- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

BRUSSELS

European peace activists plan to initiate a continentwide ban-NATO campaign at the alliance’s 60th anniversary celebration, hoping to create a latter-day version of the Ban the Bomb movement that became a counterculture icon of the 1960s.

Groups with names such as NATO Game Over, Shut Down NATO and Block NATO plan protests throughout Europe to coincide with the alliance’s summit in Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany, on Friday and Saturday.

Their effort differs from demonstrations that paralyzed London’s financial district Wednesday in that the focus is anti-military instead of anti-business.

“We’re at the beginning of a long-term movement,” said Andreas Speck, an organizer who is involved in a number of fledgling anti-NATO groups.

“We hope to create a movement that will challenge what NATO is doing and that will create a counterweight to governments continuing the development of NATO,” Mr. Speck said.

Working from a “countersummit,” activists say they will try to block national leaders such as President Obama from attending meetings and events planned on both sides of the Franco-German border.

However, with extra-tight security, it is doubtful they will get anywhere near the sites.

In a dry run over the weekend, NATO Game Over managed to get 442 of its protesters arrested in a mock attack on the alliance headquarters in Brussels. Two members even made it onto NATO terrain despite a huge police turnout that included armored vans, a helicopter, police on horseback, undercover policemen and many miles of barbed wire.

NATO generally has been spared the wrath of Europe’s left wing, going back to the previous generation’s Ban the Bomb campaign, which produced the peace symbol that resembles an upside-down Y inside a circle.

In recent years, activists have focused on anti-globalization protests and, lately, on supporting workers on strike to protest the economic meltdown.

Activists hope to change the battlefield now as NATO attempts to agree on a road map for its future.

“NATO deals with security threats without considering countries that aren’t members. That leads to a scary distortion of international relations. As such, NATO becomes a handy tool for the United States to pursue its own objectives,” said Roel Stynen, spokesman for Vredesactie, or Peace-Action, the umbrella organization, based in Belgium, under which the NATO Game Over campaign operates.

Protests in recent days have targeted Campbell Barracks in Heidelberg, Germany, and NATO’s grounds in the Netherlands, where some nuclear warheads reportedly are kept.

“The Dutch should take the lead in giving up the nuclear weapons we’re holding,” said Mikkie Venema, spokeswoman for yet another group, called Ontwapen! (Disarm).

Four protesters made it onto the grounds, Ms. Venema said of Saturday’s protest at Nieuw Milligen in the Netherlands. “Not bad, considering how outnumbered we were,” she said. Thirty-five were arrested and subsequently released.

The protests in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany fell under the framework of yet another umbrella group, called No to War - No to NATO.

Formed in Stuttgart, Germany, six months ago, it also includes organizations named Shut Down NATO and Block NATO.

NATO, by its own admission, needs a face-lift, although it’s difficult to imagine its early demise.

“I see an alliance that has left the 20th century but has not quite reached the 21st,” said Jamie Shea, NATO’s director of policy planning during a pre-summit briefing with reporters.

“NATO is increasingly becoming not an institution but a network,” Mr. Shea said, putting in a kind - albeit hedged - endorsement for the United States, a favorite target for the European left.

“What won’t change is the need for U.S. leadership,” Mr. Shea said, “but the U.S. has to do that without scaring European members away - American influence without domination.”

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