NATO’s Dual Purpose (Part Three of Three)

Jack D.

Continued from Part Two.

The “Reverse Course” in Japan, ANZUS and the Vision for a Pacific Pact

As it had in Europe, the United States would also seek to develop an aggressive bloc in the Pacific, especially in reaction to the reverses suffered by the Truman Doctrine in China, Korea and Indochina.  After Japan’s surrender, U.S. policy towards its erstwhile enemy had initially stressed punishment and reforms.  This was most famously expressed in Article 9 of the U.S.-drafted Japanese Constitution adopted in May 1947, which renounced the right to wage war and prohibited the maintenance of “land, sea and air forces.”  However, the late 1940s saw the U.S. undertake a dramatic “Reverse Course,” halting reforms and shifting to a policy encouraging the economic reconstruction and remilitarization of Japan.

The United States was to serve “as sort of a general staff for planning for the whole Asian front against communism” and John Foster Dulles’ vision placed a rearmed Japan at the core of its strategy for containment in the Asia-Pacific region.  A Pacific Pact was to be constructed to serve as “a framework within which a Japanese force … could have an international status,” sidestepping Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution.  However, seeking to limit its commitments in Asia, the U.S. did not desire an arrangement as robust as NATO.  Moreover, U.S. efforts to build such a Pacific Pact were frustrated by a divergence of interests among regional powers.

An essential precondition for the remilitarization of Japan was the conclusion of a lenient peace treaty between it and as many of the Allies as possible.  But Australia—which had been subjected to numerous Japanese bombing raids during the war—and New Zealand had no interest in seeing Japan rehabilitated, economically reinvigorated or rearmed.  To address antipodean fears of both Japanese and communist aggression, the U.S. was ultimately able to secure the desired signatures to the peace treaty by offering a quid pro quo—a mutual security treaty including the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the Philippines.  But Australia and New Zealand categorically refused to join a pact including Japan, while Great Britain objected to the inclusion of the Philippines.  The result was the ANZUS Treaty.

Concluded in September 1951, this trilateral pact between Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. contained milder versions of the familiar Rio Treaty provisions.  Article 3 calls for consultation “whenever in the opinion of any of them the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened in the Pacific.”  But rather than a full-throated “all for one, one for all” provision, Article 4 merely states that “Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on any of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes.”  The treaty also anticipated “the development of a more comprehensive system of regional security in the Pacific Area.”

The ANZUS Treaty was followed one week later by two unequal treaties with Japan.  The San Francisco Treaty terminated the state of war between Japan and many of the Allies (but not the USSR).  Although it formally ended the Allied occupation of Japan, the United States had required as a precondition for this Tokyo’s acceptance of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.  This agreement granted the U.S. armed forces unfettered access to Japan “as a provisional arrangement for its defense … in the expectation, however, that Japan will itself increasingly assume responsibility for its own defense against direct and indirect aggression.”  It specifically allowed U.S. forces at Japan’s request “to put down large-scale internal riots and disturbances in Japan, caused through instigation or intervention by an outside power or powers.”  Furthermore, it emphasized Japan’s right to join a collective security arrangement and provided for its own expiration when such an arrangement had been established.

Ultimately, Dulles’ ambitions for Japanese remilitarization were frustrated by popular opposition within Japan.  In 1953, Dulles lamented, “I am frankly disappointed that Japanese fallen far behind Germany in recovery and willingness to contribute to security.  I refer not only to lag in rearmament, which contrasts sharply with German readiness to rearm, but also failure to exclude Communist influence in labor unions, intelligentsia and youth circles, and widespread Communist propaganda in Japan directly against the U.S.”  By the autumn of 1954, Dulles had reluctantly accepted the need to “lower our sights on Japanese rearmament.”  Instead of a Pacific Pact, what emerged in the Asia-Pacific region was the San Francisco System, a “wheel and spokes” of asymmetric bilateral alliances between the U.S. and regional states including Japan, the Philippines and Thailand, as well as the Syngman Rhee and Chiang Kai-shek cliques.

The U.S. Crafts SEATO to Justify Aggression Against the Peoples of Indochina

In May 1954, the historic victory of the Vietnamese people against French colonialism at the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ marked a turning point in U.S. attitudes towards military commitments to the Asia-Pacific region and revived U.S. efforts to create a larger Pacific Pact, this time with southeast Asia as its focus.  But, as before, differences among the interested parties prevented much of the U.S. vision from materializing.  The antipodean states objected to the inclusion of Japan and the Chiang and Rhee cliques.  Burma, Indonesia and India preferred neutrality.  Laos, Cambodia and the Ngô Đình Diệm clique were prohibited by the 1954 Geneva Agreements from joining any international military alliance.  As a consequence, when the Manila Pact was agreed upon in September 1954, only the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., France, the Philippines, Thailand and Pakistan could be brought onboard.  In addition, to avoid the U.K. and France running afoul of their Geneva commitments, the benefits of SEATO membership were offered Laos, Cambodia and the Diệm clique—which became known as the “protocol states”—without the corresponding obligations.

The provisions of the Manila Pact resembled those of the ANZUS Treaty, but with more emphasis on measures against “subversive activities directed from without against their territorial integrity and political stability.”  Moreover, the U.S. appended an understanding to the effect that its obligations in response to armed attack on any of the parties would “apply only to communist aggression.”  In keeping with the Pentagon’s concerns about overextending the U.S. military, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization—the body established by the Manila Pact—did not maintain a military organization, but instead hosted joint exercises of member militaries.  SEATO focused on economic and propaganda measures to counter the socialist movement.  SEATO’s biggest impact was as a means of justifying the United States’ criminal war of aggression against the peoples of Indochina and sabotage of the Geneva Agreements.  As Dean Rusk, now Secretary of State, remarked in 1966, “It is this fundamental SEATO obligation [to respond to ‘armed aggression’] that has from the outset guided our actions in South Vietnam.”

Described by one historian as “a zoo of paper tigers,” SEATO never functioned effectively and ultimately fell apart due to disagreements among its members, notably British and French differences of interpretation with regards to Manila Pact obligations in Indochina.  France and Pakistan stepped back from SEATO activities and in September 1975, following the liberation of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, SEATO dissolved itself.

How British Imperialism Snatched Up Iran’s Oil

In 1901, Persia (now Iran) had granted British industrialist William Knox D’Arcy a 60-year monopoly on the exploitation of the petroleum, natural gas, asphalt and ozokerite reserves across most of Persia’s territory in exchange for a negligible sum and a mere 16% of the eventual profits.  By 1905, exploratory work had yet to turn up oil.  Having nearly run out of capital, D’Arcy considered selling his concession to the French branch of the Rothschild family.

But the British government, convinced of the importance of this endeavor to its navy and merchant marine, intervened and an arrangement was made to keep the concession in British hands.  Oil was struck in 1908 and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (known today as British Petroleum) was founded the next year.  In 1913, the British state would acquire a controlling interest in the company, again in order to prevent it from falling into foreign hands.  D’Arcy, who never once so much as visited Persia, was granted £900,000 worth of shares.

In 1932, Persia canceled the D’Arcy Concession on the grounds that it had been granted under pressure and that the Anglo-Persian Oil Company was engaged in various schemes to artificially reduce the already modest royalties it paid to the Persian government.  But in subsequent renegotiations overseen by the League of Nations, the Shah effectively extended the validity of the concession until 1993 on terms quite favorable to the Company.

Of crucial importance to British shipments of Iranian oil and much other trade was the Suez Canal.  In 1936, the U.K. coerced Egypt into a treaty that allowed the British military to maintain an occupation of the Suez Canal Zone in peacetime and to assert control over the entire country “in the event of war, imminent menace of war or apprehended international emergency.”  By the end of the world war, the Suez Canal Zone was home to the largest Western military base in the world, the centerpiece of the U.K.’s global military presence.

Egypt Frustrates Anglo-American Plans for MEDO

In the wake of the war, a weakened Great Britain in the clutches of a balance of payments crisis sought desperately to cling to what remained of its influence in the Middle East while reducing its expenditures on foreign policy.  London’s approach was to coax the United States into sharing the burden of defending British interests in the region by drawing Washington into a NATO-like anti-Soviet military-political bloc.  The proposed bloc was first known as the Middle East Command before being reformulated as the Middle East Defense Organization in a vain attempt to make the concept more palatable to the Arab peoples.  Egypt—home to the Suez Canal base—was to be the core of MEDO.  Also of great importance was Turkey, which shared a border with the USSR and had been (alongside Greece) an inaugural recipient of Truman Doctrine aid.  Whitehall also wanted to bring Commonwealth states like Australia, New Zealand and apartheid South Africa into the pact.

However, British efforts at establishing MEDO were frustrated by contradictions both between the U.K. and regional states and among regional states themselves.  These included the Arab-Israeli conflict, the enmity between Jordan and Iraq on the one hand and Saudi Arabia and Egypt on the other, the Anglo-Iranian oil dispute and especially the Anglo-Egyptian dispute over the British Suez Canal base.  In the postwar years, the U.K. and U.S. made repeated attempts to get Egypt on board with MEDO, yet Egypt’s primary security concern was not some putative threat from the distant Soviet Union, but rather the ongoing British military occupation of the Suez Canal Zone.

Iran Nationalizes the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company

On May 1, 1951, days after the independent-minded bourgeois nationalist Mohammad Mosaddegh was appointed Prime Minister of Iran, Tehran again canceled the D’Arcy Concession and this time expropriated the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s assets.  The U.K. took the matter to the International Court of Justice, but the Court ultimately sided with Iran.  At the same time, the U.K. imposed a blockade on Iranian oil shipments and threatened legal action against anyone who might purchase them.  But “objective number one” was the removal of Mosaddegh.

On September 20, 1951, Iran expelled British workers from its oil fields.  London responded by drawing up plans to invade Iran, but these were abandoned in the face of opposition from the U.S., which at that point still maintained cordial relations with Mosaddegh.  Nevertheless, the U.K. continued covertly fomenting political turmoil in Iran, such as by spreading black propaganda targeting progressive forces in the country and funneling weapons and support to former Nazi collaborators Lt. Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi and Abolghasem Bakhtiari.

Dulles Shifts to a “Northern Tier” Strategy and Topples Mosaddegh

Unlike Great Britain, the Truman administration’s main interest in Iran was to suppress the democratic forces there, represented by the Tudeh Party of Iran.  To this end, the CIA’s Operation TPBEDAMN had been spreading anti-communist propaganda, hiring gangsters to attack Tudeh Party rallies, infiltrating agents provocateurs into the Party and so on since 1948.  But as British sanctions and subversion increasingly destabilized the Mosaddegh administration, the U.S. began to fear more and more the prospect of a socialist revolution in the country, and by November 1952 the National Security Council had made plans “to bring about the overthrow of the communist government” in such an event.  Nevertheless, at this point Washington still saw the Mosaddegh administration as the only thing standing in the way of “the ultimate absorption of Iran in the Soviet system.”

Consequently, the United States continued attempting to mediate between Iran and Great Britain and when in November 1952 the latter proposed joint action to overthrow Mosaddegh, the Truman administration declined.  CIA leaders including Allen Dulles, however, were receptive, and they would not need to wait long for the White House to change its tune.  In January 1953, Eisenhower ascended to the presidency; meanwhile, most of Mosaddegh’s coalition allies broke with him, fueling concerns that he would become more reliant on the Tudeh Party.  On February 3, U.S. and U.K. officials met to discuss joint plans for a coup.

In May 1953, John Foster Dulles embarked on a diplomatic tour of the Middle East.  His conversations with regional governments convinced him to abandon the idea of a MEDO with Egypt as its core and to shift to a “northern tier” strategy, i.e. forming a new pact from a line of more cooperative states nearer the Soviet Union—Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan.  The “obvious weak spot” in this chain was Iran.  On June 25, Operation TPAJAX was given final approval and on August 19 the coup plot was sprung into action, ousting Mosaddegh in favor of Lt. Gen. Zahedi.  This paved the way for a resolution of the oil dispute on terms favorable to Western capital, with an International Oil Consortium taking control of the industry soon after, albeit with American companies taking a sizable slice of the pie from the British.

The Baghdad Pact–CENTO Begins Its Long Decline

On Feburary 24, 1955, Turkey and Iraq signed the Baghdad Pact.  Like the other pacts we have looked at, this one too cited Article 51 of the U.N. Charter as its justification.  But the Baghdad Pact was effectively toothless, with its main substance being that its signatories would “co-operate for their security and defence” in ways to be determined subsequently.  Later that year, Great Britain, SEATO member Pakistan and Iran also signed on.  The U.S. only sent observers, but it would form bilateral military aid agreements with Baghdad Pact members.

The long decline of the Baghdad Pact would begin almost as soon as the ink was dried.  When in 1956, Israel, the U.K. and France launched a secretly coordinated invasion of Egypt in response to President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal Company, the British would argue that the Suez Canal was essential for them to meet their obligations under the Manila and Baghdad Pacts.  But the Tripartite Aggression resulted in humiliation for the aggressors, who withdrew in the face of Soviet warnings and mass support around the world for Egypt.  The fallout dramatically weakened the U.K.’s international standing, effectively terminating the erstwhile empire’s great power status, and this undermined its leadership position in the Baghdad Pact.

Then, in 1958, Iraqi military officers toppled their country’s monarchy.  The new régime in Baghdad would shift to a non-aligned foreign policy and soon withdrew from the Baghdad Pact altogether.  In response, the pact was renamed CENTO, the Central Treaty Organization.  In the following years, regional CENTO members came to see the organization as a means of procuring economic and technical support rather than substantive defense collaboration.  The pact would remain toothless.  Ultimately, the 1979 Iranian Revolution would see Iran withdraw from CENTO and it was followed later that year by Pakistan.  With only the U.K. and Turkey remaining, it was decided to terminate the pact.


Nowadays, NATO is stepping up its aggressive maneuvers in Europe.  Its rhetoric is also beginning to target China.  Looked at in isolation from our vantage point in 2023, NATO may appear to be growing stronger, even to be invincible.  But NATO and its sibling the OAS are not as formidable as they may appear.  They are merely the last paper tigers standing in the zoo.  The examples of SEATO and CENTO demonstrate that when the people of the world unite in solidarity against imperialist aggression, as they did in the face of the invasions of Egypt, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, they have the power to humiliate the imperialist chieftains and smash their aggressive blocs.