Non-State Actress #6: NATO and the Neighborhood Bar Creep
Featuring: Live shots of the propaganda from the streets of Munich!
Review: The last Issue of NSA, Everything the Light Touches is NATO, talked about where NATO comes from and its purpose. It’s a quick 5-minute read, and really just intended as a gateway drug.
In researching and planning this chunk of Non-State Actress issues, I was struck by the number of people Under A Certain Age who took the defensive nature of NATO to mean that unless NATO as a whole (and the individual member nations) hide in a corner and cower, NATO is the instigator. And that said to me I was failing to do my job. I was basically offering the equivalent of the make up tutorial that talks to you about the 4-8 different colors of stripes you’re going to put on your face and then SPEEDS THE VIDEO UP so you don’t actually see how to do it and you end up looking like a tiger instead of a flawless contoured queen.
So let’s apply our contouring together, friends! Here we go - the why it’s important to protect yourself and your friends, why doing nothing is a choice, and how to make sure your favorite bar isn’t overrun by a dictator.
Micro-dosing on NATO
NATO is complicated and simple at the same time. Like famous movie heart throb Shrek, it has layers.
We’ve talked about the general circumstances under which NATO was born, but I want to share a few other ‘fast facts’ to keep growing our understanding. I’ll do this repeatedly across the next few NSAs, that way things make sense and aren’t as dry as gluten-free graham crackers.
Making My Way Downtown…
I mentioned some people like to argue NATO is a warmongering hate machine - especially since Russia’s most recent invasion1 of Ukraine. Here are some clear examples of those claims from the streets of Munich2:
In addition to the antisemitic imagery3, these posters and others like them paint NATO as the villain. The branding is catchy and colorful, and like all good falsehoods it contains some elements of the truth.
This poster claims the “escalation” was planned “right here in Munich” at the “NATO War Conference” and the “next stage ” will be as well.
It’s true that there is a conference in Munich this week.
It’s also true the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Ukraine’s need to defend its people and its sovereignty were major topics at MSC (that’s Munich Security Conference, NOT Munich War Conference) 2022.
It’s true there was and continues to be lots of conversations about how to support Ukraine’s self-defense and how other countries, many of which share borders with Russia, can protect themselves if Russia decides Ukraine isn’t the only nation it wants to attack. And rather than tell you no one ever suggested attacking Russian soil, I’m going to show you!
That’s right my friends, MSC is live-streamed and its reports are public. And there is press EVERYWHERE. So don’t rely on me, see for yourself!
The “good” thing about campaigns like these is that because they are false, they can be easier to counter (that doesn’t mean it’s easy though). If it was easy neither of us would be here, on this page, right now.
There’s another type of campaign that from my perspective is harder to combat.
Here’s an example:
In addition to the rad color scheme, these posters play on the natural, human desire for peace in a really sneaky way. The campaign suggests there are two options - negotiating or shooting, disarming or upgrading. In the abstract it’s true that some times you DO get to pick between shooting and not shooting, but reality is so much more complicated.
These posters don’t mention Ukraine, but given the daily news and reality of the world right now, PLUS the ‘Nato Security Conference’ reference (again, not called that, and MSC includes a ton of non-NATO members), it’s implied. And that implication alongside a NATO mention is dangerous.
Let’s talk about why it’s so dangerous, but in a Not Boring way.
NATO Vibe Check: Handling the Reoccurring Creep at Your Local Bar
Picture it - your neighborhood, 2023.
Your name is Natalie Ogden, and your friends call you Nat O. You’re sitting at your local bar . You look up to see to two other people - let’s call them Petunio and Ursula. Petunio and walks over to Ursula and politely introduces themselves, offering to buy the Ursula a drink. Ursula happily responds and the two strike up what seems to be a pleasant conversation. You are aware of this interaction, but with no knowledge of Petunio and Ursula beyond it, and seeing that both seem to be eager to chat so you, Nat O, continue playing Octordle.
Now, let’s say in the same situation the drink is declined and rather than move on, our offeror (whom we will now name Petunio) won’t leave the attempted recipient (whom we will now name Ursula) alone.
He keeps pestering Ursula , who looks increasingly uncomfortable and unsure of what to do. You, Nat O, seeing this, might:
-Ask the bartender to check on Ursula , or better yet say there is a call for Ursula in the back
-Walk over to Ursula and pretend to be someone she knows
Both options give Ursula some room, lets her know others are engaged if she finds that helpful, and restores her agency in a way that is non-confrontational and de-escalatory. Depending on what happens next, Ursula may walk away with NATO (I mean Nat. O), continuing their conversation while a distracted or forlorn Petunio ‘moves on.’
Maybe this isn’t what happens.
Maybe Petunio gets angry at Ursula for declining. Petunio starts yelling, calling Ursula names. Maybe Petunio starts threatening Ursula, throws a drink at her, or worse.
In this situation:
According to the structure and rules Nat O lives their life by, Nat O immediately intervenes.
Perhaps first verbally to call attention to and shaming Petunio for ruining the vibes, and deflecting from Ursula to give her time and space to act on her own accord on her terms.
Maybe Nat O films Petunio’s behavior, streaming it on FB live, Mastodon, Twitter, or another platform.
If this did not work or Petunio had escalated the situation to violence, Nat O – according again to its own code, might get physically involved by FIRST ensuring Ursula was out of harms way. This could look like standing between the two of them, shielding Ursula and helping Ursula get Petunio out of Ursula’s personal space.
If Petunio hit Nat O in an attempt to hit Ursula, or turned their attention to Nat O and started hitting Nat O intentionally, Nat O would hit back but only to the point of subduing Petunio and keeping Petunio physically away – not intentionally killing Petunio.
Obviously, Nat O didn’t show up to the bar and look at Petunio and immediately punch him in the face.
Nat O also didn’t use their keychain pepper spray on Petunio for simply offering Ursula a drink. Nat O didn’t get involved without Ursula’s consent (– unless Petunio knocked Ursula unconscious).
Nat O got involved because Petunio crossed a boundary of safe, common courtesy and Ursula asked or signaled for help.
Stay with me friends…
But Maggie, you say. “This isn’t the bar. There is no Petunio no Ursula. And if there was, why should I get involved!? I just want to enjoy my whiskey sour in peace! This has nothing to do with me and you keep trying to drag me into this shit!”
Again, morals and human dignity aside, these are fair questions. Let’s dig into it.
-Let’s say Petunio does this every week at the same bar to a different person. Taylor, Rachel, Yalda, Jasmine. Every time you come in for your whiskey sour, there he is and every time he treats these people poorly- you see him spike drinks, pick pockets, harass those that decline. He’s seemingly never deterred.
It’s gotten to the point where your friends won’t hang at that spot with you or worse- you can’t just sit quietly and swipe left/right/read this book without Petunio harshing your vibe. You are no longer enjoying your whiskey sour, your just there out of habit or its convienent or whatever but it is certainly not fun. You want your bar back!
-Worse, you’ve seen Petunio escalate. Last year it was just pestering but now you’ve seen him put stuff into people’s drinks. You’ve heard him claim 7 different jobs in 7 different weeks and promise 7 different people help getting a foot in the door. And still- it ends up with roofies and stollen wallets. It’s gotten so bad, it’s just you and the bartender sometimes alone with Petunio and you worry about what will happen if you even acknowledge Petunio- even look at him. He’s left you alone before but last week he made a comment about it being your shared ‘little secret,’ or knowing where you live. Angel, the bar tender, is worried about losing a good-tipping customer who is friends with the owner. The power dynamics are all wrong.
So: Petunio has snatched your fun, your vibes, and is starting to target you.
Again, this is all about Petunio’s behavior.
As in, if anyone else as doing the same thing you’d respond the same way. You don’t have an unrelated vendetta against Petunio, you also acknowledge he has exhibited violent, scummy, and dishonest behavior. He is early 2000s MTV ‘NEXT’ dater through and through. And all you, as Nat O, want is to drink your whiskey sour with friends or alone in peace.
You’re not escalating anything.
Wrap It Up
First of all, take some responsibility here.
Every action has an equal, opposite reaction - and don’t kid yourself INaction is an action. You, and everyone else in the bar didn’t stand up because “it didn’t effect you” and now you’re all at risk.
Doing the right thing doesn’t mean punching a rando in the face at Target, occupying someone’s lawn because your friend wants to live there, or making a bunch of fake accounts on Twitter to harass an ex. And doing the right thing doesn’t have to mean sending tanks and anti-aircraft missiles and training a military (tho sometimes it does).
Sometimes the right thing is simply showing up and taking an interest. And sometimes, the right thing is realizing Russia is Petunio, Ursula is Ukraine, and you can be Nat O, or NATO can do better.
Gimme More: A Few Resources for More Info
In addition to all those links above…
-Putin’s Road to War Frontline PBS
-Extended (and great!) interviews with Ellen Nakashima from WaPo, Toomas Hendrik Ilves former President of Estonia, Dr. Kori Schake of AEI, Dr. Celeste Wallander who is currently the Assistant Security of Defense for International Affairs, and Ben Wittes from Lawfare.
-The Wikipedia intro to Divine, the inspiration for Ursula
-Just because it moves doesn’t make it a tank! So here’s what does.
Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and still illegally occupy Crimea as a result.
photo credit to ME.