The First NATO: British and French Joint Aggressions in the Mid-19th Century

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The two most militarily powerful nations in the West, both free to project naval power and maritime domination anywhere in the world, get together to punish and overthrow regimes they find guilty of human rights abuses and political repression in the name of human rights and promoting democracy: What could possibly go wrong?

It is of course NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s new call for NATO, which has already over the past decade exercised its nation-building and promotion of enlightened regime policies with such brilliant success in Ukraine, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan to spread its mantle of protection, enlightenment and peace over the Indo-Pacific and the rest of Asia as well.

But it has all been done before. And the results brought death, enslavement, ruin and destruction to hundreds of millions of entirely innocent people.

From 1840 to 1870, Britain and France joined forces in an extraordinary series of military aggressions and invasions. They invaded Russia, inflicting close to a million civilian and military deaths in the Crimean War of 1854-55. They invaded China – twice, forcing the most populous nation in the world to accept unlimited imports of opium that collapsed its social fabric and brought on the bloodiest civil war in human history – the Taiping Rebellion of 1850 to 1865.

They strongly encouraged the Southern states of the United States to secede as an independent slave owning nation – openly supported by leading liberal internationalists in London and Paris. This set off the bloodiest civil war that the Northern Hemisphere of the world had ever seen – the U.S. Civil War of 1861-65.

French support also enabled Britain to mercilessly crush the first Indian War of National Liberation (which British and other Western historians for 160-plus years have continued to call “the Indian Mutiny.”) At least one million Indians were slaughtered during a year of horror in 1857.

The fate of China was even worse: Estimates of the number of people who died at the hands of the Taiping rebels, who practiced a bizarre, dark parody of Christianity comparable in its genocidal disposal of nonbelievers to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) today, run to 40 million.

With breathtaking daring and hypocrisy, the French, with British encouragement and approval, even toppled the independent government of Mexico and set up an Austrian Archduke, the brother of the Emperor Franz-Josef as Mexico’s new “Emperor” to be supported by the slave-owning Confederate States of America (CSA). France also crippled the Hapsburg Empire of Austria that controlled Central Europe in its war of 1859. For 30 years, nothing could stop the British and the French.

The amount of human suffering caused by these wars of aggression and shameless interference in the internal affairs of other nations was immeasurable. British and French meddling in the internal affairs of the United States, in fact shows astonishing parallels with the fruitless efforts of Britain, France and the United States to topple the lawful government of Syria over the past decade.

Both interventions showed that the “Old” NATO of 1840 to 1870, like the “New” NATO since the end of the Cold War, was capable of the grossest military ineptitude and miscalculations.

Instead, of successfully splitting the United States in two and in practice destroying it – a policy goal openly adumbrated by Robert Gascoigne-Cecil, later Lord Salisbury, the guiding genius of British foreign policy from the mid-1860s all the way to his retirement in 1902 – the American intervention produced a U.S. leader as determined to hold his nation together and protect its security and integrity every bit as implacable and determined as current Syrian President Bashir Assad. His name was Abraham Lincoln.

Like Assad, who worked so hard to prevent the people of Syria being subjected to extermination by ISIS, Lincoln was endlessly slandered and abused in the British and French press as a butcher and tyrant.

The British and French Empires were therefore responsible in large part for the deaths of 850,000 people in the U.S. Civil War. They underestimated Lincoln and failed, like their successors over the past decade seeking to destroy Syria, to anticipate successful Russian diplomatic and military moves to protect the threatened state.

This mid-19th century “golden age” of liberalism also saw open borders, and free trade – driven and enforced by Britain and France enthusiastically under successive regimes, both liberal and supposedly conservative.

It had other appalling dark aspects too. By 1860, the “Two Towers” or “Zwei Migdal” human slavery cartel, the first truly international, transnational and even global modern criminal organization had been set up, utilizing the new technologies of railroads, steamships and speed-of-light telegraph communication across continents.

It flourished for 80 years, luring innocent Orthodox Jewish girls from sheltered backgrounds in Russia and the Austrian Empire into false marriages with respectable appearing pimps who delivered them to usually short lives of horror, abuse and degradation in the brothels of Buenos Aires in Argentina – where the organization was based – and to similar houses of prostitution in British-ruled ports across Africa and as far at least as India.

This prostitution ring was run by Jewish pimps in Buenos Aries preying on their co-religionists with virtual impunity and before the Holocaust brought an end to it, some 140,000 girls are estimated to have been enslaved. Even in the 19th century, open borders and Free Trade had a very definite downside.

Also, the vile British opium trade into China continued, primarily through the port of Hong Kong, set up by Britain after its naval victory over the Qing Dynasty in the First Opium War, for more than a century.

This “First NATO” received its first stunning defeat when Tsar Alexander II sent squadrons of the Russian Navy to the United States to deter any British and French intervention on the side of the slave-owning Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War.

It was finally smashed when Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, diplomatically supported by the Tsar destroyed the Second French Empire, defeating the armies of the Emperor Napoleon III in 1870.

A united Germany, protected from British economic enslavement and destitution at last by the high tariffs of the Zollverein, the German Customs Union and then by Bismarck’s brilliant economic policies, succeeded France as the dominant power on the European continent.

Britain had lost France as its loyal ally and trusty “sword” to wage war on other major nations around the world, though the Third French Republic in the 1880s continued to expand its colonial empire across vast regions of sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.

The manic destructive era of “The First NATO” was over. But its lessons for 21st century humanity are all too clear: Once again inspiring slogans about human rights and international interventions supposedly on the side of good are being cynically deployed to project power power and disguise aggression for all too gullible publics in the West.

The new dangers in an age of nuclear weapons and other WMDs are greater than ever. As U.S. President Harry Truman liked to say, there is nothing new under the sun except the history you don’t already know.


Originally published on 2020-07-11

Author: Martin Sieff

About the author: During his 24 years as a senior foreign correspondent for The Washington Times and United Press International, Martin Sieff reported from more than 70 nations and covered 12 wars. He has specialized in the US and global economic issues. 

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

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