Monday, January 17, 2011

Fake feminism NATO-style

Back in 2002, the Indian writer Arundhati Roy brilliantly satirised the official excuses for the invasion of Afghanistan . “It’s being made out that the whole point of the war was to topple the Taliban regime and liberate Afghan women from their burqas,” she said. “We are being asked to believe that the US marines are actually on a feminist mission.”

The effort to rebrand militarism as compassionate and motherly continues today in NATO’s Brussels headquarters. Stefanie Babst, a senior official in the alliance working on “public diplomacy” (a synonym for propaganda), keeps busy trying to raise the profile of a decade-old United Nations Security Council Resolution on gender, peace and security. It is “extremely encouraging” that NATO is committed to this resolution – number 1325 in case you were wondering – and its call that women and children be shielded from violence during armed conflicts, Babst has declared.

Can it really be the case that NATO is sparing women from the horrors of the war it is waging in Afghanistan? Of course, it can’t.

UN data published in December stated that 742 civilians were killed or wounded by NATO or by Afghan forces loyal to Hamid Karzai’s government in the first ten months of last year. Most of these casualties – including 162 deaths – were attributed to air strikes, a NATO speciality.

Documents made public through the heroic work of WikiLeaks have helped give us a glimpse of what Afghans have to endure. On 16 August 2007 Polish troops mortared a wedding party in a village called Nangar Khel. Four women and one man were killed. A pregnant woman in attendance was among those wounded by shrapnel. Though an emergency caesarean was performed, her baby died.

NATO’s attempts to master the dark arts of spin cannot be allowed to conceal the brazen opportunism of the alliance. When the Soviet Union started to collapse, there was much nervousness among NATO staff that their beloved institution would go out of business. After a lengthy period of scrambling around for reasons why the alliance was still relevant now that the Cold War was supposed to be over, it was given a new lease of life with the implosion of Yugoslavia. In 1999, NATO celebrated its fiftieth anniversary by raining down cluster bombs – weapons so dangerous that over 100 governments have subsequently agreed to ban them – on Serbia. No soldier, general or political leader serving the alliance has ever been held to account for that monstrous war crime.

Afghanistan has helped ensure that NATO will remain alive and kicking for the foreseeable future. In August 2003, NATO took charge of the US-led “stabilisation force” occupying Afghanistan. Karl Eikenberry, now US ambassador to Afghanistan and a former deputy commander of NATO’s 28-nation military committee, stated in 2007 that “the policy of turning Afghanistan over to NATO was really about the future of NATO rather than about Afghanistan, one that could ‘make’ the alliance. The long view of the Afghanistan campaign is that it is a means to continue the transformation of the alliance.”

Transforming NATO “means in the first place expanding it into a global military force, one able to wage wars like that in Afghanistan and others modeled after it,” Rick Rozoff has observed on his excellent “Stop NATO” blog.

In his New Year’s message, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the alliance’s secretary general, rejoiced in how there are now nearly 140,000 NATO soldiers deployed around the world: in the Balkans, Iraq, the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean (off the Horn of Africa), as well as in Afghanistan. Rasmussen would like us to think that all these men and women are working tirelessly to bring peace and stability to trouble spots. But closer inspection of NATO’s track record shows that their primary purpose is to ensure that the US and Europe will have access to energy supplies and other resources that our myopic governments regard as essential for our economies.

NATO’s activities in Africa, for example, have received only a fraction of the media coverage given to Iraq or Afghanistan. But the bit of information that we have available to us is illuminating. James Jones, who stepped down in October as the US national security adviser, paid a considerable amount of attention to Africa when he was a high-level NATO commander a few years previously. In 2006, Jones signalled that NATO was thinking about using the fight against piracy as a pretext to launch a mission off the Horn of Africa and in the Gulf of Guinea. The aim of this mission would be to avert any perceived threats to the energy supply routes for Western nations, he said.

It is about time that journalists grew more sceptical than we have been towards the whole industry of think tanks and self-appointed experts in Brussels and Washington who praise NATO at every available opportunity. For many years, I was naive enough to believe that an influential outfit called the International Crisis Group (ICG) was a credible source of information and ideas on conflict resolution. My illusions have been shattered by an article from its president Louise Arbour last month, in which she argued that greater resources should be allocated to NATO’s war efforts in Afghanistan. Arbour used to be the UN’s high commissioner for human rights but did not direct one word against how NATO’s bombs routinely rob Afghans of that most basic of rights: the right to life. Shame on her.

·First published by New Europe (, 16-22 January 2011.

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