NATO reform needed

It is time for the citizenry of NATO countries to demand that the principles contained in the original NATO treaty be honoured and that Article I be followed. Bellicose statements, sanctions and other warlike moves (however futile) are not helpful in reaching a peaceful solution to the Ukraine problem.

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Conflict Background


By James Bissett

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was meant to be a purely defensive organization. When the Brussels Treaty of 1948 established the European Defence Alliance of five European countries, it was Canada’s Minister of Foreign affairs, Louis St. Laurent, who proposed the alliance be expanded to include the United States and Canada. One year later, in April 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was born. The primary purpose of the new organization was to defend member states from any attack from the Soviet Union and to act in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

NATO was born in the aftermath of the Second World War. Its founders were painfully aware that having reached the mid-point of the 20th century there had already been two world wars and the dropping of the atom bomb on civilian cities. They were determined that war and violence should not become the norm in resolving disputes and it was in this spirit that Article I of the treaty was conceived.

Article I of the Treaty made this abundantly clear. It read:

The parties undertake, as set out forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international dispute in which they may be involved, by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered… and to refrain from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”

For fifty years NATO was successful in deterring aggression against the West. A combination of conventional forces and the nuclear bomb created a mutual understanding that armed conflict between the two opposing powers was not an option. Critically important, however, was Article I itself because it was a guarantee to the Soviet Union that it would never be attacked by NATO forces. Article I acted as a safety blanket for the Soviets.

Ironically, the fall of the Soviet empire did not foretell the beginning of a new age of peace and security in Europe. On the contrary, the empire’s demise caused a crisis in NATO. After the Warsaw Pact armies had returned home what was the justification of maintaining such an expensive and powerful military force in Europe. NATO’s response was – business as usual- a continuation of the Cold war. As the respected former United States Ambassador to Moscow, George F Kennan wrote in 1987…”Were the Soviet Union, to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military industrial complex would have to remain substantially unchanged until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy.” Until his death Kennan continued to deplore NATO’s hostile encirclement of Russia.

In fact, NATO didn’t have to find another adversary it just pretended nothing had changed and acted accordingly. NATO’s behaviour towards Russia speaks for itself; a record marked by duplicity, double standards and hypocrisy. One of its first acts was to convert the Alliance from a purely defensive organization to one that could intervene militarily to resolve international disputes by force. The opportunity for this transformation occurred with the 78 day bombing of Serbia in March 1999 carried out by NATO without authorization from the UN Security Council. Later, in violation of UN Resolution 1244 reaffirming Serbia’s sovereignty over Kosovo, NATO recognized the unilateral declaration of Kosovo independence – declared without any pretence of a referendum.

During the bombing on NATO’s 50th birthday, US President Bill Clinton announced a new role for NATO – from now he declared, in effect, that NATO could intervene wherever and  whenever it decided to do so. Article I of the treaty presumably had been nullified by Presidential decree. The NATO treaty had been turned upside down. In the same month NATO admitted Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO thus breaking the promise made to Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev that if Russia allowed a united Germany into NATO the organization would never expand eastward.

The current crisis in Ukraine threatens global security and at worst has the potential for nuclear catastrophe. At best it signals a continuation of the Cold War. Sadly, the crisis is completely unnecessary and the responsibility lies entirely in the hands of the United States – led NATO powers. The almost virulent propaganda onslaught blaming Russia for the instability and violence in Ukraine simply ignores reality and the facts.

NATO, spurred on by the United States, has been determined since the collapse of the Soviet Union to surround Russia with hostile NATO members. The first attempt to win Ukraine over to the West through the Orange Revolution in 2004 failed but NATO kept trying and now has “let slip the dogs of war” on that unfortunate country.

It was inevitable that NATO’s expansion eastward would at some point run into hostile Russian reaction. The attack on South Ossetia in 2008 by the US armed and trained Georgian military was the last straw and Russia finally showed its teeth and crushed the Georgian offensive in 48 hours. The Russians then added insult to injury by recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. President Putin had warned that the illegal recognition of Kosovo independence would set a dangerous precedent and endanger the international framework of peace and security. Obviously his warning was unheeded and now the Cold War has started again. This was not supposed to happen.

It is time for the citizenry of NATO countries to demand that the principles contained in the original NATO treaty be honoured and that Article I be followed. Bellicose statements, sanctions and other warlike moves (however futile) are not helpful in reaching a peaceful solution. NATO’s Secretary General should stop threatening Russia and instead reaffirm to the world that Article 1 of the treaty will be enforced.

James Bissett is a former Canadian Ambassador to Yugoslavia where he served from 1990 to 1992. He was also Ambassador to Bulgaria and Albania, and was an Assistant under Secretary for Social Affairs at  the Foreign Ministry in Ottawa.

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