Journalist | Writer | Analyst
The Times of India, March 29, 1999
NATO on a Dangerous and Illegal Course
By Siddharth Varadarajan
IT took 50 years but the truth is finally out: NATO is not an organisation for collective defence but an aggressive military alliance dedicated to the projection and promotion of US power in Europe, and even beyond. For the first time in its history, this alliance has attacked a sovereign and independent country, Yugoslavia, a non-aligned state that stands alone in the continent for its refusal to be incorporated in the US-dominated post-Cold War security framework.
Since Yugoslavia has not attacked or threatened any country, NATO member or otherwise, the military alliance cannot invoke the right of self-defence; nor can it advance the claim that it has acted to preserve international peace and security. In international law, the only body that can authorise military action under that head is the UN Security Council, acting pursuant to Chapter VII of the UN Charter. But the Security Council has granted no such mandate to NATO or any other group of countries. Its last major resolution on the Kosovo crisis was 1199, passed in September 1998 with one abstention (China). That resolution called on the Yugoslav government to end its offensive against Kosovar Albanian militants but did not sanction the use of force; indeed, it explicitly stated that the Security Council would meet again to decide what steps to take in the event of Yugoslav non- compliance.
It was precisely because the US knew Russia and China would never go along with the use of force that it decided to bypass the Security Council. During the French-sponsored `peace conference’ on the Kosovo crisis at Rambouillet near Paris last month, Washington tried to force an agreement down the throat of Yugoslavia. After a suitable time period — during which the Kosovar delegation gave the appearance of swallowing its unhappiness at not winning the right to a referendum on independence and initialled the `agreement’ — Belgrade was told to sign on the dotted line or else. While Yugoslavia said it did not have a problem with granting wide-ranging autonomy to the Kosovar Albanians, it could not go along with the US demand that a huge contingent of NATO troops be stationed on its territory in order to “monitor” (read: enforce) the Rambouillet compact. That was all the provocation Washington needed to start bombing.
Yugoslavia was well within its sovereign prerogatives in refusing to allow NATO troops to occupy a part of its territory. Apologists for Washington can shout till they are blue in the face that Belgrade was wrong to assume NATO troops would be biased against the Serbs. That is hardly the point. There is no law on earth — except the law of the jungle and the `Brezhnev Doctrine’ — which says that an independent country can be compelled to accept the military presence of an alien power.
Indeed, according to any standard dictionary, the unauthorised entry of foreign troops into a country is termed an `invasion’. That is what the Warsaw Pact did when it crossed Czechoslovak borders in 1968, or the US did when it entered Grenada and Panama. A more recent example of the unauthorised ingress of foreign troops was Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.
With the bombardment of Yugoslavia, the pernicious doctrine of `humanitarian intervention’ has taken an ominous turn. In 1993, the US was able to push for the UN-sponsored invasion of Somalia on the pretext that the absence of a government in Mogadishu meant the `international community’ could afford to ignore Somali sovereignty. In the process, hundreds of civilians were killed in Mogadishu as the US administration tried its best to eliminate Somali leaders who opposed the foreign military presence.
The same doctrine of `humanitarian intervention’ was invoked when `no- fly zones’ were imposed on Iraq, this time allegedly to protect the Kurds, Shias and Marsh Arabs. Though there is no UN authorisation for these `no-fly zones’, the US has been able to get away with its violations of Iraqi sovereignty because of Baghdad’s `original sin’ in invading Kuwait. In the case of Yugoslavia, however, there is neither the pretext of an absence of government or of an invasion of another country.
It is regrettable that some Islamic countries have been short-sighted enough to egg on NATO in its assault on Serbia. Yes, the Kosovars are Muslims and Belgrade has treated them badly. But what these countries don’t realise is that the precedent which is being set by Washington will be used against them the next time they pose a challenge to US or western hegemony. If NATO is allowed to get away with its brazen act of aggression against Yugoslavia, the stage will be set for further `humanitarian’ displays of force by the big powers. Admittedly, the case of Kosovo is very different from that of ethnic, religious or national minorities in other multi-ethnic, multi-religious or multi- national
states; indeed, Serb president Slobodan Milosevic has been unusually pig-headed in his approach to demands for regional autonomy. Yet, to accept that any country can `punish’ another for its approach to questions of federalism, devolution and regional autonomy, or for its way of prosecuting a civil war or fighting terrorism, is to set a dangerous precedent.
Kashmir is not Kosovo and India is not Yugoslavia. However, for argument’s sake, what would happen if the BJP were to do a Milosevic in Kashmir by revoking Article 370? Of course, most Indians would protest, but would the US have any locus standi in the matter? Could it demand a reversal? Or the right to station NATO `peacekeepers’ to make sure Kashmiri autonomy is respected? Or the right to rain missiles and bombs on Delhi? To take an absurd example, if Spain decides to revoke the autonomy granted to the Basques, would a third party like Libya have the right to station its troops in Basque country?
These scenarios are, admittedly, fanciful but there is another, more immediate danger: that the NATO bombing might trigger new instabilities in the Balkan and Mediterranean regions. If NATO persists with its mindless approach and Serbia is forced to comply, an independent Kosovo will be a fait accompli. That would generate irredentist pressures for a `Greater Albania’ which might draw Macedonia and possibly even Greece and Turkey into a wider conflagration. By attacking Yugoslavia, NATO might have started a conflict whose end is difficult to predict in all respects save one: the role of the US in European security will be further enhanced.