On August 4th, I wrote an article criticising a NATO video that purported to debunk two “myths” about the organisation. The video claimed that “NATO is a defensive alliance” and “NATO does not seek confrontation”. I described these claims as “false” on the grounds that NATO has carried out severaloffensive operations.
Logically, if an organisation has carried out offensive operations, it cannot be “defensive” – at least not wholly defensive, which is what “not seeking confrontation” implies.
Ian Rons has criticised my article. He begins by disputing that the invasion of Afghanistan was an offensive operation, noting that 9/11 was “the only time in NATO’s history when the mutual defense clause, Article 5, was invoked”.
What he fails to note is that NATO’s operation in Afghanistan was not based on the invocation of Article 5. The only two NATO operations based on the invocation of Article 5 were Operation Eagle Assist and Operation Active Endeavor – as explained on the organisation’s website. Having said that, it is true the US invasion of Afghanistan (and the subsequent NATO operation there) were launched in response to the 9/11 attacks.
Does this make them defensive? Arguably not. The 9/11 attacks were carried out by a transnational terrorist organisation, Al-Qaeda, not by the state of Afghanistan. (Neither Osama bin Laden nor any of the 9/11 hijackers were Afghans.) Invading and then occupying a foreign country where a terrorist organisation happens to be based is not “defensive”. The NATO airstrikes of June 2007 that killed at least 45 Afghan civilians plainly weren’t.
Note that prior to the invasion, the U.S. refused to negotiate with the Taliban. As the New York Timesnoted last year, “some former diplomats say that by repeatedly shutting the door to talks, the United States may have closed off its best chance of avoiding a prolonged and extremely costly war”.
However, even if the NATO operation in Afghanistan was defensive, the other two examples I cited clearly weren’t. Ian suggests they were “legitimate and morally just” but that is irrelevant. As I stated in my article, “you can argue those operations were justified, but you can’t argue they were defensive”. Neither Serbia nor Libya had attacked a NATO member.