teleSUR, 16 March 2015 **** Front Page

On NATO Chief Stoltenberg's Speech in Munich

By Johannes Hautaviita

The message is simple enough: Putin is dangerous, if not clinically insane, and NATO – the “guardian of the international order” (Stoltenberg) – is needed to defend Europe and ‘Western values' from the threat of Russia.

On Thursday, NATO's new secretary general Jens Stoltenberg visited Helsinki, invited by Finland's Prime Minister Alexander Stubb. Stubb, known for his outspoken pro-NATO stance, noted last month that Finland is “not neutral, but has chosen Western values”.

NATO is indeed presenting itself as a community to protect ‘Western values'. These values include, modestly, “democracy, human rights and the rule of law.” (NATO's Strategic Concept, 2010) Values that are now ostensibly being put to the test by Vladimir Putin's Russia.

In late 2014, NATO's former secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, identified Putin's Russia, alongside the Islamic State, as the “dual threats to Western values.” A recent editorial in The Economist states, that to Putin “Western institutions and values are more threatening than armies.”

Last month, in his speech at a security conference in Munich, Stoltenberg noted, that the year 2014 “was a turning point: for European security and for the global order.” The turning point, according to Stoltenberg, was the “dangerous pattern of Russian behavior: annexation, aggressive actions and intimidation” and its “utter disregard for the country's [Ukraine's] sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The message is simple enough: Putin is dangerous, if not clinically insane, and NATO — the “guardian of the international order” (Stoltenberg) — is needed to defend Europe and ‘Western values' from the threat of Russia.

Undeniable and condemnable Russian criminalities in Ukraine aside, how well does NATO live up to its own much-touted values?

To begin with, it's interesting to compare the Western reaction to Russia's second war in Chechnya on the one hand and to its actions in Ukraine on the other.

During the second Chechen war — despite evidence of egregious Russian war crimes and crimes against humanity — Putin was courted by Western leaders. In 2000, Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher Peter Bouckaert testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations as follows: "The bombing campaign has turned many parts of Chechnya to a wasteland: even the most experienced war reporters I have spoken to told me they have never seen anything in their careers like the destruction of the capital Grozny." He continued, "Instead of using its relationship with Russia to bring an end to the abuses in Chechnya, the Clinton administration has focused on cementing its relationship with Acting President Putin, the prime architect of the abusive campaign in Chechnya. Secretary of State Madeline Albright traveled to Moscow while bombs were raining down on Grozny, and chose to focus her remarks on Acting President Putin's qualities as the new leader of Russia, rather than on the brutal war in Chechnya."

Five years later in 2005, HRW concluded, for instance that “enforced disappearances in Chechnya are so widespread and systematic that they constitute crimes against humanity.” Human rights group Memorial put the civilian Chechen death toll of both wars combined at 75,000.

But who cares. Or as Tony Blair put it, “Chechnya isn't Kosovo”. For the sake of comparison, Blair himself alleged that 2,000 people were killed in Kosovo between the summer of 1998 and NATO's attack in March 1999.

A strong supporter of the NATO war in Yugoslavia in 1999, Blair had an interest in presenting the war as a case of humanitarian intervention. NATO's war against Yugoslavia, however, was both illegal and lead to an escalation of the terrible atrocities in Kosovo. The NATO bombings also killed at least 500 civilians.

Further undermining NATO's case for humanitarian intent, its members had not only turned a blind eye to, but had supported NATO-ally Turkey in its massive atrocities against the Kurds throughout the 1990s.

Two years after Yugoslavia, the US (later with the support of NATO) engaged in another illegal war against Afghanistan, which, according to the Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies, has caused the deaths of 21,000 Afghan civilians. This is horrible enough, but the decision to bomb was taken with an expectation of even worse consequences. UN high commissioner for human rights at the time, Mary Robinson, pleaded with the US to halt the bombing to prevent a “Rwanda-style” humanitarian disaster. She warned that the war could result in millions of Afghans starving to death.

Not shying away from self-exaltation, Stoltenberg hailed NATO's history of military interventions saying that “we must also remain ready to act beyond our borders. From the Balkans to Afghanistan, NATO has led large and complex coalitions under the most challenging conditions. This is a unique ability that we must preserve.”

Celebrating past illegal wars as a “unique ability that we must preserve” while simultaneously protecting “the rule of law”: enter NATO.

Returning again to Stoltenberg's speech in Munich, he noted that, “North Africa and the Middle East are also in turmoil. States are breaking up and conflict is at our borders. Extremism is fuelling barbaric violence across the region and inspiring terrorism on our own streets.”

Stoltenberg, however, omits the essential background. The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 caused the collapse of the Iraqi society, with horrendous consequences. According to Middle East specialist Graham Fuller, “The United States did not plan the formation of ISIS, but its destructive interventions in the Middle East and the war in Iraq were the basic causes of the birth of ISIS.”

Prior to the invasion, President George W. Bush told the UN Security Council — the central organ for maintaining global peace and security under international law — that it should authorize US war plans against Iraq or become an “ineffective, irrelevant debating society.”

Turning to Libya, “[t]he Nato bombing of 2011 destroyed the state — the painfully thin institutions that held together this archipelago of cities”, writes Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College. The deteriorating situation has now led to the emergence of ISIS in the divided North African country.

Referring to these alarming developments in the Middle East, Stoltenberg asks rhetorically whether “the international order is on the brink of collapse?” And answers: “Not as long as the guardians of the international order [NATO] remain ready to act to uphold international rules”.

The chutzpah is quite remarkable.

The archive: Johannes Hautaviita, NATO, Middle East, Iraq, Libya, Balkans, United States, Russia, International Affairs


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