13 December 2008

Are NATO and the UN comfortable bedfellows?

By Marguerite Finn

A few days ago I received some information that I found disturbing. It was a copy of a document that has only just now appeared in the public domain. It is a Joint Declaration on Cooperation between the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation signed by the Secretary-Generals of the two bodies, in September this year.

The Declaration covers five sections aimed at showing how both organizations could work together for the greater common good.

This could be seen as a good thing: the coming together of two vast organizations to jointly tackle the world's problems. Both the UN and NATO have agreed that their cooperation will be guided by the UN Charter and by internationally recognised humanitarian principles and guidelines. They intend to focus on 'issues of common interest' including information-sharing on the protection of civilian populations, training and exercises, planning and support for contingencies, taking into account each organization’s specific mandate, expertise, procedures and capabilities. The intention is to improve international coordination in response to global challenges. Could this joint declaration strengthen the arm of the United Nations – so mercilessly criticised for its ineffectual responses in certain situations? Would this information-sharing and interactive diplomacy rein in the more provocative and aggressive expansionist policies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)?

I don't think so. The fact is that NATO and the UN do not make comfortable bedfellows. NATO is a nuclear-armed alliance of 26 member states and stands for over 70 percent of the world's military expenditure. It was founded in 1949 ostensibly as a defensive organisation. In response, the 'Warsaw Pact' was founded by the Soviet Union and its allies. At the end of the Cold War, The Warsaw Pact was dissolved, but NATO was not. Rather than scaling back its global military presence, the US advanced to fill the positions vacated by its previous rival. This indicated that NATO considered itself no longer restricted to its own territory and therefore free to consider military intervention anywhere in the world. Nowhere is that more clearly demonstrated than by the continuing US-driven eastward expansion of NATO, currently looking greedily at the Ukraine and Georgia. The US sees NATO as a solution for what the United Nations cannot offer them: a military alliance which restores world order on their terms, without having to take other countries with fundamentally different interests into account. NATO's nuclear policies also conflict with the legal obligations of the signatories to the UN-backed nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Articles 1 & 2 of the NPT forbid the transfer of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear weapon states, but US/NATO nuclear weapons in Europe are located in non-nuclear weapons states. As stated by former UK Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, in 2005: "a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons would be incompatible with our and NATO's doctrine of deterrence". Yet to be prepared to sanction the first use of nuclear weapons inevitably condemns to oblivion a huge number of civilians the UN is pledged to protect from the scourge of war.

The United Nations is a global, non-partisan organization of 192 member states. The UN Charter's preamble states that war shall be abolished. More specifically, Article 1 states that peace shall be brought about by peaceful means. Why have other regional organisations that work with civilian means – like the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) or the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) - not been offered a similar cooperative status with NATO? It is to be feared that a UN Secretary-General who believes that the UN and NATO have the same goals will be unable to perform his role as defender of the UN Charter. To say the least, the UN/NATO Declaration should have raised a few eyebrows but Western mainstream media have hardly mentioned it. It ought to have been impossible for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to sign such a document with any military alliance, let alone to do so without the consent of all the member states of the United Nations. And what about the non-NATO members like Russia, China? Are they likely to be reassured by this new direction in the policy of the world body?

The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, who provided me with the information on the Declaration, believes that it is high time to stimulate a public debate on UN-NATO cooperation. I shall be writing to my MP about this and I think that other MPs need to be asked to address it too.

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