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#42 - JRL 2007-70 - JRL Home
Subject: On Ira Strauss's NATO interpretation
From: Branko Milanovic (bmilanovic@worldbank.org)
Date: Thu, 22 Mar 2007

Ira Straus has responded at length to my short question regarding legality of NATO war on Serbia under its own Charter. His answer reminded me of a Saul Bellow statement that lots of intelligence can be invested in an illusion when the need to believe is deep. I will try to review his key points very briefly and will conclude why this debate, although not dealing with Russia (and this is a after all, a _Russia_ list) is relevant not only for Russia but for the world as a whole.

1. I still maintain that any reasonable reading of NATO Treaty (and I urge readers to read it: http://www.nato.int/docu/basictxt/treaty.htm) quite clearly shows that it is a defensive alliance, set under UN rules of collective security and that its military role is supposed to "kick in" only when there is attack on one of the member's territory (or perhaps an imminent danger of such an attack).

2. Ira is right that nothing in the Treaty "prohibits NATO from going to war on Serbia". He says that Articles 5 and 6 are "not exhaustive, and not prohibitive". Being non exhaustive is a feature of any law or treaty: for no treaty can foresee all the circumstances that may arise. Moreover such an interpreatation (NATO can do anything which is not specifically forbidden--and nothing is specifically forbidden) not only contradicts the obvious purpose of the Treaty (mentioned in my point 1) but opens the doors to any type of interpretation of what NATO's role is. This means that Treaty as such is unnecessary since war can be waged for any reason whatsoever.

3. Ira states that the decision to go to war was reached unanimously. But this is an issue of whether internal NATO procedures were respected, not whether NATO charter was respected. So this point is quite irrelevant to the issue at hand.

4. Ira justifies the war by stating that NATO has gradually throughout the 1990s expanded its mission to include "threats to its members' peace and security (which in UN parlance are called 'peacemaking' and peacekeeping' operations)". This is again irrelevant. Perhaps NATO did this but nowhere does the Article 4 (to which Ira refers) says that any vaguely felt threat to world peace may be a casus belli. The text of Article 4 consists of one sentence: "The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened. " It deals with consultation, not with decisions regarding war.

5. The bottom line is that Ira Straus has (unwittingly) written a severest critique possible of NATO. When we combine his points that unanimity of NATO members is sufficient to validate any decision and that its charter (not being exhaustive nor prohibitive) is sufficiently flexible to accommodate any such decision, it simply means that NATO does not operate under any constraints of its own or international law. It can decide alone what the law is.

6. The implication of the last point is that no country can find refuge (even theoretically) in international law and that the only safety it may have is to be militarily strong. Hence North Korea's bomb, and Iran's nuclear ambitions. Hence the next likely arms race between the US, China and Russia.

7. I will assume that some of Ira's later comments (which I found surprising) ascribing to me some kind of nativistic "common thinking" are written in ire and will not discuss them.