. Now the ‘Secret Army’, OAS, began a bombing campaign in France. De Gaulle himself narrowly escaped an attempt at his life.

The new American president, John F. Kennedy, who favoured a less rigid Cold War posture, knew nothing of Challe’s plans. In Italy, he wanted to sideline the communists by having the socialists included in the government after the elections of 1963. Thereupon the CIA in Rome and Italian neo-fascists started a terror campaign, coordinated with the OAS. This culminated in a coup attempt by the Italian military and secret services in 1964 (Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas in the meantime). NATO supported the coup by organising a large-scale military exercise to intimidate the government of prime minister Aldo Moro. Following a conversation with the coup leader, Moro changed his cabinet, now without socialists. The coup was called off, as its aim had been achieved.

In March 1966, De Gaulle withdrew the French armed forces from NATO, out of discontent over US interference in European politics and its continuing war in Vietnam. NATO headquarters was moved to Brussels. Meanwhile, under the guidance of the Rome CIA chief, William Harvey, a network for assassinations and terror attacks was set up that would be active across Western Europe and in Latin America.

For Italy itself, a Masonic lodge, Propagande Due (P2), under ‘Grand Master’ Licio Gelli, was expanded into a deep state structure on instruction from Henry Kissinger and his deputy at the National Security Council, the catholic former NATO commander Alexander Haig. Gelli, a fascist intelligence officer in Mussolini’s Italy, not only coordinated the secret operations of the underground NATO army that would later be referred to as ‘Gladio’. He also was in close touch with López Rega, the organiser of the AAA death squads in Argentina which under the presidency of Peron’s widow, Isabel, prepared the fascist coup of 1976.

In Europe, the Helsinki Agreements of 1975 formally consolidated détente: the 1945 borders, economic cooperation, and human rights. Brief, a new Yalta, but with human rights as a wedge to make possible support for dissidents in the Soviet bloc.

In Western Europe, the NATO underground army, Gladio, organised spectacular terror attacks, abductions and propaganda campaigns—the ‘strategy of tension’ to interrupt the advance of the Left. See the disturbing book by the Swiss author, Daniele Ganser, ‘NATO’s Secret Armies’ of 2005.

The abduction of premier Aldo Moro in 1978 by the ‘Red Brigades’ that ended with his death, was intended to prevent the formation of a government supported by the communist PCI (Moro’s body was deposited in the back of a car parked right in between the headquarters of the PCI and the DC, the Christian Democrats).

The next year the Strategy of Tension became official NATO policy with the decision to deploy Pershing-II and cruise missiles in Europe, officially in response to Soviet SS-20 missiles. These however could only reach Iceland, whereas the Pershings could hit Moscow within a few minutes. The decision caused great consternation in the Kremlin and the USSR now abandoned its restraint in foreign policy. In late 1979 it intervened to assist the pro-communist government in Afghanistan. According to Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s National Security Adviser, this was a trap he had set up to lure the Soviet Union into its own ‘Vietnam’. To the question of a French magazine, whether he was not concerned that the support of Afghan jihadists might cause new problems, he replied dismissively: how could one compare the demise of the Soviet bloc with a handful of radical Muslims!

After the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency, secretary of state George Shultz declared that the division of Europe of 1945 was no longer valid. Clandestine support for opposition in the Soviet bloc was stepped up, jointly with the Vatican in the case of Poland. Members of the National Security Council such as Richard Pipes openly declared that the Soviet Union would have to change its political system or face war with the West. Infiltrations in Central Asia and naval provocations in the Black Sea made clear that this was no empty threat. The tragic low point was the shooting down of a Korean airliner in 1983 that had strayed into Soviet airspace for hundreds of kilometres, with an American spy plane nearby to test Soviet radar installations at Sakhalin and Kamchatka.

Gorbachev, the new Soviet leader, would finally signal he gave up the Cold War, and began his belated perestroika experiment. Gorbachev’s call to make détente in Europe (‘our common home’) durable was met with a positive response, especially in West Germany. There it was expected that a reunification with the GDR might be gained from it. However, Gorbachev was brought down by Boris Yeltsin and was forced to accept that a reunited Germany would yet remain a member of NATO. Certainly he did obtain the assurance that that was it and that the alliance would not further advance to the east (‘not an inch’, according to the secretary of state of Bush Sr., James Baker). The West had won the Cold War, so what next for NATO? (to be continued).

Kees van der Pijl

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