NATO may be categorized as a ‘criminal organization’ within the meaning of the Nuremberg judgment

What is a criminal organization? The average person may first think of local and international drug cartels, human trafficking rings, child pornography societies, gambling sites or the mafia. Those who know a bit of history may associate the term with the Nuremberg trials and its judgment condemning the Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party, the SS (including many soldiers recruited in Poland, Ukraine, Yugoslavia), the SD and the Gestapo (secret police) as criminal organizations.

Why is it that most people do not readily place the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the same category?  This may be attributable to the fact that the Western mainstream media has never attempted to apply the Nuremberg criteria to Western organizations, as if the term had been coined to refer exclusively to “enemy” organizations.  More recently the Western media tends to prefer the concept of “terrorist” organizations.

As an intellectual exercise it would be instructive to dwell for a moment on the nature of NATO and its actions over the past thirty years.  Public relations and positive propaganda have been successful in creating an image of NATO as a legitimate “defensive alliance”, just because it self-defines itself as such.

Admittedly, NATO was not designed as a criminal organization. The Treaty establishing NATO on April 4 1949 stipulated in article 5:

“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

Initially NATO had a genuine security objective, compatible with Chapter VIII of the UN Charter (Arts. 52-54), which allows regional arrangements, provided that these are consistent with the object and purpose of the UN Charter, and are subordinated to the UN Security Council. Indeed, pursuant to article 103 of the Charter (“supremacy clause”), in case of conflict between the Charter and any other treaty, including the Treaty establishing NATO, it is the Charter that takes precedence. 

For as long as the Soviet Union threatened Western Europe and pursued a policy of Western expansion, it was legitimate for Western countries to take measures of collective security. One obvious consequence of the establishment of NATO was that the Soviet Union organized a competing “defensive alliance” called the Warsaw Pact (1955-1991) and that the threat of mutual assured destruction through nuclear weapons deterred both camps from attacking each other. This changed in 1989, when the peace-loving Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev withdrew Soviet forces from Central and Eastern Europe and was promised by then US president George H.W. Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker, that NATO would not move “one inch” eastward[1]

For a brief shining moment, the possibility of world peace seemed achievable with mutual disarmament. Imagine what the world would have looked like if the US had kept its promises and the military-first economies of most Western countries had been transformed into human security economies, with the enormous military expenditures converted into development of infrastructures, improved health care, enhanced education.  Imagine what kind of international relations would have resulted from greater economic exchanges and inter-dependence, from a better understanding of the cultures and civilizations of all peoples on the planet as envisaged in the UNESCO Constitution.  

This dream was smashed by US president Bill Clinton, when he decided to follow the advice of neo-cons and the imperialist roadmap proposed by political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski[2], who concocted the idea of a unipolar world under a hegemon, the US, which essentially would replace the UN, and NATO which would usurp the function of the Security Council in peacekeeping.  The “rules based international order” envisaged by Brzezinski is not unlike that propagated by Antony Blinken:  a US-ruled international order.

Clinton’s decision to expand NATO eastwards, in violation of binding promises, was strongly decried by George F. Kennan as a “fateful error”[3] in his essay in The New York Times of February 5 1997.

After 1997, NATO gradually morphed from a “defensive” alliance to a geopolitical behemoth to subjugate the rest of the world, a mighty military force to threaten and bully other countries into following US leadership in all fields, including culture and ideology.

Already in the 1990s, NATO countries participated in the destruction of the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia, and in 1999, without the consent of the UN Security Council, NATO bombarded Yugoslavia thereby violating Article 2(4) of the UN Charter.  NATO’s war of aggression in 1999 was a dress rehearsal for what would follow.

The assault on Yugoslavia in 1999 was based on false premises, and had nothing to do with “humanitarian intervention” or the later to be formulated R2P doctrine  The fact is that Yugoslav President Milosevich had showed himself ready to solve the dispute through peaceful negotiations as envisaged in article 2(3) of the UN Charter and was prepared to grant the Albanians of Kosovo the autonomy they had enjoyed until 1989.  The so-called Rambouillet “Agreement” failed because NATO intended it to fail, and because no State could have accepted NATO’s gross violation of Yugoslavia’s sovereignty over its own territory, as stipulated in the annexes to the Agreement. Thus, it was not an “agreement” that was being proposed to Milosevich, but an ultimatum supported by the threat of the illegal use of force in contravention of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, no matter what the UN Security Council would have said, if it had been seized of the matter.

The assault on Yugoslavia also entailed serious war crimes, including the bombardment of civilian centers and the use of indiscriminate weapons, such as depleted uranium and cluster bombs. Yugoslavia was only the prelude to a series of aggressions against Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and elsewhere, during which war crimes and crimes against humanity were perpetrated in total impunity.

The International Criminal Court failed to investigate these crimes and no Western politician or military leader was ever indicted or held accountable in any way.  This is because – and someone must say it clearly – because the ICC is essentially in the service of the “collective West.”

At the Nuremberg trials in 1945-46, the American delegation had envisaged to try 14 organizations as criminal, later narrowed to six -the Reich Cabinet, the Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party, the Gestapo, the SA, the SS , SD, and the General Staff and High Command of the German military (Wehrmacht). The aim was to have these organizations declared retrospectively criminal, so that their members could be tried faster based solely on their membership in an organization declared to be criminal per se.

Of course, the concept of a “criminal organization” violates the rule of law, because it entails collective punishment and subverts the principle of the presumption of innocence. While the Nuremberg judgment considered that three organizations were indeed criminal, it did not hold the SA, the Reich Cabinet or the Wehrmacht as criminal.  By so doing the Nuremberg judgment created a new legal “topos”, creating a precedent (and a bad one), which could be applied to many other organizations and institutions, including NATO “leadership corps” and NATO forces.

Meanwhile it can be said that the violations of the Hague and Geneva Conventions by NATO forces in armed conflicts since the 1990’s are so numerous and well documented, that any tribunal with appropriate jurisdiction could try members of NATO forces under already existing Conventions without having to rely on the concept of a criminal organization.  The principle of universal jurisdiction would also facilitate trial of NATO officials for responsibility in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The bottom line is that although it can be demonstrated that NATO forces have committed egregious crimes, the cognitive warfare waged by the Western mainstream media renders it difficult to take action, because the managed narrative is that NATO is a defensive alliance and that what it does is legal and legitimate.

What, if anything, should be done to ensure that world public opinion recognizes NATO as a threat to the peace and security of humankind for purposes of article 39 of the UN Charter?  Its serial provocations, sabre-rattling, Russophobic and Sinophobic propaganda constitute a real and present danger of escalation.  Although the Western media’s continuing incitement to hatred and violence clearly violate article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, no one in the media is willing to recognize this, and “freedom of expression” is invoked to justify the vilification of Russian and Chinese civilizations.  Alas, the manipulation of public opinion through the media and the Orwellian destruction of language have been successful in dividing the world into “democratic countries” and “autocracies”, a Manichaean approach of a world divided into good and bad countries.  This binary mindset bears with it the greatest danger to our survival as a species.

Because of its illegal use of force over the past thirty years, NATO deserves the label “criminal organization”.  What is necessary is that the Global Majority in Latin America, Africa and Asia stand up to the United States and clearly state that they demand mediation in all armed conflicts, they demand PREVENTION of future conflicts and peaceful settlement of all grievances as envisaged in Article 2(3) of the UN Charter.  The Global Majority decries the “all or nothing” approach of NATO countries, rejects the “you are with us or against us” mentality. 

This article does not call for war crimes trials against NATO forces, but rather for the abolition of NATO as such, which has pretended to usurp the functions of the United Nations.  No one in the Global Majority wants NATO as world policeman.  Bottom line, NATO has exhausted its usefulness and morphed into a real threat to the peace and security of mankind.  This threat must be neutralized.  

© Professor Alfred de Zayas, Geneva School of Diplomacy, former UN Independent Expert on International Order (2012-2018), author of twelve books including the human rights trilogy Building a Just World Order, Countering Mainstream Narratives, The Human Rights Industry.


[1] Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate | Hoover Institution Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate

[2] Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic imperatives, Basic Books, New York 1997.

[3] Opinion | A Fateful Error – The New York Times

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