By M D Nalapat
Some years ago, in the Indian site www.bharat-rakshak.com, this columnist had written of the NATO militaries as resembling an army of simians. Such a force - if let loose within a confined space – can create immense damage, but are unable to clean up the resultant mess. This is precisely what the world has witnessed in Iraq. Despite more than a decade of sanctions that directly resulted in nearly a million extra deaths during that period ( because of shortages created by the UN-approved measures), the regime of Saddam Hussein was able to provide food, energy and housing to the people of Iraq, whereas eight years after “liberation” by key NATO members, the country and its population are worse off than before the 2003 invasion that led to the execution of Saddam Hussein. As for Afghanistan, after a decade of the world’s most modern military force fighting against a ragtag band of insurgents, more than a third of the country is back in the hands of the Taliban, while a fifth of the rest is on the brink of a similar fate. As a consequence of its failure to subdue this force, NATO is desperately clutching at plans for engaging the “moderate Taliban”, an oxymoron if ever one was created.
Serbia has yet to recover from its brief burst of battle with NATO, and now Libya has joined the lengthening list of countries devastated by the attentions of NATO. Clearly, the top brass in a military alliance designed to do battle in Europe against the USSR were reluctant to close shop. They have therefore redesigned NATO as a military instrument with multiple uses, especially against “asymmetric threats”, a term which refers to countries that have ramshackle militaries. Both Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gaddafy followed the dictates of the NATO powers in surrendering whatever WMD was in their possession, unlike Syria and North Korea, two countries that have been left undisturbed by NATO as a consequence. Clearly, military planners within the alliance are ready for action only against those rivals that have had their conventional capabilities degraded to the point at which they do not represent any significant risk against the alliance. Had George W Bush and Tony Blair truly believed their own rhetoric about Saddam Hussein having WMD, they would never have sent their armies into Iraq the way they did.
As mentioned in these columns, Gaddafy’s fate got sealed when he accepted the advice of his Europe-dazzled sons to disarm and place the survival of his regime in the hands of NATO. Since 2003, Muammar Gaddafy dismantled his WMD program, synchronised his intelligence services with that of NATO and generally accepted each of the prescriptions handed over to him. Had NATO been an alliance that respects reciprocity, all this ought to have made NATO turn as blind an eye to his battle with sections of the population as we have seen in the case of Bahrain, where the ruling family has been given a free hand to sort out the situation. Instead, the situation changed when Nicholas Sarkozy was informed by French banks that Colonel Gaddafy may withdraw the immense bank deposits of Libya from them to institutions in China, and when he learnt that several contracts that French enterprises were expecting to come to them would vanish because Gaddafy wanted to spend less on French military and other toys and more on social services. Libya had to be made an example of, lest other Arab governments think of shifting their money elsewhere than within the NATO bloc as a consequence of the loss of $1.3 trillion by the GCC and its people alone because of the financial fraud perpetrated in 2008 by banks and other financial entities headquartered within the NATO bloc.
These days, companies based within NATO are finding it difficult to retain the monopoly position they have enjoyed, sometimes for generations. In particular, Chinese companies are challenging them in numerous markets, as are companies based elsewhere in Asia, including within South Korea and India. As a consequence, they now rely on military force to retain their privileges. This has been illustrated with commendable transparency in the case of Iraq and Libya. In the latter case, even though the fumes of battle have not ceased (and are unlikely to), oil companies such as ENI and Total are hard at work figuring out the assets they can seize because of the local victories of the Sarkozy-appointed “National Transitional Council”. Interestingly, even though the NTC is a creation of Paris, the UN has accepted it as the legitimate government of Iraq. Indeed,in the 21st century the UN seems to have regressed into the period between 1919 and 1939,when the League of Nations awarded “mandates” to dominant countries that permitted them to rule weaker ones. In the past decade, similar mandates have been proferred in the case of Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan. In the case of Libya, President Sarkozy’s takeover of the Libyan state via the creation of the NTC has been similarly legitimized by the UN in an astonishing abdication of principle.
However, just as in other locations, facts on the ground may not follow the script favoured by NATO. In the case of Libya, this columnist has warned for five months that the NATO intervention would only result in civil war and in the steady destruction of the infrastructure that made Libya one of the more prosperous countries in the region. All this is at risk today, as chaos descends in the form of armed gangs set loose by NATO across the country. Not that there is ever any chance of those responsible for such a catastrophe being held accountable by so-called “international” bodies, most of which are now firmly in the control of the NATO powers in a way that their own economies are not. Over the past decade, tens of thousands of civilian deaths have resulted from NATO operations, without even a mild protest from the International Court or the Human Rights Council. Such inaction is leading to the same loss of respect for the UN system as took place in the past with the League of Nations, which became seen as being controlled by a small group for their own purposes.
Whether it is Libya or any other country, each has the right to develop its societal dynamic in its own way. Unless a country poses a threat to others, the way Talban-controlled Afghanistan did, it is not legitimate target for international action. In the case of Libya, since 2003 Colonel Gaddafy disarmed his military of WMD and fully cooperated with the US-led War on Terror. His fate has become a lesson to others who may have been tempted to follow in his path of conciliation with NATO. Small wonder that the other regimes in the sights of NATO - Syria and Iran in particular - are in no hurry to follow the Libyan example. Rather than seek to finish off a leader who buried the hatchet publicly and fully the way Gaddafy did, NATO would have been better advised to show its magnanimity and its willingness to keep agreements in good faith. That would have acted as an incentive for Syria, Iran and even North Korea to follow suit, thereby making the globe a safer place. Today, all three states - understandably – have zero faith in the bona fides of the NATO powers, and as a consequence are each going their own way. Combine this with the economic desolation seen within NATO ( much of which has been caused by the huge spike in military spending caused by foreign adventures), and overall even the medium-term prognosis for NATO is dim, despite the smiles of congratulation at the advance of NATO proxies into Tripoli.
Unlike during the Vietnam war, when the Pentagon extensively sourced its procurement from Asia, the Bush-Cheney team sought to give US entities a monopoly over the supply of the items needed, even items as militarily inconsequential as toothpaste. The result of such an autarchic policy has been a big increase in spending, with the US alone spending more than a trillion dollars in its wars with Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, we have seen this use of the state machinery to block competition across several sectors. The EU, for example, has banned Indian pharmaceuticals from its market, despite the low cost and high quality of medicines produced in India. Just now, the EU has banned Samsung hi-tech products. A time will come when Asia bans German cars and French defense equipment in retaliation for the frequent bans on Asian products on specious grounds. The US and the EU cannot protect their way out of economic trouble. They need to give their citizens access to the benefits of a global market, rather than break every canon that they have been preaching for decades. As for NATO, it will soon become clear that while it may be possible to defeat a ramshackle force with the massive use of airpower, that may not translate into monopoly privileges over Libyan oil reserves. Should China or India come up with better terms than Italian or French companies, the people of Libya will ensure that their government act in a way that protects their interests, rather than only those of NATO. The use of military power for commercial advantage ought to have vanished when the 19th century did. Its reappearance in Iraq and Libya is a worrisome sign that NATO has not learnt the lessons of history.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.