Fine Mess NATO Has Got Us Into
As the mayhem in Syria shows, NATO does little but destabilise
the countries that it threatens to intervene in.
By Luke Gittos
October 10, 2012 "Information
- Can anyone still make a good argument in favour of NATO?
Even ardent interventionists, chomping at the bit to assert
Western military dominance over the globe, must be beginning to
doubt the worth of this perennially panicking mob of confused
At its members’ emergency meeting in Brussels last week,
following the accidental shelling of a Turkish border town by
one of the government-supporting factions in Syria, NATO was
shown to be in complete stasis. It condemned the incident in the
strongest terms and clumsily cited it as another example of the
Syrian authorities’ disregard ‘for international norms, peace
and security, and human life’, despite there being no evidence
that the rocket was fired by Syrian government troops.
Turkish-Syrian relations have been frosty since the outbreak of
the uprising. Turkey has continued to harbour Syrian refugees
and has developed good relations with the rebels, who have
seized most of the territory close to the Turkish border. Some
observers believe that the Turkish government is even providing
the rebels with arms. Turkey has already convened NATO under
article four in June this year, when Syrian government forces
shot down a Turkish plane which had strayed into Syrian air
space over the coastal province of Lataika. Following the
emergency meeting in June, the Dutch foreign minister indicated
that NATO considered military intervention in the Syrian
conflict, to defend Turkey or otherwise, to be ‘out of the
question’. Many analysts agree that there is little chance of
NATO undertaking a full-scale military intervention in Syria, at
least for the time being.
So why not? NATO claimed to have proven the effectiveness of its
interventions following the fall of Gaddafi in Libya. Writing in
Foreign Affairs magazine earlier this year, the US permanent
representative on the council of NATO, Ivo Daalder, wrote of how
Libya had been ‘rightly described as a “model intervention”’.
With NATO apparently riding high on its ‘victory’ in Libya, many
have been asking why it has prevaricated over supporting the
rebels in Syria.
Part of the answer is that no national leader wants to take
responsibility for what will unfold in Syria if Assad falls.
Although NATO officials describe the intervention in Libya as a
‘victory’, that intervention has left Libya in a state bordering
on civil war. The unresolved political tensions which permeated
the rebellion in Libya, drawing in fighters from all classes,
regions and religions, have manifested themselves violently
since the fall of Gaddafi. In the run-up to the first national
elections earlier this year, the National Transition Council,
the unelected transition government installed by the West after
Gaddafi’s killing, banned political parties based on tribal or
regional allegiances, many of which were calling for the nation
Indeed, Libya is still beset by regional violence from
separatist movements who feel that the process of transition has
left them worse off than they were under Gaddafi. The fractious
and chaotic state in which Libya now finds itself is
attributable to the intervention of NATO in the conflict. NATO
lent artificial cohesion to a rebellion movement which lacked
any democratic mandate to lead, or any clear direction for how
to lead, once the old regime had fallen.
The fate of post-Assad Syria would be even more chaotic.
Firstly, the ethnic make-up of the conflict is more complex.
Syrian Christians tend to be either neutral or support the
regime. The rebels are largely composed of Sunni Muslims who see
the regime mainly constituted of Alawites, as heretical. The
uprising in Aleppo is distinctly Islamist, whereas the uprising
in Homs is led by rebel groups that cut across ethnic and
religious divides. Like Libya, the uprising lacks any central
leadership to cohere these groups. While NATO was quick to claim
Libya as a ‘victory’, the shadow of the ongoing sectarian
violence is undoubtedly serving as a warning against
intervention in the already fractious rebellion in Syria.
Analysts have further pointed out that the scale of any
intervention in Syria would have to be far greater than in Libya
in order to be effective. Even establishing a no-fly zone would
require destroying 22 early-warning radar sites and
command-and-control facilities, 150 surface-to-air missile
batteries, 27 surface-to-surface missile batteries, 12 anti-ship
missile batteries, 32 airfield targets, and more than 200
hardened aircraft shelters. This would dwarf the military effort
required to defend the air space over Libya. Of course, there
are also realpolitik concerns standing in the way of
intervention, with an American election in November and economic
crisis in Europe.
When NATO’s approach to interventions appears so arbitrary, it
raises the question: what is NATO for? The organisation was
formed in 1949 under the North Atlantic Treaty to unify the
military powers of America and Europe following the Second World
War, and to stave off the threat of a Soviet invasion of Europe.
The first NATO secretary general, Lord Ismay, indicated the
singular purpose of the organisation when he stated in 1949 that
its goal was ‘to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and
the Germans down’. To this end, article five of the treaty
allows for an ‘armed attack against one or more of (member
countries) in Europe or North America (to) be considered an
attack against (all member countries)’.
Of course, that Russian invasion never came. Article five has
only ever been invoked once – by the Americans following 9/11.
NATO interventions have never relied on the provisions of the
North Atlantic Treaty, but they have been dependent on UN
resolutions. NATO is now effectively the armed wing of the UN.
As the example of Syria suggests, the archaic North Atlantic
Treaty seems ill-equipped to deal with the complex process of
intervening in foreign civil wars.
In and of itself, NATO is a rudderless, incoherent institution
whose ongoing existence serves to further destabilise and
unsettle the countries in which it intervenes. The current
stasis over Syria shows that NATO is (thankfully) blighted by a
dearth of leadership and is lacking in any coherent idea of its
own purpose. Whereas it was convened at a time when European
governments saw themselves as facing a palpable military threat,
it exists today solely as a medium for the West to cast itself
as the arbitrator of global conflicts – a role which history
suggests the West is ill-suited to play.
Even those who believe, in spite of its uniformly disastrous
history, that NATO can bring good to the world through its
military interventions must be scratching their heads after last
week. What happened to the glorious saviours of Bosnia? Or the
‘victorious’ liberators of Libya? They were reduced to confused
inaction by a stray rocket into Turkey. It is time to disband
this archaic, flailing institution of Western intervention.
After all, a confused babble of Western military powers, who act
arbitrarily and without any democratic mandate, is likely to
prove far more destabilising for the Middle East than a misfired
Luke Gittos is a paralegal working in criminal law and convenor
London Legal Salon.
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