NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg recently addressed the Workers Youth League (AUF) summer camp in Utøya, Norway. The AUF is Norway’s largest political youth organization and is affiliated with the Norwegian Labor Party. The AUF summer camp is of course famous for being the scene of the horrific terrorist attack perpetrated by neo-Nazi Anders Breivik in 2011.
Stoltenberg said little of note. Nonetheless, his speech was a remarkable demonstration of how little NATO has learned from the dramatic events of this year. A serious military conflict is taking place on the European continent, a conflict that NATO had played a substantial role in triggering through its unwavering insistence on scooping up as many countries in Europe, Central Asia and beyond into its military system, without any regard for the security concerns of others.
The war in Ukraine is moreover the second major conflict to break out on the European continent within the last 25 years. Both of these conflicts are inextricably linked to two NATO commitments: first, to limitless expansion and, second, to the elimination of Russia’s presence and influence from Europe once and for all. The war in Ukraine was triggered by the first commitment; the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia by the second.
Bombing of Yugoslavia down the memory hole
Stoltenberg is of course cheerfully oblivious to any of this. At one point during his speech, he even had the insolence to say of the fighting in Ukraine:
We are seeing acts of war, attacks on civilians and destruction not seen since World War II. We cannot be indifferent to this.
Not “seen since World War II”? Stoltenberg, like most official front-men for NATOLand, has evidently forgotten the 11-week bombing campaign that NATO waged against Yugoslavia, the first bombing attacks on major European cities since Hitler. Some of NATO’s atrocities include: a daytime attack on a passenger train crossing the railway bridge over the Južna Morava river at Grdelica gorge, killing 14; the attack on the column of displaced civilians over a 12-mile stretch of road between Djakoviča and Decani in western Kosovo, killing 73; the attack on the Belgrade headquarters of Radio Television of Serbia, killing 16; the attack on a residential area in the southern town of Surdulica in southeastern Serbia, killing 16; the destruction of a passenger bus on Lužane bridge in Kosovo, killing at least 23; the daytime cluster bombing of the market in Niš, killing 15; the bombing of the Kosovo Albanian village of Koriša, killing 87; the attack on the Dragiša Mišović hospital in Belgrade, killing three; the attack on the bridge in Varvarin in south-central Serbia, killing three; the bombing of a sanatorium and a nearby old people’s home in Surdilica, killing 17; the attack on an apartment building in Novi Pazar in southwest Serbia, killing 10.
The list can easily be extended. The point is that NATO continues to live in its own delusional world in which a 30-country-strong military alliance, armed with nuclear weapons, is purely “defensive” and wouldn’t in a million years dream of hurting a fly.
Countries “can choose their own path”
President Putin, Stoltenberg claimed,
has attacked an entire innocent country and people, with military force, to achieve his political goals. What he is really doing is challenging the world order we believe in. Where all countries, large and small, can choose their own path. He does not accept the sovereignty of other countries.
It is easy—and not a little tedious—to list everything that is objectionable about that statement. Ukraine is hardly entirely “innocent”: The current government in Kiev came to power in 2014 through a violent coup against a legally-elected government; it has waged an eight-year war against its own people, in which some 13,000 (maybe more) people have been killed; it has imposed a blockade against the civilian population of its own country; it has refused to implement a peace agreement that it had signed and that was subsequently adopted by the U.N. Security Council in Resolution 2202 (2015).
As for using military force to “achieve political goals,” well, NATO has done an awful lot of that. NATO bombed the Serbs of Bosnia in 1995 in order to secure the creation of an artificial state in the Balkans that would effectively be under NATO’s control. Because NATO failed to achieve its desired goal, namely, the creation of a unitary state, it has been seeking to undermine the agreement that ended the war ever since. The Dayton Accords of 1995 crafted an unwieldy state of Bosnia and Herzegovina made up of two loosely-connected entities—the Muslim-Croat federation and the Republika Srpska. However, the Dayton agreement made no mention of the creation of joint Bosnian state institutions such a national army, still less of any prospective NATO membership. Yet the NATO powers have more than 25 years continued to pretend that any reluctance on the part of the state’s citizens (mostly the Serbs) to follow through on the creation of a national army and of course on applying for NATO membership or realizing their “Euro-Atlantic ambitions,” to use the preferred jargon is a violation of Dayton Accords. “We will not tolerate Republika Srpska’s secessionist policies, which endanger Bosnia and Herzegovina’s future and the stability in the region,” the democracy-loving G-7 foreign ministers thundered in a joint statement issued on May 14.
NATO also used military force to secure political goals when it bombed Yugoslavia in 1999. NATO sought to topple the government of President Slobodan Milošević and to seize the province of Kosovo from Serbia. This province, like Bosnia and Herzegovina, has remained under effective NATO occupation and serves as home to a giant, brand-new US military base in Europe, Camp Bondsteel.
NATO also used military force in 2011 when it launched an “unprovoked” bombing attack on Libya in order to get rid of independent-minded Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi—long a thorn in the side of the West. There was some ludicrous talk at the time emanating from NATO and NATO governments that only a prolonged bombing campaign could save the residents of Benghazi from “genocide.” A subsequent U.K. House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report, “Libya: Examination of Intervention and Collapse and the U.K.’s Future Policy Options,” ridiculed the assertions NATO made in order to justify its attack:
Despite his rhetoric, the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence. The Gaddafi regime had retaken towns from the rebels without attacking civilians in early February 2011….More widely, Muammar Gaddafi’s 40-year record of appalling human rights abuses did not include large-scale attacks on Libyan civilians.
Stoltenberg, protected by an obsequious NATO press corps, can rest easy that he will never be confronted with such unpleasant facts. The rest of Stoltenberg’s claims were standard Western cliches. “World order we believe in”? Who’s the “we”? The “we” obviously don’t include most of the countries of the world, the ones who have pointedly refused to join in the Western sanctions campaign against Russia.
As for countries’ right to choose “their own path,” that in NATO parlance only applies to countries that choose the path laid down by NATO. Serbia certainly didn’t enjoy that right in the 1990s. The most truthful explanation for NATO’s extraordinary hostility toward Yugoslavia during that decade, a hostility that culminated in a brutal bombing campaign, came straight from the horse’s mouth. John Norris, former communications director to Strobe Talbott, deputy secretary of state during the Clinton administration, wrote in his book, Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo (2005):
It was Yugoslavia’s resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform—not the plight of Kosovar Albanians—that best explains NATO’s war. Milošević had been a burr in the side of the transatlantic community for so long that the United States felt that he would only respond to military pressure. Slobodan Milošević’s repeated transgressions ran directly counter to the vision of a Europe “whole and free,” and challenged the very value of NATO’s continued existence….It was precisely because Milošević had been so adroit at outmaneuvering the West that NATO came to view the ever-escalating use of force as its only option….NATO went to war in Kosovo because its political and diplomatic leaders had [sic] enough of Milošević and saw his actions disrupting plans to bring a wider stable of nations into the transatlantic community
There it is: nothing to do with Kosovo, and everything to do with resistance to NATO/E.U. takeover of every piece of real estate in Europe. The Serbia of today, incidentally, has no more of a right to choose its own path than the Serbia of the 1990s had. Serbian political leaders, including Serbian President Alexander Vučić, have repeatedly spoken out about the pressure they have been subjected to by the NATO powers in order to get them to agree to imposing sanctions against their longstanding friend and ally, Russia. Doubtless, had Qaddafi not been murdered during NATO’s 2011 bombing campaign, he too could today adumbrate in some detail on the issue of Libya’s right to choose its own path.
In any case, an unconditional right to join NATO—the right to choose one’s own path—has never been considered the fundamental determinant of national sovereignty. There is no article in the U.N. Charter that says that every U.N. member-state has the right to join any military alliance it wants without regard to the security concerns of other U.N. member-states. It is certainly not a right that the United States recognizes, as evidenced by its recent furious response to the news that the Solomon Islands (nowhere near physically to the United States) had signed a security agreement with China, which might lead to China’s building a military base on the islands.
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