Moscow Calls out US’ Rules-Based Order in Europe
The spectre of tactical nuclear missiles haunts Europe
Baroness Goldie is an experienced Scottish politician and life peer who served as Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party from 2005 to 2011 and as the UK’s Minister of State for Defence since 2019. She is anything like Liz Truss who often had to swallow her indiscreet words betraying ignorance.
Certainly, Baroness Goldie understood perfectly well the implications of what she put down in a written statement at the House of Lords on March 20 in her answer to Lord Hylton’s seemingly innocuous question: “To ask His Majesty’s Government whether any of the ammunition currently being supplied to Ukraine contains depleted uranium.” (By the way, Lord Hylton is one of 92 hereditary peers elected to remain in the House of Lords; he is currently the longest-serving Crossbench member of the House of Lords, since 1968, and is a dynamic campaigner for peace and the interests of the vulnerable and the marginalised.)
Baroness Goldie’s answer was: “Alongside our granting of a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, we will be providing ammunition including armour piercing rounds which contain depleted uranium. Such rounds are highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armoured vehicles.”
It is a fair guess that the UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace kept 10 Downing Street informed — and even more important, had prior consultations and concurrence with his US counterpart, Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin — before the above announcement by the UK Government.
Both Wallace and Austin are military people and understand why ammunition tipped with “depleted uranium” is needed in the current stage of the proxy war in Ukraine if at all Kiev is to mount a credible enough counter-offensive in spring when the tide of the war is distinctly turning in Russia’s favour in Donbass.
Equally, both must be well aware that the legality of the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia is still an open issue. In response to NATO’s bombing campaign, former Yugoslavia instituted proceedings before the International Court of Justice on April 29, 1999, against the ten NATO members directly involved in the attack — Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, the UK, and the US — citing a series of violations of the law of nations (which included the obligation not to use prohibited weapons.)
Although the ICJ rejected Belgrade’s request for provisional measures, it, nonetheless, declared itself profoundly concerned with the use of force by Western powers in Yugoslavia, which “under the present circumstances … raises very serious issues of international law.” Suffice to say, the cases brought by Yugoslavia against the NATO respondents still remain on the ICJ’s docket although the petitioner got dismembered.
Make no mistake, Washington and London are consciously repeating the war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. The Anglo-Saxon clique’s core objective is a calculated escalation of the proxy war that is certain to draw forth a robust reaction from Moscow, as predictable as night follows day.
Indeed, that is precisely what happened when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Saturday that Russia will deploy its tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. Putin linked this to a request from Belarus in reaction to Baroness Goldie’s statement in London a week ago.
More importantly, Putin also drew the analogy of the US placing its nuclear weapons on the territories of the allied NATO countries for decades.
The EU and NATO went ballistic after Putin’s disclosure. EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell said on Sunday Moscow’s decision was “an irresponsible escalation and threat to European security.” He promised to impose “further sanctions” against Belarus!
A NATO spokeswoman called Moscow’s decision “dangerous and irresponsible.” Interestingly, though, the Biden administration neatly side-stepped the issue, focusing instead that the US has not seen any signs that Russia has moved nuclear weapons to Belarus or anywhere else!
In good measure, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby added, “We’ve in fact seen no indication he (Putin) has any intention to use nuclear weapons, period, inside Ukraine.”
But then, Putin also made it clear that Russia would first complete construction on a storage facility in Belarus for the tactical nuclear weapons by July 1.
Kirby was fudging. What is the game plan? First, the Anglo-Saxon clique would hope that the issue will create further disquiet and insecurity in Europe vis-a-vis Russia and would rally European countries behind the Biden administration at a time when fault lines were appearing within the transatlantic alliance over a protracted war in Ukraine that might be catastrophic for European economies.
However, Washington is hard-pressed to respond to Putin’s remark that Russia is only doing something that the US has been doing for decades. The point is, a mutual commitment not to deploy nuclear weapons in third countries was one of the proposals Moscow made to Washington in December 2021, alongside a commitment that Ukraine would not join NATO. The US ignored it and instead precipitated, with great deliberation, the Russian special military operation in Ukraine.
The crux of the matter is, as with the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, the Russian decision on tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus is retaliatory, drawing attention to the US missiles stationed close to its borders. (An estimated 100 nuclear weapons are stored in vaults in five European countries — Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.)
Worse still, the US practices a controversial arrangement known as “nuclear sharing”, under which it installs nuclear equipment on fighter jets of select non-nuclear NATO countries and trains their pilots to carry out nuclear strikes with US nuclear bombs. This is happening when the US, being a party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has promised not to hand over nuclear weapons to other countries, and the non-nuclear countries in the NATO’s sharing arrangement have themselves promised not to receive nuclear weapons from the nuclear weapon states!
The NATO declared last year that seven NATO countries contributed dual-capable aircraft to the nuclear sharing mission. These countries are believed to be the US, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and Greece. And all are signatories to the NPT!
Welcome to the “rules-based order”! What is perfectly permissible to the West is forbidden for Russia!
Finally, the diplomatic pirouette by Baroness Goldie has yet another dimension: Britain’s decision to send depleted uranium weaponry to Ukraine is confirming its reputation as the most reckless and unscrupulous state in the whole NATO alliance.
There is no question that depleted uranium munitions are radioactive and toxic and their heavy use in the Yugoslavia and Iraq wars has been linked to birth defects and cancers. It has been tied to “the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied” in Fallujah, the city subjected to two brutal US sieges during the invasion of Iraq.
The toxicity of depleted uranium munitions has been accepted by many NATO countries and the European Parliament has called for its use to be banned. Following the death of 366 Italian soldiers with conditions linked to the substance, Italy legislated in 2019 to make it easier for veterans to sue for damages to exposure.
Why is Britain behaving like an outlier? Britain appears to be creating conditions in Europe to justify the basing of nuclear-armed US bombers at Lakenheath in Suffolk, which were removed in 1991 in line with the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty.
The peace movement in Britain is moribund. Count on the warmongers and Russophobic elites in the UK to seize the Russian retaliation in Belarus to demand yet another tit for tat escalation. Expect the US bombers to return to Lakenheath in the near future.
MK Bhadrakumar is a former diplomat. He was India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan and Turkey. The views are personal.
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