Photographer:Fotograaf: flickr.com/Nicolas Raymond
“If nobody speaks up, how can we talk about a change at all”
“On Tuesday, February 16th, I attended the lecture A Changing NATO in a Changing World, organized by Studium Generale. Unfortunately, the loudest thing I heard during this lecture was the silence and a lack of critical thought from students. If nobody speaks up, how can we talk about a change at all? Neither about a changing NATO, let alone about a changing world”, says Irena Boskovic, a PhD candidate at the faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience.
I got to know NATO 17 years ago, on March 25th , 1999. That is how I also became familiar with the speaker of the night: Jamie Shea, the Deputy Assistant General for Emergency Security Challenges. However, I remember him as NATO’s spokesperson in a ‘Merciful angel’ mission. Ironically, that was the name of the mission in my home country, Serbia. One could say that time turned out to be a success for both of us. While he gained popularity, academic career, and apparently a longer title since, I gained something much more important - my family members and friends alive. With the words “A cost to defeat an evil” in 1999, he justified Serbian civilian victims killed by NATO.
In the opening statement last week, he presented the bombing of Serbia as “a successful mission in order to prevent large-scale conflicts”. The same long pro-humanitarian title later evolved into “the mopping up in the Balkans”. These words hit an old wound with an admirable precision. With the same precision NATO bombed over ninety civilian targets in Serbia and Montenegro. In one of his interviews, Shea said that was the “loss of virginity” for NATO since they had never interfered in a war before that. Following the same metaphor, I would say that NATO has become a promiscuous woman since, taking Afghanistan and Libya into account.
To explain NATO as an organization, let me use Shea’s words: “A cold-blooded organization” with a “need for conflict in its DNA”. That sounds about right. Shea explained how bored they would be if there were no conflicts in the world. His actual message was: “If there is no conflict, NATO cannot provide a reason for fundraising.” No conflict - no action, and someone would dare to ask: “Why does NATO exist?” That is the real question since there is an obvious problem of how NATO has been dealing with burning issues, such as the Russia and Turkey conflict, Syria and many more. Maybe that is what Shea tried to distract us from while using unwitty metaphors during his talk. I think he was referring to the partial interference in the conflict when he joked about “one cannot be half pregnant”. I am not sure what he wanted to say with that, but what I do understand is - just as you cannot be half pregnant, you cannot be half a killer, no matter how many “humanitarian” ribbons you may put on it. Shea presented NATO’s preferred strategy through an example of a spider web, always keeping a string to pull you back out. Nevertheless, he also shared the idea of “blue lands”, referring to blue berets of UN’s peacekeepers all over the conflicted areas. Dutch people know that idea from practice. That tactic of “fight, flight, blue” did not work in past and it still does not work and the reason is simple - there is no peace to keep when you use war to “stop” a war.
However, what struck me the most were quiet, polite students attending the lecture. I heard only the “politically correct” questions while waiting to ask mine. In the end I approached Shea and asked what I had, but what I got back was another of his jokes.
This lecture was about human lives and about an organization which coldly decides about them with a check on their mind. It was about the wars in the past and those yet to happen. It was his job to sell the story, but it is not your job to buy it just because it is free (I know you are mostly Dutch, but still). We as highly educated people share the responsibility to think critically and to raise questions. Whether it is a lecture or just a chit chat subject, we are obliged to speak up, even if it feels uncomfortable and we blush in front of our peers. That is the real cost to defeat an evil. It is not a high one, is it? Use your voice at least for those who do not have a voice or theirs are muted by sirens far from here. Keep that in mind, at least, every first Monday of the month, when you hear them.
For some of us, it was not a drill.