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NATO: An Anachronism or still a Necessity?
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2014-07-20 12:47:57
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The whole international community remains in shock at the recent Malaysia Airlines shoot down in the Ukraine on Thursday the 30th of July 2014. All 298 passengers and crew were killed. The evidence is fast mounting that Russian-backed separatists are responsible for firing the missile that downed the passenger plane. In the same week two Ukrainian military planes were downed in the very same area. A Russian news agency reported last month that the rebels had obtained surface-to-air missiles capable of striking aircraft flying at 72,000 feet.

What ought to be equally shocking is that Vladimir Putin, the authoritarian president of the Russian Federation who gave the green light to supply those missiles and for months has been meddling in the affairs of its neighbor, only a day after the incident, before any conclusive investigation had occurred, convened a meeting at the Kremlin and blamed the Ukrainian government for the downing of the aircraft while hypocritically observing a minute of silence in honor of the victims. He further said that the incident happened on Ukrainian soil and the Ukrainian government bears responsibility for what happens there: “This tragedy would not have happened if there had been peace on that land, or in any case if military operations in southeastern Ukraine had not been renewed,”  

So, it would appear that when it comes to assigning blame and responsibility for destabilization and turmoil on the land, Putin not unlike a chameleon, turns into an ardent believer in the respect and reverence due to the sanctity of sovereignty among nations. It’s a sort of opportunistic situation ethics: one believes in sovereignty only when it is convenient. In the Crimean peninsula, which was integral part of Ukraine’s sovereignty, it did not prove too convenient and so it was promptly annexed.  

To use an apt metaphor, this is quite similar to a rapist surreptitiously and illegally entering a house, raping the woman who resides there, and then asserting that since the crime happened in her home, she bears responsibility for it; after all everybody is sovereign in their own home. One needs not be Machiavellian to see the sleight of hand at work in this sort of political thinking. To add insult to injury, the crime scene in eastern Ukraine remains guarded by the same people who committed the crime (a crime of negligence and incompetence, at the very least), where anybody from the international community who arrives on the scene to investigate the crime is met with open hostility.

Some political observers are now claiming that we ought not be too surprised at what happened. Fecklessness is usually mistaken for weakness by any bully who will quickly take advantage of it; and only emboldens the bully who, if not confronted sooner, will have to be confronted later at a higher price in blood and treasure. They say that the West in general has shown little appetite for confronting Russian aggression and that now that scores of European citizens have been murdered on European soil, thus internationalizing the separatist conflict in the Ukraine, it is high time to fundamentally alter the West’s relationship with the regime in Moscow by abandoning a policy of convenience, mostly economic convenience. As the saying goes, one cannot have the cake and eat it too. Either one defends principles of freedom and sovereignty or one goes to bed with a bully in order to ensure one’s economic interests. There is no real synthesis of the two possible. Those pundits may have a point worth pondering!

Be that as it may, the irrefutable fact is that, contrary to Putin’s assessment as to why there is no peace on the land, there has been in place for a while now a thinly disguised strategy on the part of the Russian government of funding and equipping a violent insurgency that has by now taken hundreds of innocent lives. If one gives sophisticated war toys such as surface-to-air missiles, poor training, logistical support to a rowdy band of drunken thugs, for the purpose of waging a proxy war, the results are more than predictable. And, alas, they have happened.

It would be poetic justice, given that most of the victims of the downed plane are Dutch, if the perpetrators of this outrage be brought to justice and prosecuted at the International Court of Justice at the Hague, in the Netherlands.

And so, as we in the West sanctimoniously and hypocritically continue to be shocked by this catastrophe, a more philosophical geo-political question arises: is NATO (The North Atlantic Treaty Organization) an anachronism, as some have claimed at the end of the cold war, or is it still very much needed? Following the Snowden caper, we hear much about an alleged rift between allies mistrustful of each other and bent on spying on each other. That unfortunately plays right into Putin’s agenda of divide and conquer. Some say that the US does not appreciate how much it needs the EU, others say it is really the other way around. Some have even prepared the death certificate of NATO which awaits to be duly signed by all of its participants. But could it be that perhaps the whole exercise is a bit premature in the light of the fact that one of Putin’s strategies is the creation of a rift between the EU and the US, abetted in this by the Trojan horse now residing in the EU Parliament, the right-wing delegates from neo-fascist parties, mostly sympathetic to Putin’s bully tactics? Food for thought.

So the question persists: is the West shock misplaced considering the West’s tepid response to Moscow’s flagrant violations of Ukrainian sovereignty as evidenced by covert and overt support for the self-declared so called “Donetsk People’s Republic”? Not only has the response with some targeted economic sanctions been tepid and feckless, but France is now on schedule to deliver two Mistral amphibious assault ships to Russia. This contract was signed in 2008, mind you, the same year when Moscow invaded and occupied another neighbor, Georgia. Italy, currently occupying the EU presidency, is attempting, as we speak, to water down a further round of sanctions against Russia. Last Sunday, at the world Cup in Rio Angela Merkel, allegedly the most pugnacious European leader when it comes to dealing with Putin, was seen chatting away with Putin as if they were good old friends. And yet she ought to know better, having lived and suffered under the Soviet occupation of Eastern Germany. She ought to know that the fact that there are some people sitting in the hollowed chambers of democracy, duly elected at the ballot box,  does not mean that those people are friends of democracy. Similarly promotion of trade and commerce and entrepreneurship does not mean that democracy is being fomented in Europe and elsewhere. It would be enough to think of China which has been proving to the world that one can have economic and political power without democracy. How long that situation is sustainable remains to be seen, but eventually the piper will have to be paid, the piper being the appeased bully, or bear as the case may be, with which one continues to do business as usual.


Conviviality at the World Cup or burying one’s head in the sand?

Rather than disband NATO, should not NATO deploy more troops to Poland and the Baltic states, which have lately become rather nervous about Russian designs, simply to make clear to Putin that Article 5 of the Alliance means exactly what it stipulates, that an attack on one member state is an attack on all? The final question is this: Ought we in the West be a bit more discriminating in determining who are our real enemies, and who our real friends?


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Thanos2014-07-20 17:23:56

I have often written my disagreement with the existence of NATO. NATO is not just anachronistic but also a tool of serving certain geopolitics that necessarily and always serve the other members of NATO and it actually disgraces the role of the UN. Plus the organization has become the US weapons/airspace industry field to promote, sell and sometimes partner in the cost of the weapons, for the allies. Actually and despite the fact that other members have army industry only the German tanks managed to enter the close club of the providers of this supermarket.

The only time NATO proved its use – always regarding the then situations, geopolitics and political estimations – was during the Korean War. Other times when the participation of NATO was critical the organization failed dramatically. Two examples just came in mind, the case of Cyprus that brought two members of NATO in war; NATO didn’t even bother to mediate. Plus that in violation of the fundamental NATO rules Turkey used NATO information, bases and hardware for an imperialistic act and against an ally member.

And that was in 1970s; in 1980s NATO failed another ally and this time a prominent ally and close friend when was attacked and consequently saw part of its severity occupied by force, and this is the case of the Falkland Islands. I’m not talking about how fair or unfair it is for these islands to belong to the UK but the fact is that they do, and according the international law which Argentina violated. NATO remained quiet during the crisis with only exception of the British partners in EU, France and Germany. The same time NATO allies including Italy, Spain and Ireland stood openly for Argentina.

US role is equally questionable during the crisis since setting aside Ronald Reagan, for whom Thatcher in her autobiography had a series of excuses; Secretary of State Haig kept a neutral stand promoting a series of mediate proposals that gave the islands’ severity to Argentina, agreeing in moving Argentinean settlers to the island and last but not least for the American geopolitics interests, making USA a guarantee power with rights in the islands. All unacceptable for Thatcher which in a way was forced to take action to protect British citizens. This was not part of the NATO agreement and it was about anyone whop attacked member of the organization and not just USSR.

As a Greek I fully distrust NATO and if there is a necessity for a more united defence front I prefer if that front is formatted inside the European borders with an EU defence mechanism instead with an organization that more often has served specific geopolitics and interests.

Now coming to Putin, of course he has his own geopolitical aims and dividing America and Europe is the Russian dogma since the USSR era, but NATO is not a solution; on the contrary I think that any involvement of NATO will deepen the problem. I would prefer more diplomatic action from EU and UN than more armed forces. Last but for the semantic of the situation in Ukraine important, something that seems that it has escaped from most of the headlines. Ukrainians were looting the dead bodies from the plane crash looking for cash and credit cards. If we stop for a minute and think what that means and how dispirit these people are, then NATO is the last thing we need here.

Emanuel Paparella2014-07-21 11:43:44
A footnote: in the above piece it was mentioned that it would be poetic justice if the abettors and perpetrators of this horrendous deed, the shooting of the Malaysian passenger airlines with 298 people aboard, mostly Dutch-EU citizens, be brought to the court of international justice at the Hayes in the Netherlands. There is another way to bring this about in the language that Vladimir Putin best understands, something that has already been suggested in the media at large and seems to be gathering strength: FIFA, an organization shadowed by corruption, should redeem itself, so to speak, and rescind the award to Russia of the 2018 hosting of the World Cup which, like the Olympics of 2014 will surely be used for nationalistic propagandistic purposes, never mind the fomenting of cooperation among nations via sports. The manipulation of sports for jingoistic political purposes was the meaning that any perceptive observer could easily gather at the sight of Putin in Rio at the World Cup chatting away with Angela Merkel. The award should be given to the Netherlands, one of the original competitors for it. One may retort that such action runs the risk of prostituting sports to real politiks, but on the other hand, in the hands of a Machiavellian cynical political operator and manipulator, this negative outcome is bound to happen anyway. Why become an enabler?

Emanuel Paparella2014-07-21 13:43:12
Thanks Thanos for the benefit of your point of view on the matter of NATO and for dialoguing. Obviously there are some points of disagreements here, but there are many others in common and we should emphasize those. For example, whether it be NATO to promote respect for sovereignty and peaceful co-existence among nations, or it is the UN or the EU ought not matter that much, what ought to matter is that those goals are achieved, and not only rhetorically. Which is to say, people should step up to the plate and make the appropriate sacrifices to accomplish those worthy goals. I think that in principle we agree there.

Jingoistic nationalism should indeed be proclaimed dead and anathema in a global community which is increasingly interdependent but for that proclamation to be authentic it needs to be followed by deeds. William James once wrote that if you want to know that people or institutions really believe in do not pay so much attention to their words but to their actions. I think we agree in principle on that too.

I get your point on Cyprus. On the Falklands, it may prove useful to remember the history of European colonialism and imperialism in the Americas as well as the Monroe Doctrine which grants a certain amount of legitimacy to the idea of continental sovereignty; the way it is well understood in Australia. I have written a piece on this. When it appears in Ovi, we may perhaps continue the dialogue on the topic. In any case, thanks for the unfettered exchange of views on the subject, which, come to think of it, it’s what Ovi is all about and what makes it so attractive to thousands upon thousands of readers.

Thanos2014-07-21 20:38:11
Disagreement is healthy and makes democracy move!

To the point now. I absolutely agree with you about colonization and the Falkland Islands are British just to serve UK’s geopolitical and strategic needs (in case something happens with the panama canal or in general with south America) but saying that there are two elements we should never ignore. The population is British and they have a right to participate with their wills to any final decision and as far I know they feel British and not Argentineans. And then if Argentina wanted to end the dispute had a lot of chances since the 19th century.

Coming now to sports. I have the feeling that major sports events like the Olympics or the Mundial have always been polluted and manipulated by politics and money. Don’t forget the Berlin Olympics and later Moscow and Los Angeles. In football things are much worst and I think that the possibility that a next Mundial is going to be in the Arab peninsula by a country that has absolutely no tradition in football but with a lot of oil and money is at least embarrassing and of course it is common knowledge anymore that is all thanks to wide bribing. Saying that Russia used to be one of the major football powers and I think a lot of football funs would like to see this team return. Coming now to Putin trying to use the Mundial for political purposes, of course he will do it, just as he did with the winter Olympics last year. Fortunately sports worked independently offering a lot of excitement and Putin himself managed only to embarrass himself furthermore with all the masculine propaganda he did.

The plane crash was a horrible and unaccepted consequence to what is going on this minute in Ukraine. Ukraine is under moral and social crisis far worst than two sides fighting who is going to be in power and returning to Falklands, blaming directly Putin for the situation is like (returning to the same example) blaming Mitterrand for the loss of the British boats in Falkland’s because France sold missiles to Argentina. But to return to Ukraine, here only cooperation (even with Putin) can save these people, we like it or not, they like it or not. They are traditionally Russia’s “cousins” and when they will accept their historic identity only then things will move forward. In the meantime for me it came as a shock the fact that there were people looting the dead bodies from the crash.

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