Understanding NATO’s agenda

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by Dr. Shireen M Mazari

By now one should not be surprised by any statement coming from the present leadership in the context of foreign policy. After all, if President Zardari could declare, contrary to all historical facts, that India was never a threat to Pakistan; and FM Qureshi could become virtually hysterical in praising the controversial Kerry-Lugar Act; then why should the PM be found wanting in these absurdities? So, when PM Gilani sought guarantees from NATO not to leave Afghanistan till peace had been established there, one was disappointed but not surprised. After all he had just come back from a visit to Brussels and one knows how Pakistanis, from the media to the bureaucrats (both civil and military) to the political leaders, are easily seduced by NATO in Brussels and their military headquarters not too far away. This scribe has herself seen the extensive PR operationalised by NATO for this purpose and only the diehard dissenters can survive the charm onslaught!

However, one hopes the PM will rethink his belief that NATO can establish peace and security in Afghanistan, given how it, along with the US, has been responsible for the worsening situation in that country because of its military-centric approach. In fact, if NATO were to leave and hand back charge to ISAF as originally decreed by the UN Security Council, peace and stability will probably come quicker to Afghanistan. Certainly, in the context of Pakistan, the stability factor would become more evident with a US-NATO withdrawal from this region.

Unfortunately, NATO is not likely to do so, because since the end of the Soviet Union, NATO has been desperately seeking new rationalisations for its continuation as an organisation. After all, NATO was established as a collective defence organisation and, in legal terms, remains so in terms of its legitimacy through the UN system – under Chapter VIII, Articles 52 and 53, as well as Chapter VII’s notion of collective self-defence as embodied in Article 51.

However, regional collective defence organisations need to operate in the specific region of their membership since decision making is restricted to this membership. Despite NATO expanding its functions and strategic concepts, its essential purpose as stated in its 1999 Strategic Concept remains “to safeguard the freedom and security of its members by political and military means” (Chapter 2: The transformation of the Alliance).

Given the continuing European-Atlantic membership of NATO, it is somewhat disturbing to see NATO transforming itself from a collective defence organisation (Article 5 of the NATO Charter is surely in the context of collective defence?) to a collective security organisation to serve the interests of its membership. There is no legitimacy for any collective security organisation other than the UN with its universal membership. Article 51 of the UN Charter provides a very clear and limited framework for collective defence organisations. Article 52 of the Charter relates to regional arrangements in connection with maintenance of peace and security and talks in terms of these organisations coming into being “as are appropriate for regional action.” Also, under Article 53, there can be no action without authorisation of the Security Council except against an enemy state as defined in Article 53:2.

NATO’s entry into Afghanistan is also justified as being under request from the UNSC, but if one looks at the documents, this is not the case. NATO forced itself upon the ISAF, which was sanctioned by the UNSC, when (according to the UN record) NATO informed the UN Secretary General, through a letter dated October 2, 2003, from its Secretary General, that on August 11, 2003, NATO had assumed “strategic command, control and coordination of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).” This was followed by another letter from the NATO Secretary General to the UN SG informing the latter of the North Atlantic Council’s agreement on a “longer-term strategy for NATO in its International Assistance Force (ISAF) role in Afghanistan.” Both these letters were sent to the President of the UNSC by the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on October 7 with the request that they be brought to the attention of the UNSC. So effectively NATO presented the UNSC with a fait accompli. It was the NATO council, comprising its limited North Atlantic and European membership – yes, ironically, here Turkey is accepted as a European power because it suits European interests to have a militarily strong Turkey with them – that decided to takeover ISAF and the UN collectivity was merely informed not consulted prior to the NATO decision!

It was in the face of these developments that the UNSC passed Resolution 1510 on October 13, 2003, in which it acknowledged the October 6 NATO SG’s letter as well as communication from the Afghan Minister for Foreign Affairs and authorised the expansion of the ISAF mandate. But nowhere is there any reference to NATO’s role in Afghanistan. So is NATO really in Afghanistan because of UNSC resolutions?

Of course, the UN allows regional organisations to undertake military missions in their regional spheres but for NATO Afghanistan is an out-of-area operation – so effectively we now have Europeans and Atlantic states making decisions relating to the Asian region and this has far reaching consequences for all Asian states. Why would a Pakistani Prime Minister seek the intrusion of an international organisation in our region where he has no say in its basic decision making even? Tomorrow NATO may decide to enter Pakistan militarily and Pakistan will not have any say in that decision. Worse still, by encouraging NATO’s presence in our region, we are undermining the UN collective security system because we are giving NATO de facto acceptance as an alternate collective security system – something for which it has no international legitimacy.

What the US and NATO are trying to do is to push forward the Bush agenda of “coalitions of the willing” to work outside the UN through NATO – as an alternate system to the UN in terms of collective security, peacekeeping and so on, just as the notion of “coalitions of the willing” is a direct alternative to the UN and its Security Council? That NATO has the military capability, while the UN may be lacking this, is not the issue here since one is focusing on issues of legitimacy.

In any case, the UN can be given more teeth if the members are prepared to do so and make effective Articles 43-47 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, including the provisions relating to the creation of a Military Staff Committee. Now that the developed world is ready to use military means to “keep the peace” globally, and there is the new concept of humanitarian interventions being propagated by many European states, led by some of the Nordic group, perhaps the rest of the world can demand that the Chapter VII of the UN be strengthened and given some military teeth rather than forming alternate groupings that will never have the expansive international legitimacy the UN has.

Till then, it does not suit our interests to have NATO stay in an out-of-area operation in Afghanistan for which it has no international legitimacy. How can it when it is a North Atlantic collective defence organisation focusing on the security of its members? Perhaps, our MFA can remove its blinkers, see beyond the NATO haze of seduction unleashed on our decision makers post-9/11, and perhaps give some hard facts to the Prime Minister. In this case, ignorance is a dangerous folly.

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