Friday 27 May 2011

NATO “saving civilians” thru bombs (PO)

M. D. Nalapat
All talk about the “emergence” of India and China has stopped with the continuance of the ceaseless bombarding of Libyan cities by NATO. This alliance seems able to go into action only in situations where it faces very weak opposition. Against such weaklings, its

soldiers, sailors and aircrew fight eagerly, conducting their missions with impunity, whether it be against the Serbians in the former Yugoslavia a decade ago or against the legally recognized regime in Libya, that made the mistake of surrendering its WMD capability peacefully in 2003,only to now face attempted decapitation. Each bomb dropped by NATO on Libya shows up the weakness of China and India, both of which have been forced to watch this attack on a defenseless country in silence. Those who believed that they could rely on Beijing to block UN Security Council action crafted by the majority group of the US, the UK and France have now been shown to be wrong. The Chinese do not want to annoy the NATO powers, on whom it depends for much of its export markets.

What a contrast to the period when Mao Zedong or even Deng Xiaoping was in charge. Those two were revolutionaries, unafraid to challenge the world. Chairman Mao at one time went against both the US and the USSR, although the 1960s were harsh years for the economy of the Peoples Republic. Unlike the present, when Beijing is silent at the assault on Libya by a coalition led by France and the UK, in the past it provided immense assistance to North Vietnam in that entity’s successful battle against the US. But for such help, the Vietnam war would have been far longer and much less difficult for the US to carry out. Of course, in 1979, Deng had in effect become China’s Paramount Leader when that country punished Vietnam by a brief 1962-style war, that was conducted not to gain territory but to make the point that Chinese interests could not be ignored by any neighbour. In 1962, the Peoples Liberation Army swept aside Indian forces in the north-east, only to return to the earlier positions once Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had been shown to be a “paper tiger” in his numerous statements that India would “reclaim the land occupied by the Chinese”. 

In India, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi showed that she was capable of defying superpowers in taking action to defend the national interest. The concerns of the US were brushed aside in the beginning of the 1970s, when a policy of assistance to those in then East Bengal was adopted, finally ending in open confrontation between the Indian and Pakistani militaries. Just as the Chinese had in 1962, the Indians withdrew completely from what became Bangladesh, releasing the Pakistani PoWs without agreeing to the request from Dacca that some of them be put on trial for war crimes. In a skillful show of diplomatic finesse, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto won back for Pakistan on the negotiating table at Shimla almost all the strategic ground lost on the battlefield. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was advised by her brilliant and liberal advisor, Parmeshwar Nath Haksar, to agree to Bhutto’s terms “in order to strengthen the civilian establishment in Pakistan” vis-a-vis the military. Then as now, Delhi saw the civilian establishment in Pakistan as prospective allies, unlike the Pakistan military, which has never ceased to hope (and to plan) for inflicting punishment on India for the East Pakistan operation.

In this, Indian policymakers have sharply differed from the US, which has been a backer of the military establishment in Pakistan since the days of Ayub Khan. Policymakers in Washington find the civilian leadership in Pakistan to be almost as fractious and troublesome as that in India, in contrast to the military, which is generally better behaved in conference rooms and which has a more businesslike attitude. Top experts on Pakistan such as Stephen Cohen or Anatol Lieven push a policy of relying on the Pakistan military, a course of action that is anathema to India, which ceaseless seeks to promote the civilian establishment in Pakistan, so that someday it can have as much control over the military as is the case in India.

Of course, in India the pendulum has swung much too far in the other direction. So allergic was Jawaharlal Nehru to the men in uniform that he ensured their separation from policy. Decisions in the Defense Ministry get taken by civil servants who get seconded to the department after stints in the Agriculture or Culture ministries. Care is taken to exclude the uniformed services from any of the echelons of the Defense Ministry, unlike in the US or Japan, where the armed forces are an integral part of the functioning of the Defense establishment. Even the essential step of creating an integrated staff for all three services has not proceeded very far. The civilian establishment in the Defense Ministry does not want any challenger to emerge to its total power over decision-making, which for long has been used mainly in the granting of lucrative contracts for weapons purchases. The carrying forward of the Nehru-era policy of denying the Indian private sector access to defense production has meant an opening of the door for foreign suppliers, who earn tens of billions of dollars each year from what has become one of the three largest defense markets in the world, together with China and the Gulf Cooperation Council powers.

What purpose is served by the huge defense outlays of the GCC countries? They have stood on the sidelines as NATO has attacked Libya, with only Qatar joining hands with the alliance to pound Libyan forces. More than the aircraft flown by well-trained Qatari pilots, what NATO has found of immense value is the full-hearted support it has got from Al Jazeera for its invasion of Iraq. This channel has immense popularity within the Arab world, a status that it has earned by its excellent reporting. However, these days, by completely backing NATO operations in Libya, the channel is at risk of alienating many within the region and in the rest of Asia. With each bombardment of a helpless Libya by NATO, anger is growing against this one-sided duck shoot. Although neither BBC nor CNN (nor Al Jazeera) talks about it, the fact is that hundreds have been killed by the NATO strikes, and thousands maimed. An entire country is being reduced to a wasteland, just as Iraq was in the 1990s because of UN sanctions. Of course, between 2003 and 2007,that country was pulverized by NATO occupation. A case of “liberation through destruction”.

The so-called “international” justice system has come to be taken over by the NATO powers, with the consequence that none of the actions of the alliance are ever subject to the scrutiny of judges who are eager to place in the dock any international figure who is seen as a challenge by NATO. Thus far, there has not even been a mention of the 800,000 deaths caused in Iraq by sanctions and by occupation, nor the deaths in Libya caused by NATO bombardment. Clearly, for the International Court of Justice, all actions by NATO are by definition valid “humanitarian” missions, no matter how grave the collateral damage. Such an immunity goes back into the past, for example in Vietnam and Cambodia, two countries where tens of thousands died because of US bombing. His policy of carpet-bombing Vietnam and Cambodia did not earn a jail term for Henry Kissinger, but a Nobel Peace Prize. Exactly the award that was given to Barack Obama for the “humanitarian” wars he has been conducting in locations across the world, now most lately in Libya.

Hosni Mubarak faithfully served US interests for four decades, even going to the extent of cutting of essential supplies to the inhabitants of Gaza. He is in jail now, together with his two sons, and with his wife under house arrest. Colonel Kaddafy followed the trusting advice of his sons and gave up all WMD stocks that he had. He gave all the information in his possession about the A Q Khan network. He cooperated with the NATO powers in counter-terrorism operations. None of this has saved him from NATO’s efforts to kill him or force him to surrender and either face death by hanging (the way Saddam Hussein did) or - if NATO is merciful - spend the rest of his life in a jail in Europe. Those in the GCC who are relying on NATO for their protection must be feeling the pangs of doubt about an alliance that can thus treat those who cooperated wholly with it. However, they have no option. The Libyan case has shown that China, India and Russia are still too weak to challenge NATO in international fora. All three powers have watched in impotence while Libya is being attacked. In the months to come, only protests from Arab peoples against the attack on Libya may halt the NATO operation to destroy Libya as a functioning country. Certainly, India, Russia and China seem too weak to challenge the NATO attack on yet another country. Indeed, they are standing by while the UN system has been twisted to legitimize the sway of European powers over their former colonies. Thus, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has legitimized Italy as the headquarters o conferences about Libya, while France has been given the green light to send troops into the Ivory Coast. One wonders at what stage Mr Moon will ask Japan to send its troops into a former colony. South Korea, in the way that he has invited the NATO powers to intervene militarily in several key countries around the world.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

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