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NATO and international law

By George Thomas - posted Saturday, 15 May 1999

In his first sentence in an article on 1st May 1999 in the Hindustan Times, T.V. Rajeswar states the problem unambiguously: "The war unleashed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) on the sovereign nation of Serbia on March 24 was a clear case of aggression." Likewise, former Foreign Secretary of India, A.P. Venkateswaran in an article entitled, "The Arrogance of Power," writes: "The aerial attacks launched by NATO against Yugoslavia once again establishes the truth of the axiom, `Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.' There is no legal sanction whatsoever for this unilateral action by NATO carried out at the behest of the US, following the failure of the talks on Kosovo..."The following is a statement by the permanent representative of India to the UN Security Council on March 24th:

"The attacks that have started on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia a few hours ago are in clear violation of Article 53 of the Charter. No country, group of countries or regional arrangement, no matter how powerful, can arrogate to itself the right of taking arbitrary and unilateral military action against others. That would be a return to anarchy where might is right... The attacks now taking place on Yugoslavia have not been authorised by the Council, acting under Chapter VII, and are therefore completely illegal... What NATO has tried to do is to intimidate a government through the threat of attack, and now through direct and unprovoked aggression, to accept foreign military forces on its territory... There are several traditional descriptions for this kind of coercion; peacekeeping is not one of them."

This article condemns Serbian ethnic cleansing and commission of atrocities. There can be no dispute that Serbian forces are committing crimes against humanity in Kosovo. Those guilty should be indicted, caught and punished. However, would any of this have occurred if NATO had not launched this massive attack on a sovereign state, attacks against which there is no defence? A one year total of 2,000 dead in Kosovo before March 24th, of which two-third were Albanians and one-third Serbians, does not warrant inflicting a combined "Dresden," a "Tokyo Firebombing" and a "Hiroshima" (many of those American weapons contain Depleted Uranium) on the entire Serbian population. NATO's punishment of all Serbs beginning March 24th, preceded the crimes committed subsequently by Serbian forces in Kosovo. NATO's destruction of the infrastructure, ecocide on the environment including the use of depleted uranium in many of its bombs and missiles, will lead to the deaths and deformities of current and future generations.


NATO and International Law

The collapse of countervailing military power, and the reduction of the United Nations into an obedient organization of the United States, have now led to the disregard for a whole slew of international laws. The US and NATO are violating several international laws in attacking Serbia over Kosovo which is part of a sovereign independent state. American legal specialists have claimed that NATO actions constitute an evolving system of international laws. The reality is that NATO is making up the laws as it goes along to suit their convenience. The following are some of the main violations of international laws committed by NATO.

(1) NATO actions constitute a violation of Chapter I, Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter which states: "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations." Chapter VII, Article 39 states: "The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.

Efforts to justify these actions through earlier resolutions or Chapter 7 of the Charter are acts of distortion and convenience. Article 51 of Chapter VII states that "Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security." The problem is that Yugoslavia did not attack any neighbouring states outside its sovereign borders. Instead, Yugoslavia was attacked by NATO, although no member of NATO was attacked by Yugoslavia. The Security Council did not sanction the use of force here. NATO bypassed the Security Council to illegally attack Yugoslavia because of the certain veto by Russia and China.

(2) The bombing of Yugoslavia is a violation of NATO's own charter which claims it is a defensive organization and is only committed to force if one of its members is attacked. No member of NATO was attacked. The relevant sections of NATO's basic purpose reads as follows: "It provides deterrence against any form of aggression against the territory of any NATO member state. It preserves the strategic balance within Europe." When communist rule ended in Europe and the Warsaw Pact was dismantled, presumably these rationales for NATO's existence also ended. An alliance usually posits an enemy in advance, and the enemy lies outside of the alliance system. A commonly perceived external enemy is, after all, the main reason for forging an alliance, not for some vague eventuality that a powerful enemy may arise in some distant future. Without an external enemy there would not be sufficient consensus and motivation to keep the alliance together. There is no strategic balance in Europe to keep. NATO is dominant and international laws have become inconvenient.

No doubt, maintaining an alliance without predetermined external threats may serve notice to non- members that the security interests of the alliance countries will be protected. But a single military alliance without the prevalence of countervailing military power would be perceived as a serious threat to other states and will provoke them to seek appropriate military counter balancing measures. Already there are moves among Russia, China and India to forge a strategic partnership. The rationale for NATO's existence may soon become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As such, NATO constitutes a standing provocation to the rest of the world, an alliance in search of an enemy, or needing to create one, in order to justify its existence. Thus far, NATO has found its mission--as absurd as it may sound to normal people except NATO enthusiasts--in pulverising 8 million impoverished Serbs into the ground through 24 hour a day aerial bombardment. Hundreds, if not thousands of innocent Serbs have been killed. Meanwhile, it would be dishonest to argue that a weak Russia should not feel threatened by an expanded NATO and the attack on Serbia, a condition which the US will not contemplate in reverse including a similar attack on Canada.


(3) The so-called Rambouillet "Agreement" (Serbia did not agree to it) is a violation of Articles 51 and 52 of the 1980 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Article 51 entitled "Coercion of a Representative of a State" declares: "The expression of a State's consent to be bound by a treaty which has been procured by the coercion of it representative through acts or threats directed against him shall be without legal effect. Article 52 entitled "Coercion of a State by the Threat or Use of Force"reads: "A treaty is void if its conclusion has been procured by the threat or use of force in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations."

First Serbia was threatened with force in order to coerce it to sign the Rambouillet "Agreement," and when that failed Serbia and its entire population was subjected to massive terror bombing in order to bring about submission to NATO diktats. The Rambouillet "Agreement" was not negotiated with Yugoslavia but presented as a fait accompli. There were no discussions between Serbs and Albanians. The Albanians were persuaded to sign only because they were given to understand that once they got immediate de facto independence, within three years it would automatically become de jure. Yet Serbia accepted the political terms of the diktat only insisting that it will not accept a NATO military presence in Kosovo. Indeed, the military annex of the Rambouillet diktat was far reaching requiring that Yugoslavia allow NATO forces unhindered access to all of its territory at no cost to NATO. The military annex were sneaked in on the last day of the talks without the Russian representative's knowledge. Milosevic or no Milosevic, no state or statesman could have accepted these humiliating terms. It was a deliberate setup to invite rejection so as to proceed with NATO bombing.

The following exchange between NATO spokesman, Jamie Shea, and a reporter is revealing in the embarrassing terms of the "Agreement" in retrospect to the West.

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About the Author

Raju G C Thomas is the Allis Chalmers distinguished professor of International Affairs at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His most recent book is as contributing editor of Yugoslavia Unraveled : Sovereignty, Self-Determination, Intervention, Lexington Books, 2004

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