Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why NATO cannot be trusted

What do bagpipes have to do with the war in Libya? On NATO’s website, you can read about Marc Forterre, a French colonel and avid piper, whose musical instrument was mistaken for a weapon by airport staff in Addis Ababa. It would make a charming vignette, if it wasn’t for how the tale segues into editorialising about how the alliance helps the African Union to conduct its own military operations.

This celebration of trans-continental harmony is deceitful. It omits any acknowledgment of how most African governments are at odds with NATO over its attacks on Libya – and with good reason.

Apologists for the war maintain that it is based on the “responsibility to protect”, a concept usually abbreviated as R2P. Yet by examining past comments of James Jones, the decorated general who was Barack Obama’s national security adviser until November last, we might get a more accurate explanation. “As commander of NATO, I worried early in the mornings about how to protect energy facilities and supply chain routes as far away as Africa, the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea,” Jones said in 2008. (It is instructive that he joined the board of Chevron earlier that year).

Though the main tenets of R2P look laudable, the background of its chief proponent Gareth Evans can only arouse suspicion. When he was Australia’s foreign minister in 1989, Evans signed the Timor Gap Treaty with his then Indonesian counterpart Ali Alatas. This enabled the theft of oil resources off East Timor, where 250,000 people died in one of the twentieth century’s most brutal occupations.

Just as the motives of a sham humanitarian like Evans should be questioned, doubts must be cast on Obama’s sincerity when he defended bombing Libya on the pretext “we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale”. Could the haste with which the West intervened not have more to do with Libya boasting Africa’s largest proven oil reserves? And were Western leaders and their chums in BP and Total not jittery over threats made by Muammar Gaddafi in 2009 (and reiterated in the past few weeks) to nationalise those resources?

Yes, it may be too reductionist to describe what is happening in Libya as another war for oil. The truth is probably that it is not only a war for oil but also to assert the control of America and its European stooges over Africa.

Having already declared war in Europe (Serbia) and taken charge of one in Asia (Afghanistan), it was perhaps logical that NATO would soon stretch its imperial tentacles into Africa. In 2007, Africom, its command for operations in Africa, was set up. “Factsheets” churned out from Africom’s headquarters in Stuttgart bragged of support for health, education and water projects. Yet that mask of charity belies a remark made by Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, then NATO’s secretary-general, the previous year, when he said the alliance was willing to use warplanes to secure oil and gas supply routes from Africa.

No war is fought for noble motives. If you really think that Sarkozy or Obama wished to protect civilian lives, study the eyewitness account signed by Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian doctors working in Libya on 24 March. They document how dozens of innocent people were killed and maimed by NATO bombs falling on residential areas of Tajhura, a suburb of Tripoli. The onslaught led to the roof collapsing in the maternity ward of a hospital, causing numerous miscarriages.

This serves as a reminder of how NATO bombed Serbia in 1999. On that occasion, a children’s hospital in Belgrade’s embassy district was targeted. As Michel Chossudovsky, a Canadian economist, points out on the website Global Research, sleeping babies were spared by the alliance’s missiles. Generators were hit instead, depriving incubators of power.

Moreover, there is a distinct possibility that the consequences of NATO’s actions will continue to be felt in Libya long after the bombs have stopped falling, especially if those bombs were coated with depleted uranium (DU). While the Pentagon has said it has no reports that the substance is being used, the A-10 Warthogs flown by the US Air Force are equipped with guns designed to fire DU-tipped munitions.

I called a NATO spokesman to ask if the alliance has any policy or rules on depleted uranium. “The jury is still out scientifically on what the ramifications and dangers of using it are,” the spokesman told me. That appears to me as a flimsy attempt to justify the unjustifiable. While it may be impossible to prove that the upsurge of childhood cancer found in Iraq following the First Gulf War (1991) was linked to DU, there is ample circumstantial evidence to suggest it can have lethal consequences. Jawad Khadim al-Ali, an Iraqi doctor, is among those to have found an abnormally high incidence of cancer in parts of Basra where intense bombardment took place.

If you still need reasons why NATO should not be trusted, check out Rolling Stone’s new account of what young soldiers serving with the alliance got up to in Afghanistan. After Andrew Holmes, a corporal, nonchalantly shot dead an unarmed farmer, his squad leader presented him with the man’s finger as a trophy.

“Our values are firmly based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s secretary general and former Danish premier, said at the end of March. How are those values compatible with rewarding a murderer?

·First published by New Europe (, 3-9 April 2011

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