‘NATO disrespects international law’ – Lavrov

Libyans inspect the damage at a factory targeted by NATO air strikes in Bir Ghanam on August (AFP Photo / Colin Summers)
NATO’s actions in Libya violate the principles of its own new strategic concept of respect to international law, stated Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday.

­“We value the provision of NATO’s strategic concept concerning the respect of international law and prerogatives of the UN Security Council, to which the leaders [of the alliance] have pledged commitment,” the foreign minister said during a meeting with students of Moscow University of International Relations.

“At the same time, NATO’s de-facto steps do not always comply with this principle, and the Libyan experience is one of the recent examples,” Lavrov added.

According to the Russian minister, the problem is worsened by the fact that disputes on NATO’s new role in international relations still continue within the alliance.

“For now, NATO’s report ‘Assured Access to the Global Commons’, as it is called, only deals with hypothetical possibilities of its actions in ocean, open skies, open space and cyber space to assure its interests. But all this is a sphere of interest of the entire global community and, of course, it is necessary to jointly regulate these domains,” Lavrov went on to say.

He also called on world leaders to avoid one-sided approaches “going beyond the legal framework” in dealing with international issues.

In his speech, Foreign Minister Lavrov also touched upon a thorny issue in Russia-NATO relations – the US anti-missile plans in Europe. He warned that Russia would have to take counter-measures in response to the deployment and strengthening of new AMD elements.

Aside from the lecturing on NATO behavior, Lavrov warned the United States and NATO that the unrestricted broadening of the missile defense system planned for Eastern Europe will force Russia to respond by protecting its strategic deterrence potential.

­Countdown to another arms race?

"The US missile defense system in Europe is being created according to…parameters set by Washington,” Lavrov explained. “The Russian administration has said many times that these parameters may create a threat to the Russian strategic nuclear forces by the end of this decade.”

Lavrov, stressing that Moscow has not received any guarantees that the missile defense system is not a threat to Russia’s national security, said the Russian military brass will be forced “to do something in compensation in order to safeguard its strategic deterrence potential."

The Russian foreign minister then mentioned the idea of a European security agreement, proposed by President Dmitry Medvedev in 2008, that was "aimed to codify the political declarations the OSCE and the Russia-NATO Council made 10 years ago so that no state in the Euro-Atlantic space ensured its security at the expense of the security of others."

According to Lavrov, Western partners got cold feet when they began questioning the initiative, which would restrict plans that called for “the security of some states at the expense of others.”

The Western countries were not prepared to honor such a “legal commitment in the case of such events," he said.

The decision to not cooperate with Russia on a European missile defense system, situated as it is in Russia’s near abroad, proves to some in Russia that the Western alliance simply lacks sincerity as to who the system is really aimed at.

"The answer lies in the current situation around missile defense. In fact, this situation is a test for the sincerity of the promise of indivisible and equal security on the Euro-Atlantic space,” Lavrov told the assembled students.

From Russia’s perspective, he continued, "it is absolutely necessary to make sure that no military actions are aimed against any state on the Euro-Atlantic space," he said. "Otherwise, we will revert back to the ideological stereotypes of the 19th or 20th centuries.”

Such a retreat would be a huge mistake in the face of global threats that endanger all members of the international community, he added.

Medvedev and US President Barack Obama agreed in June 2009 to take a common approach to building European missile defense, starting from a general analysis of the potential threats. Indeed, with the history of past wars – especially that of World War II, which cost Russia tens of millions of lives – fresh in mind, Moscow has no small reason for demanding a share of the responsibility in protecting the continent from would-be aggressors.

Sadly, US and NATO fail to see things from such a historical perspective.

"We proposed particular parameters of this joint work and held long consultations with the United States and in the Russia-NATO Council. Unfortunately, these efforts have not resulted in agreements," Lavrov said.

The Russian foreign minister also said that NATO had not provided reasonable explanations concerning NATO’s continual eastward expansion.

"The desire to build a strategic partnership on the Euro-Atlantic space, (which protects all peoples) from Vancouver to Vladivostok, has been confirmed on the top level," Lavrov said. "We want to see these principles being implemented.”

According to Lavrov, the experience of life shows that political assurances are not enough.

He then mentioned a string of broken pledges in the past.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, for example, Western officials pledged not to expand the Alliance further. It is well known what has happened to those assurances.

"There was also the NATO pledge not to deploy substantial armed forces on the territories of its new members,” he said. “We have never been given an explanation as to how this pledge correlates with the continuing eastward spread of the alliance's infrastructure.”

'One bitten, twice shy,' the old adage goes, and now Russia will demand full cooperation in the defense of European territory with its Western partners. Otherwise, the world may be heading for another costly and very dangerous global arms race.