The decades-long eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has not only caused the crisis in Ukraine but it has also evolved into a threat to peace and cooperation worldwide, a Serbian expert has told Xinhua in an interview.
Zivadin Jovanovic, who served as foreign minister of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia between 1998 and 2000, said he believed that back in the spring of 1999 he witnessed the beginning of NATO’s expansion into eastern Europe. This, he said, has by now threatened Russia’s borders, sparking the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
NATO’s eastward push has deeply harmed the whole European continent, Jovanovic noted, by “militarising its infrastructure, economy and even its education system.” Globally, it increased the probability of local, regional and even larger conflicts, followed by impoverishment and hunger.
Jovanovic, who currently presides over the think-tank Belgrade Forum for a World of Equals, said that instead of fueling the conflict further, the West should engage in a global high-level dialogue for peace and security, which would be vital to overcoming the crisis.
According to Jovanovic, the position commonly held in the West that the conflict in Ukraine is “unprovoked” is false – because since its 1999 aggression on Yugoslavia, NATO has deployed troops across the Balkans, added 11 countries as members and established numerous military bases across Europe.
“In March 1999, NATO launched an illegal attack – an aggression against Yugoslavia. The publicly announced goal was to protect the rights of an endangered national minority... However, we see that the result of it all was the permanent deployment of NATO troops across the Balkans... These are undeniable facts,” he said.
Since then, NATO has significantly grown by integrating a number of eastern European countries, which resulted in the deployment of NATO troops and the establishment of military bases on their territory.
“Back then (in 1999), NATO had 19 members, while now it has 30. Where is the reservoir for new member states? It is in the east of Europe, and this means increasing proximity to Russia’s borders... When these bases were opened, NATO said they had a defensive purpose... However, they turned out to be missile bases, which can hold offensive weapons.”
The tensions were further aggravated because, as Jovanovic pointed out, the United States has recently withdrawn from important international military agreements.
“The US, as the key power of NATO, has pulled out from many important agreements on arms control, intermediate-range missiles... The big question is: why did it do so and to what end?” he asked.
According to Jovanovic, in absence of responses to Moscow’s initiatives to renew the arms control treaties and to stop NATO’s eastward push, Russia was forced to launch a military operation to protect its interests.
According to Jovanovic, NATO’s eastward push has endangered vital agreements that ensured a long period of peace after World War II.
“During its enlargement, NATO has violated all the agreements that existed and that are undisputable. During its attack on Yugoslavia, they violated the UN Charter, and challenged the authority of the UN Security Council... The damage done is certainly enormous. Because of NATO’s enlargement strategy towards the east, the world is in a changed condition. The global system of security, peace and cooperation is in danger,” he warned.
This decades-long process has, according to Jovanovic, destroyed key European values and militarised the entire continent.
“Due to NATO’s enlargement to the east, the entire European continent has become militarised. There have never been more military bases, arms and military equipment in Europe than today... Europe has militarised its economy and its education system,” he said.
Moreover, NATO’s expansion has “shaken the entire international order” and endangered peace in the whole world, Jovanovic said.
“Enormous damage has been inflicted on the system of collective security and cooperation, not to mention how much this NATO expansion has contributed to the development of an arms race and the destruction of a whole subsystem in charge of controlling the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. This has increased the possibility of conflicts, not only local and regional ones but also global ones... It will take plenty of wisdom, time and effort to repair this,” he said.
Peace through dialogue
Jovanovic said that for the Ukrainian crisis to stop, NATO’s eastward expansion must also stop. The solution, he said, lies not on the battlefield but in high-level dialogue.
“All people in the West say nowadays is that Kiev must continue the conflict and not accept any kind of agreement with Russia, that the West always delivers bigger and technologically advanced weaponry. This way they are adding fuel to the fire... There can’t be any solution on the battlefield.”
Commenting on the Western sanctions on Russia, he said that these further escalate the conflict and that the sanctions are “intentionally directed against civilians.”
“Sanctions are illegitimate and inhumane. Such was their goal in the case of Yugoslavia... Because of this, children and people with difficult chronic diseases died across Yugoslavia, and there were shortages of everything and plenty of ordinary people suffering... Sanctions are no means to resolve conflicts. They are not a means to achieve peace but to escalate the situation further,” Jovanovic said.
He said that instead of fueling further the destruction of Ukraine and forcing NATO’s further expansion, the West should engage in a high-level dialogue with other global powers in order to agree on peace, cooperation and collective security.
“It takes time to prepare summits or high-level meetings, but it is necessary to talk about this and to prepare concrete initiatives for dialogue, negotiations and the cessation of the conflict,” Jovanovic said.
In his opinion, peace could be pursued through acknowledging the equality of countries in security, peace and cooperation. “Everybody in the West must make peace with this: the era of expansion, dictates and commands, and the pyramidal arrangement of global relations are a thing of the past. The world is clearly striving for a multipolar world order based on mutual respect, partnership and the acknowledgment of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries.” •
Source: Xinhua of 25 April.2022
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