Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

NATO behaving like a law unto itself

By M. D. Nalapat (China Daily) Updated: 2012-03-07 08:06

Over the past decade, the overwhelming majority of NATO "kills" in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have been unarmed civilians. A large number of Iraqi, Afghan and Libyan civilians have lost not just their limbs but also their lives, because of "mistakes" made by NATO personnel in the field.

A look at the diaries kept by alliance troops in the different theaters of war show the casual way in which human lives are taken, often on just the merest suspicion of hostile intent.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, running was taken as evidence of hostile intent and troops would fire on the runner immediately, even in cases where the man shot and killed was unarmed.

The diaries and recollections of hundreds of soldiers, especially those of the US, but also those of other NATO countries, detail the "mistakes" made by NATO forces, all too often the "accidental" deaths of women and children furnish substantial evidence of war crimes and human rights violations.

However, so far there has been no serious effort to hold those responsible for deaths of innocent civilians accountable. Both the International Court of Justice and the UN Human Rights Council have yet to take action against a single NATO soldier. The lack of attention given by the UN to the growing number of innocents killed by NATO military action is a damning indictment of its ineffectiveness and subjugation to the will of the US.

The impunity with which NATO personnel have killed and injured civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya has resulted in a sense among its personnel that they are "superior" to the people of these countries, all three of which are outside the charmed circle of those countries NATO considers "civilized".

As a result NATO soldiers have developed a casual disregard to the killing of civilians in combat zones. Aware that the chances of being punishment are so remote as to be non-existent, many are willing to act as both judge and executioner of "hostile" locals.

Since the Libyan operation, civilians also face a further threat, as a dangerous new policy has emerged, that of giving weapons to those disaffected with the government of a country that is a NATO target. In Libya, large numbers of civilians have been killed not only by the NATO bombardment but also by insurgents armed and funded by NATO. Indeed, to this day, people are being hunted down, tortured, arrested and killed in Libya in their hundreds, with no protest from Washington, London, Berlin or Paris.

So long as the companies of these Western countries can secure lucrative contracts from the medley of authorities that now rule Libya, it seems that these authorities are free to do whatever they want despite the UN resolution that specifically calls for the prevention of civilian casualties. Clearly such UN resolutions are interpreted by Western countries to suit themselves and thrown away once they have served NATO's political and commercial objectives.

In Syria as well, armed gangs are being encouraged to kill not just security forces but elements of the population that favor the recognized regime in Damascus. Such a policy has the potential to wreak havoc throughout the Middle East. And while NATO may gain from such unethical actions, the rest of the world is the loser.

But everything done by NATO indicates that it has set itself up not only as the enforcer of international law, but also the law itself.

The author is vice-chair of Manipal Advanced Research Group, and UNESCO peace chair and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University, India.

(China Daily 03/07/2012 page10)

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