NATO ... going beyond

I am rather concerned by the statement yesterday that NATO is to take control of the military operation in Libya.

Statement by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Libya


NATO Allies have decided to take on the whole military operation in Libya under the United Nations Security Council Resolution. Our goal is to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack from the Gaddafi regime. NATO will implement all aspects of the UN Resolution. Nothing more, nothing less.

This is a very significant step, which proves NATO's capability to take decisive action.

In the past week, we have put together a complete package of operations in support of the United Nations Resolution by sea and by air. We are already enforcing the arms embargo and the No Fly Zone, and with today's decision we are going beyond. We will be acting in close coordination with our international and regional partners to protect the people of Libya.

We have directed NATO's top operational Commander to begin executing this operation with immediate effect.

NATO, 27 March 2011

In my view, it is probably possible to justify the United Nations' resolution to take military action in Libya. However I think we need to ask very serious questions about why the UN should permit such military action in one country while not taking the same position in other countries where attempts have been made to overthrow its leader. But a change in the general policy of not intervening in the internal affairs of countries is in itself not a bad thing.

I also think that Western governments have made a mistake in thinking that the population of Libya detests Gadaffi to the same extent as they do. Gadaffi seems to have considerable support among sections of the population of Libya, so we are taking sides in a civil war, but without any real idea of what elements we are fighting to bring to power instead. For there is a big difference between a popular uprising that involves only civil protest and therefore offers the possibility of a democratic solution in an undivided country, and a military solution by which an alternative faction will take control and perhaps make things no better.

In a very real sense the governments of the attacking countries are following the pattern of shooting first and leaving the questions until later. They are doing little more than trusting to luck.


However, those are different issues. The issue I want to focus on is why NATO as an organization should become involved. I don't think anyone could read the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 as anything other than setting up an alliance for mutual defence in response to an attack on any of its members. Yet NATO seems to be inexorably changing into a force that is openly being used for offensive purposes.

Perhaps, but only perhaps, one could claim that the security of some of NATO's member countries was threatened by Afghanistan. I would call it an indirect and at best a very tenuous link. Yet NATO is there, halfway across the world from the legitimate sphere of concern set out in its founding Treaty. However in the case of Libya, there is absolutely no threat to the security of any other country, let alone one that is a member of NATO. It is a purely internal matter.

So it is perhaps legitimate for countries such as the USA, France and the UK ... plus others such as Belgium, Canada and Qatar to conduct attacks in Libya in their own right, as an "alliance of the willing". But it cannot be legitimate for a defensive organization to conduct such attacks, even if all 28 members were to agree that they want to be involved in the operation.

NATO has served us well over the past 60 years, and all organizations need to adapt over time; but to my mind these fundamental changes are now taking NATO way beyond its intended purpose and can only weaken it. In Afghanistan we have already seen the reluctance of some members to contribute their own forces to operations they aren't keen on. Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Iceland and Luxembourg have not contributed to the NATO led forces in Afghanistan, other members only contributed limited logistic support and others seem only to have made a nominal contribution on condition that their armed forces were as far out of harm's way as possible. In this new operation in Libya even fewer will take part. This is quite understandable, but by setting the precedent of only taking part if you want to, NATO runs the risk of countries taking the same attitude if any member were actually to be attacked ... and that's what it's really there for.

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Anonymous said...

I share these concerns- Nato did not need to do this. It chose to do this because the powers involved want Nato to remain relevant.

Anonymous said...

... you're concerned, what like China and Russia and other repressive states are concerned.

I'm glad NATO is taking the lead. The UN never will and never can. If NATO can be a force or proxy for promoting democracy in the world, even if only piecemeal and when exceptional circumstances arise, then I'm glad.

Why do Welsh nationalists, who support the right of non-nation state peoples (like ourselves or the Kurds, Tibetians, etc.) feel the need to support the Westphalian principle which has been used as an excuse by 'nation'-states to kill off rebellions by national minorities?

NATO isn't perfect, it won't fight for the Kurds against Turkey or Tibet against China. But, if China, Russia and other states are concerned that NATO is putting the rights of peoples above states, then as a Welsh nationalists, I'm glad.


Anonymous said...

Unwisely, NATO are involves in Africa, NATO, stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, it was created to counter the threat from the Warsaw Pact alliance, to discourage, and prevent another War in Europe. The main ideal of NATO, was, an attack on one of the member states, was an attack on all of them. It kept the peace in Europe from 1946, when the Iron Curtain descended on Eastern Europe. So, why is NATO in Libya, and the Americans pushing and driving the conflict, simple..........Oil.

Anonymous said...

And please don't listen to the Government going on about Democracy and freedom, that's just an excuse to get their sweaty hands on Oil, soon, the Isreali's will say they will help NATO, then all hell will break loose.....

MH said...

I'm not sure you've understood what I was saying, Macsen, particularly the break between what's above the NATO logo and what's below it.

I don't have a problem with the UN passing 1973, except that it is not doing this consistently in other similar situations elsewhere. Nor do I have a problem with countries conducting attacks in Libya under the terms of that resolution.

The problem is essentially the difference between the willingness and obligation. NATO exists as an organization in which each member is obliged to spring to the defence of any other member that is attacked. It is a sort of all or nothing "three line whip". Its strength is the level of certainty that all the other members will unquestioningly fight to defend it from attack. It is fundamentally different when no member of NATO is either being attacked or even under any threat.

If we want to set an organization of willing countries that will intervene in situations all over the world when civilians are being attacked, all well and good. I would welcome that. But each case would be different, and a country that was willing in one situation might not be so willing in another ... so I doubt whether it could engender the same level of certainty. My point is that NATO cannot (under the terms of its founding treaty) and should not try to do two very different jobs at once, for making participation optional in some circumstances will tend to dilute the level of certainty and thus undermine its essential purpose.

Anonymous said...

MH I agree with you entirely, it seems to me that NATO has been sent on detachment to Libya by special request of the UN, which makes it dubious as to whom requested NATO and why? The answer there is good old uncle sam, they are using NATO as their own international police force, I doubt very much if they would be there, if the Warsaw Pact was still alive and well in the East.

I digress, of course we all know that NATO stood for Not Able To Organise, but today we have the vast power and future planning of America who whips up civil unrest in the name of democracy if the Country just happens to be a major Oil exporter. In the good old days there were only 2 real members of NATO, Britain and the US, so whatever America wants, Britain has to follow suit, just to keep Uncle Sam and the special relationship sweet.

Unfortunately, France has jumped in, ( NOT A NATO MEMBER) just to keep their side of the bed warm for Uncle Sam, Francw would not join NATO because they were sick and tired of losing every war, their wives and girlfriends going over to the enemy, etc, so we see, we have an European Force, fighting a war in Africa. Where next for NATO, Argentina if the Argetinians invade the Falklands?

Anonymous said...

Hilarious article on Tory home:

Anonymous said...
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