Delusions of World Order


How states create and maintain order in a world of sovereign powers has been the fundamental and so far insoluble problem of international relations. During the cold war, the super-powers, driven by the fear of nuclear war, devised, by trial and error, a network of rules and restraints aimed at avoiding direct military collision. Now the world faces new circumstances whose implications it is just beginning to discover, and the problem of order has become even more complex than before.1

One reason for this is the unexpected increase in the number of independent states; even five years ago no one predicted the end of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe and the breakup of the Soviet Union itself. A second reason is that the states, while still playing the traditional game of diplomatic and strategic competition, are now also engaged in an intense competition for economic and financial power that does not entail the use of force. In the past, when such activities did not dominate the plans of states as much as they do now, order was provided by the rules set by the economically dominant nation: Britain in the nineteenth century, the US after 1945. What order there was broke down when the dominant nation’s hegemony was challenged (as Britain’s was after 1870) or when there was none, for example during the period between the two world wars. Today, the predominance of the US has been put in doubt, both by Japan and by the rise of a united Western Europe increasingly dominated by Germany.

In any case, world politics, and therefore world order, are no longer monopolized by states; on the one hand, they are constrained by the world capitalist economy, which limits their domestic and external freedom of maneuver, particularly when it comes to supplies of raw materials such as petroleum. On the other hand, the various peoples of the world, as opposed to governments, are more turbulent than ever before. From Algiers to Uzbekistan, they demand participation in public affairs, or a state of their own if they feel oppressed, or neglected, in a multi-ethnic state; and they also want both more wealth and a more equitable distribution of it—demands which are usually both unachievable and incompatible.

As a result, while the world no longer lives under the shadow of a superpower nuclear confrontation, the numbers of actual and possible conflicts, both among and within states, seem bound to grow, whether because of aggressive ambitions, as with Saddam Hussein, or border disputes and rival claims over the same territory, as in the case of Palestine, or domestic crises and policies that have effects abroad, causing other states to threaten external intervention, as with Yugoslavia. The breakup of countries such as Yugoslavia and the USSR is already causing refugees to flee toward their neighbors.

Two sources of international insecurity seem to me especially important. The first derives from the hardly understood workings of the global economy, and includes poverty, overpopulation, and migrations. The inequality among states is, on the whole, exacerbated by the capitalist world system, and most of the poorer countries, particularly in Africa and central Asia, are getting poorer without any prospect of reversing the trend. The same can be said for the ecological tragedies, such as ozone depletion, that are too slowly becoming known, the struggle for access to resources such as oil, the threat of the drug traffic, and the highly lucrative arms trade, essential for the favorable balance of payments of many states, including such advanced capitalist countries as Sweden and Switzerland.

No less ominous are the dangers created by the one general ideology that has survived the collapse of communism: nationalism, which is often heightened by or concealed behind religious revivalism. It owes its current success not only to the end of the cold war, but to its appeal to the basic emotions of tribal solidarity, which were often suppressed under one form of imperial rule or another. Nationalism can both dissolve states and cause trouble among them. Since many states have advanced weapons, and either possess or could soon possess the means of mass destruction, all these conflicts raise a threat of, at least, regional chaos, and worse, if, as in the Middle East, the region is thought to be of strategic and economic importance for the entire world.

Virtually all discussions of world order are based on four principles, all of them flawed and in conflict with one another. The first is the principle of state sovereignty. As enshrined in the charter of the UN, it commits all members to preserve the territorial integrity or political independence of any state from threats or uses of force. It has one enduring merit: it can serve as a shield against the imperialist or aggressive designs of other states, which explains why small and new countries cling to it so fiercely. But it is inadequate today when the world economy has already deprived states of much of their theoretical financial, industrial, or commercial autonomy. The US, still the most powerful country in military strength and the size of its economy, depends on Japanese and European loans and investments to finance its budget deficit. Until the still very shaky experiment with a common-wealth made up of the former Soviet republics, the only nations to give up state sovereignty voluntarily in the modern world are those of the European Community; and notwithstanding years of discussion they have done so only to create a single market, while refusing to give up independence in matters of diplomacy, defense, or immigration. State sovereignty, moreover, by granting each government full and exclusive control over its territory, allows for domestic atrocities that not only offend the sense of justice but can also all too easily foster international disorder, for instance when the victims, or the parties locked in internal conflict, call for outside help.

Liberals concerned with world order have made much of the excesses of sovereignty. They hoped to square the circle by promoting a second principle: self-determination. From Mazzini to Wilson they believed that a world of sovereign nation-states—each nationality having fulfilled its destiny by obtaining a state of its own—would be able to live in harmony, or in sufficient harmony to deter and to punish violators. They did not see how this principle can be a formidable factor of disintegration and conflict, as we can observe in Yugoslavia, and the former USSR, as well as in Russia itself, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Kurdistan, and with the Arab-Israeli quarrel.

Who can define with any consistency the national “self” that is entitled to autonomy or sovereignty? Is every sizable group that is ethnically distinct entitled to form a nation? And if the definition of a nation is based more on people’s expression of collective preference than on ethnic identity, is any association of people who want to live together entitled to call itself a nation and demand a state of its own? If self-determination is a fundamental principle, why shouldn’t the Ibos have had their state of Biafra? But if it is, what happens to current borders and to the sovereignty of existing states? Does one serve justice by granting statehood to nations that are likely to contain, and often to mistreat, their own ethnic or religious minorities?

Wilsonian liberalism proposed a third principle. World order would emerge if the world of nation-states was also a world of constitutional governments. Harmony thus was ultimately dependent on the triumph of democracy, because it has been assumed, ever since Kant, that democratically elected governments that respected the rights of citizens would not make war against other democracies, and that constitutional government would encourage a rational discussion of the sources of conflict and act as a dam against surging passions. 2 But from the viewpoint of international legitimacy, self-government still has a lower status than sovereignty and self-determination. The UN Charter does not require that all members be democracies (unlike, in practice, the European Community). It mentions the “self-determination of peoples” as one of its basic principles, but when it comes to the way sovereign states govern themselves, it only mentions the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms through international cooperation.

In other words, world order still remains tied to the distinction between domestic affairs and relations among states. International and domestic legitimacy remain distinct, in conformity with the doctrines of “realism” based on traditional balance of power, which prescribe that states attempt to affect each other’s external behavior but not the domestic conduct and institutions of political regimes. Whereas many theorists, including liberals, have supported external intervention to help a people obtain self-determination, few have advocated similar interventions for democracy. John Stuart Mill, in an argument recently reformulated by Michael Walzer,3 sharply distinguished these two cases. They argue that freedom from tyranny, unlike liberation from alien rule, cannot be conferred on nations from the outside. To reverse this rule would open the way to constant foreign intervention, manipulation, and domination.

Not all democracies protect what Isaiah Berlin called negative liberty—individual rights to take action without being hindered by others and by the state. Some are Jacobin democracies that allow no such obstacles to stand in the way of majority rule—in which case minorities as well as individuals may have their rights destroyed. Also, whether a democracy emphasizes “negative” or “positive” freedom, the benefits of both may well be reserved to nationals, with inalienable rights (as well as the power to participate in common decisions) denied to foreigners, including immigrant workers. The issue of citizenship is nowhere a simple one. This is why a fourth notion has gained much intellectual support: the universal protection of human rights, which would allow individuals and groups to survive and flourish under any regime and in any conditions. But scholars and politicians disagree about which rights are essential ones, and states both resist external intrusions in so vital a domestic matter and are notoriously fickle and self-serving about taking up the cause of human rights abroad.

What is clear is how difficult it is for most states to pursue simultaneously the four goals of sovereignty, self-determination, self-government, and human rights. Even though President Bush said that Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial rule was the ultimate justification for the Gulf War, both the US and the coalition of states that supported it settled for the restoration of Kuwait’s sovereignty and for thwarting, by partially destroying, Iraqi power, while allowing Saddam Hussein to crush both the Kurds and Shi’ites, whom we had encouraged to rebel against the regime. When the flight of the Kurds provoked an outcry, the US took some steps to protect them from Saddam Hussein’s wrath, but never endorsed Kurdish demands for autonomy. Neither in Iraq nor in Kuwait has self-government, or even modest steps toward democracy, or the protection of elementary human rights, become the goal of US diplomacy.


A policy of world order would require that the many sources of global or regional turbulence be dealt with in ways that would minimize violent conflict among states, reduce injustice among and within states, and prevent dangerous violations of rights within them. The obstacles to such a policy are formidable.

First, the model of world order that underlies both the League of Nations and the UN is unworkable. It is based on the notion of collective security, by which all or most states will come to the rescue of a state that is the victim of aggression and punish the wrongdoers through sanctions or even force. The traditional criticism of collective security attacked the assumption that was supposed to lie behind it—the idea that delinquent states could be treated like criminals in domestic law. The critics pointed out that international society has neither the centralized government, judicial system, and police that characterize a well-ordered state nor the consensus on what constitutes a crime that exists in domestic affairs.4 And even when such a consensus exists (as sometimes in the case of armed aggression), states are not likely to honor their commitment to punish the crime unless it serves their interests to do so. Collective security tends to work, paradoxically, when a major power is willing to take the responsibility for it and the other nations are willing to fall into line. If it means the possibility of war against a major power, it will probably not be carried out, as is suggested by the fate during the cold war of the system of collective security set forth in Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

Coercion seldom works as an instrument of order in world affairs for other reasons as well. Outright aggression is not likely to be the most frequent or obvious source of disorder among states. Many violent conflicts are not caused by the moving of a hostile army across a well-defined border. The conflict may well be over where a controversial border should be, as in the case of Kashmir, or in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or perhaps tomorrow between Russia and Ukraine; or it may be about one state’s intervention in another’s domestic conflict at the request of one of the factions, as in the cases of Cyprus and Angola, or, in the early 1960s, in Yemen and Vietnam. In such instances, looking for an aggressor to punish could be futile and divisive—and this is one of the reasons why, in the past, the Security Council has chosen to treat violent conflicts under Chapter VI—concerning pacific settlement of disputes through diplomacy—rather than under Chapter VII, which authorizes coercive action against threats to peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression.

Moreover, coercion, even when it is effective—indeed, especially when it is—often punishes the innocent even more than the guilty. The people who suffer most are the hapless civilians who have had little say in the evil policies of their leaders. Here again, concepts of order that leave out civilian populations are inadequate. Those of us who advocated a longer period of sanctions in preference to early war against Iraq should have no illusions about who would have suffered most from the shortages imposed by a prolonged blockade. Still, the more violent the methods of coercion, the heavier the price paid by the innocent. Modern war virtually ensures that the trouble-maker will drag down with him thousands of noncriminals—not only civilians, but soldiers often drafted against their will and driven by fear—unless “enforcement” or world law can be carried out by small and brief police operations. In a full-scale war precision weapons may avoid the direct massacre of the innocent, only to destroy the conditions for a decent life, as the reports from Iraq describing the desperate fate of hospitals, health centers, water purification, power supplies, etc., have pointed out.

Modern war, fought with late twentieth-century weapons, therefore almost guarantees a disproportion between ends and means, or between the values saved and the values destroyed, as well as unexpected and damaging consequences. It is not only nuclear war but modern large-scale war that, in Michael Walzer’s words, “explodes” the old Catholic theory of the just war, in which justice depends on whether the violence used does not cause far more death and destruction than the aggression that has provoked intervention in the first place.5 World order may require brief police operations; but if it is based on the violence that accompanies either prolonged or intense fighting, it can hardly be called order. A large number of “Gulf wars” would be neither morally acceptable nor politically manageable; how often, even in cases of unmistakable aggression, will we find the remarkable coincidence of economic or strategic interests that made possible the US-led coalition?

This is why I have argued, along with others, that prevention should be favored over coercion.6 There are two approaches to prevention, and both present difficulties. The first calls for resolving conflicts by negotiation (as in Chapter VI of the Charter). But diplomacy will succeed in settling intractable disputes only if the major powers, in the world or in a region, are willing to put forward incentives and impose penalties in order to get the parties to budge and compromise. How often will they decide their essential interests are sufficiently threatened by the enduring conflict to engage themselves so deeply? When one sees how reluctant the US has been to do so in the Palestinian-Israeli quarrel, because of the real or imagined domestic political costs to the administration, one has good reasons to be skeptical. And the dispatch of peace-keeping (as opposed to fighting) forces by the UN or by regional organizations, to prevent an unsettled dispute from becoming a war under present world law, requires the consent of all the main parties. As in the case of Yugoslavia, many destructive months may pass before such consent is reluctantly given.

The other method of prevention tries to limit weapons at the disposal of the parties to a dispute so as to reduce the capacity for violence or to make coercion more effective if aggression occurs anyhow. But such efforts are likely to encounter formidable technical obstacles, as we can see in the Middle East today. In prohibiting arms sales, should such means of mass destruction as nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons be singled out? If this were done, and long-range missiles equipped with conventional warheads were included as well, it would still be entirely possible to fight highly destructive wars with almost equally lethal conventional weapons, including tanks and planes (as Israel currently argues about its adversaries). And if one adds such weapons to the list, doesn’t one provide a powerful incentive to efforts by the smaller countries, already well under way, to produce their own arms? The more extensive the list of prohibited weapons, moreover, the more difficult verification becomes—satellites and ordinary intelligence were far from accurate about Iraq’s capacities before and during the Gulf War. It is becoming harder and harder to deny potentially aggressive countries access to technologies that can be used for lethal ends (as the US-sponsored COCOM organization used to do against Communist states). It may one day be possible to monitor accurately the uses to which these technologies are put, but scientific advances in monitoring may well be matched by advances in the art of concealment.

As current US plans to sell F-15s to Saudi Arabia show only too well, the goal of prevention often comes into conflict as well with the logic of political alliances, which requires that one supply one’s friends. Following that logic will encourage regional arms races; but if one limits arms exports, one’s friends will protest that they are treated no better than one’s enemies. Also, how many countries would one want to catch in the net of arms limitations? Only those that are currently antagonists? All those situated in a given region, such as the Middle East and the Gulf? In many countries, moreover, including the US, France, and Czechoslovakia, the national arms industry has a strong domestic constituency, not least because of its contribution to the balance of payments and employment.

If coercion is too violent, and prevention is too uncertain, what about deterrence? One can conceive of deterring wars through a process that worked fairly successfully in Europe as a result of the Helsinki agreements of 1975 and of subsequent meetings, including the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in Paris in November 1990. The NATO and Warsaw Pact countries agreed on “confidence-building measures” aimed at preventing surprise attacks, for instance by notifying other states of military maneuvers, and they also agreed that national armed forces would largely rely on defensive, not offensive, equipment and strategies. But it is not easy to visualize Ukrainians, Croats, Serbs, Israelis, Syrians, or Pakistanis agreeing to such limitations.7 Another method of deterrence—less radical but often the most sensible available—is based on the presence, in a region, of military forces, sent by the UN or provided by a regional organization, and capable of intervening against a troublemaker. But such forces have not always deterred determined states—especially not in the Middle East, where UN peace-keeping forces were removed, in May 1967, at Egypt’s request, and pushed aside by Israel in Lebanon in 1982 and again in February 1992.

Domestic disorder or repression can create international conflict, particularly when a government violently attacks a large part of its own population, whether this corresponds to the legal definition of genocide or not. Humanitarian intervention, including by force if necessary, in order to prevent or stop such massacres has often been advocated. But not only do all the difficulties entailed by the use of force arise again in such cases but the claim of sovereignty will likely be used to block efforts to intervene. Most governments and international lawyers read the Charter as banning the use of force for humanitarian reasons. And if a nation wanted to move beyond the Charter, by having the Security Council treat such cases as threats to world peace, how can it get the other UN members to agree? Many of them (such as China and Syria) have armies of skeletons in their closets, or they fear that old enemies would take advantage of a humanitarian cause in order to gain advantages (as India did when it helped dismantle Pakistan in 1971 or as Vietnam did in Cambodia), or will close their eyes to atrocities if they are committed by friends, or friends of friends, or foes of adversaries (as the Chinese did with the Khmer Rouge).

A different issue is that of grave violations of fundamental human rights by oppressive regimes—China in Tiananmen Square, South Africa through apartheid, the late Chilean and Argentinean military dictatorships with their desaparecidos. So far, such violations have been deemed by the UN an international threat to the peace only in the case of South Africa; and South Africa may be the last state to be officially labeled as a pariah. Outside the UN, human rights have been defended or ignored depending on whether they were trampled by the Soviets and their satellites, or by allies of the free world. This is less likely to be the case now that the cold war is over, but the subordination of an active defense of human rights to political calculations is not about to disappear, as the Bush administration’s policy toward China shows. There have also been cases of widespread famine tolerated by the starving country’s government (Ethiopia) or caused by a civil war (Somalia); the resistance of such a government to outside assistance, or the chaos in the country, has prevented international rescue efforts from succeding or even (as in Somalia) from taking place.

Another persistent challenge to any predictability of world order is the clandestine buildup of weapons of mass destruction, especially in states with deep unsettled grievances toward neighbors. Destroying their facilities—as Israel did in Iraq in 1981—would amount to a recipe for chaos if it should become a widespread state practice; and it is likely to foster revenge.

Where, in any case, is the impetus for a new world order to come from? Who really cares about it? A “new world order” requires three kinds of leadership. It requires international and regional organizations capable of putting forces in place for peace-keeping and enforcement. But most of the existing organizations are inadequately equipped for such missions: their resources are too meager, their staffs too politically constricted, their procedures too clumsy, their agendas overburdened, their legitimacy too contested. (Much of this is true even of the most impressive of all regional organizations, the European Community.) In the UN, the General Assembly is unwieldy, the Security Council is frozen by the obsolete definitions of the great powers deriving from World War II.

International and regional organizations cannot be effective unless a powerful state, or group of states, is willing to take responsibility for exerting pressure or taking action. (In the European Community, it has been the “Franco-German axis.”) At the global level, we now face a paradoxical situation. Those who talk of a unipolar world confuse America’s unmatched military might with a preponderance of real power. But American might is likely to be used successfully only against such tiny states as Grenada or Panama, or against a major regional aggressor, such as Saddam Hussein. In most conceivable cases of disorder, either force will not be used because the interests are not sufficiently large or the threat is not sufficiently clear-cut, or else the cost of using force will exceed the probable benefits; or other forms of power, such as financial and technological pressure, will be needed, and the US is more and more limited in its ability to use both. When it comes to exerting such pressures or to creating fighting forces to deter aggression, we are confronted with a vacuum; yesterday’s superpower has vanished, and the new economic giants, Germany and Japan, are reluctant to commit themselves far beyond their borders. They have learned only too well the lesson the winners of World War II taught them about the perils of Weltpolitik. They have been able to disconnect their diplomatic activities from the interests of their private investors, who have managed to succeed brilliantly abroad without much help from Germany’s political leaders or foreign ministries.

World leadership also requires money: one can’t have order on the cheap. But who can, or will, pay for the almost unimaginable amounts that will be needed for the rehabilitation of Eastern Europe, for preventing convulsions in the former USSR, for narrowing the gap between rich and poor countries so as to prevent famine and huge population flows, for providing debt relief to many of the bankrupt countries, for protecting the environment, and for compensating domestic arms manufacturers deprived of external outlets? The US is already rejecting demands for aid from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union; Germany has been investing more heavily in Central Europe than any other power, but it is absorbed and shaken by the size of the East German disaster; Japan is torn between resentment of “taxation without representation” (as during the Gulf War, or in the UN Security Council) and reluctance to be involved beyond its own geopolitical sphere; Britain and France have ambitions but small means.

A final obstacle to any possibility of world order is the ambivalence of the US. What should its priorities be? Those who, like Bush, call for a policy of “world order” (undefined, beyond Bush’s idea of Soviet-American co-operation which has already been overtaken by events) tend to neglect the domestic repairs that American society urgently needs. If they are not undertaken, the underpinnings of America’s capacity to act as a world power will erode or collapse—as they did, behind an impressive military façade, in the Soviet Union. A serious energy policy aimed at reducing American reliance on imported oil would surely be a contribution to world order. On the whole, however, if the US chooses to concentrate on its domestic crises, there will be little money and attention available for involvement in the world. The recent argument of Foreign Affairs editor William Hyland for a “psychological turn inward”8 is a plea for a withdrawal of resources, not only from traditional entanglements, but from international commitments in general. And while it is true that, except in the Middle East, there may be few vital “threats to American interests,” a world of diffuse disorder could rapidly become a dangerous place.


Small steps, taken as the occasions for dealing with conflict arise, may be all that can be done to promote world order. We ought to think about the ways states can in specific situations be impelled to confront, or circumvent, the obstacles I have described. For instance, while large-scale coercion may usually be unwise, activating the long-dormant Military Staff committee of the UN under Article 47 of the Charter, and thus putting any UN fighting forces under genuine international control, would be an important change. So would getting the members of the UN to sign agreements allocating forces available for use by the Security Council (as provided in Article 43), and setting up, as a result, standby military units ready for action. This would make possible both limited police operations against minor trouble-makers, as the former UN undersecretary general Brian Urquhart has recommended in these pages,9 and the dispatch of a deterrent military force into a country that feels threatened and asks for it.

As Urquhart also suggested, in order to prevent aggression such as Saddam Hussein’s move across the Kuwaiti border, a new office should be set up under the Security Council to monitor troop movements and threatening deployments of weapons, and to call on the Security Council to act quickly when such threats are detected. Peace-keeping forces under Chapter VI or under Chapter VII could be sent to sensitive regions, either before a conflict, or when a dispute is unresolved, or after a truce or a settlement. They could be stationed on one side of a border at the request or with the consent of only one party, even if the other party objects. Such forces should be kept there as long as the Security Council has not decided to remove them. This would again require, in conformity with Article 43, the creation of standby (but not fighting) units; and these could be provided not only, as during the cold war, by states other than the permanent members, such as Ireland and India, but also by the permanent members themselves, as a guarantee of their willingness to take part in deterrence and prevention.

In the matter of arms control, the case for boldness has been recognized by Yeltsin and Baker, but they could go further. To prevent the breakup of the Soviet Union from multiplying by four the number of nuclear powers on its former territory, the US, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan should quickly agree on the elimination of all short-range and tactical nuclear weapons, and go on to make drastic cuts in land-based strategic missiles beyond the START limits, with the goal of eliminating them altogether. Since ICBMs formed the main part of the Soviet arsenal, the US, in exchange, should accept a reduction in the number of bombers and of its sea-launched ballistic missiles. Most important of all, a comprehensive test ban should finally be signed. If the major powers were to decide on deep reductions of their own military budgets and forces, they would be in a far better position to impose, through a cartel of suppliers, limits on the sale of all types of arms. They would also be in a position to establish, through regional arms control agreements, a network of confidence-building measures aimed at providing all parties with as much information as possible about each other’s forces.

The long-range goal, which should be formally announced, is to reduce each state’s forces and arms to the lowest levels compatible with its security needs. In exchange for stopping their own production and testing of such categories of weapons as long-range missiles, the major powers would request that the same curbs apply elsewhere and that the safeguards and inspection system of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty of 1968 be reenforced. Regular and intrusive inspections under UN auspices or under the auspices of regional equivalents of the CSCE could then be instituted. A state’s refusal to allow such inspections or violations detected early enough could put into effect sanctions such as withdrawal of credits that would have a less deleterious effect on civilians than an all-out blockade at the last minute. If a state’s refusal or violation put the security of an entire region at stake, the Security Council, under Chapter VII, could also threaten to take military action, a threat that might have a powerful deterrent effect; this might ultimately be the most effective policy to follow in dealing with North Korea if it is about to produce atomic weapons.

All the truly dangerous arms buildups in the world—in South Africa, in the Korean peninsula, in the Indian peninsula, in the Middle East—are linked to unresolved disputes. Nowhere is a solution more important—because of the implications of a rotting status quo—than in the Arab-Israeli case; and no solution is likely to be achieved by mere procedural suggestions. In 1991, the Bush administration finally seemed to understand that it had to push the parties toward the goal of provisional autonomy and to insist that Palestinians be the principal Arab negotiators; and in 1992 it has taken the unprecedented step of linking economic aid to a freeze on settlements. Much more pressure will be needed to narrow the differences between the parties’ conceptions of autonomy if the current negotiations are to have any success.

A central question is how to get international consent on lifting the immunity conferred by “domestic jurisdiction,” an immunity that can have deadly consequences. A new standard worth working for would justify collective intervention by international or regional organizations, or by states with these agencies’ consent, whenever domestic disorders or policies threaten a region’s peace or security, and when fundamental human rights are violated on a large scale. We must remember that when states are in conflict, preventing war through diplomacy is possible, whereas when the troubles are domestic, under present international law, nothing can be done, as with Yugoslavia’s slide into civil war.

Four kinds of measures could limit such domestic violence. The boldest would be a treaty, open to (but unlikely to be signed by) all states, that would define rigorously the circumstances in which collective intervention for humanitarian purposes could be undertaken, for a limited period, by a group of states whose action would be authorized by a strong majority of the treaty’s signers. The nations would act through a secretariat set up under the treaty, and would report all plans for action to the UN Security Council, which could at any time order the end of sanctions taken under the treaty. Such interventions could take place either when entire groups are subjected to violence, or when weapons of mass destruction are used against domestic enemies, or when a state remains indifferent to natural or man-made disasters on its territory. No doubt such a treaty might result in interventions that would be called “imperialist”; but this risk—which should not be exaggerated, given the requirement of collective authorization and the cost of military interventions—has to be weighed against the price of indifference.

Secondly, we should learn from the Yugoslav tragedy. When a civil war threatens to occur that is likely to have disastrous external effects or to cause extensive violations of rights, the Security Council should quickly assimilate such a case to the threats to peace and security among states covered by Chapter VII of the Charter, and not delay for months, as was the case in Yugoslavia. It would then be able to send peace-keeping forces to the region even if it has not had the prior agreement of all parties to do so; and if it should decide that one of the parties is the aggressor or blocks the return to peace, it could send a fighting force, as in cases of aggression among states. (In the Yugoslav case, the secretary-general and the Security Council have remained pragmatically elusive about the legal basis of their intervention, first for a cease-fire, later for the dispatch of a peace-keeping force; but the consent of all parties was deemed necessary.) Under Chapter VI, the UN should also be ready to sponsor negotiations between the parties to a civil war, just as it does between quarreling states. The recent Security Council efforts to promote a cease-fire in Somalia are a step in this direction.

A more modest measure would be an attempt to revive, at the request and under the auspices of the UN and of regional organizations (perhaps the CSCE in Europe), the kinds of treaties protecting minorities that were set up after the First World War, mainly in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. Under such treaties minorities could have extensive cultural and administrative autonomy that would be monitored by a system of inspections and reports; violations would be considered as threats to peace. To be sure, such arrangements could not be made without the consent of the states whose minorities demand protection. But these states—Romania, or Czechoslovakia, or an independent Croatia and Serbia in Europe; Turkey, Iraq, and Iran in the Middle East; Ukraine and Azerbaijan in the new post-Soviet Commonwealth—might be given a choice between signing such agreements, and (as, for instance, Italy and Spain have done) granting on their own to their minorities the rights such treaties would provide. States refusing to accept either formula would forfeit the credits and other economic benefits from international and regional organizations or banks that are so much in demand. In this way, mistreated ethnic or religious groups might be protected, while destructive secessionist movements would be avoided or contained.

A fourth step would be a reenforced system for monitoring human rights violations, beyond the reports provided by UN and regional committees or by private organizations such as Amnesty International. The secretary-general of the UN himself should be asked to draw the attention of the members to domestic acts that, in his opinion, either appear to be steps toward committing genocide (as with past Iraqi policies toward the Kurds), or could have dangerous effects internationally, particularly by inciting interventions by neighbors (as with Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge), or cause large numbers of people to flee the country (as with Haiti). He could also point to the dangers of human rights violations that accompany preparations for aggressive expansion abroad. In all such instances, the Security Council could request, at a minimum, that all members of the UN cease to provide economic and military aid to the delinquent state (such as the weapons and technology provided by the US to Saddam Hussein in 1989–1990 before the invasion of Kuwait).

Among the difficulties that may arise in carrying out such proposals, the most important may well be a lack of money. If the cuts in military expenses I have advocated here can be made, this would, year by year, liberate resources that could be available for the strengthening of international and regional organizations as well as for the economic missions of world order. Indeed, as Brian Urquhart argues below, money spent for peace-keeping should be seen as the most economical form of defense.

If the emphasis is put more on prevention and deterrence than on enforcement, gradually a kind of world concert of the major powers—including the current reluctant giants—and of key regional countries (such as Brazil and India) could emerge. One condition for nations aspiring to join such a club would be progress toward democracy and toward allowing autonomy or self-determination, within reasonable limits, for restive nationalities inside their borders.

As for the US, it is certainly in no position to play the role of sole guardian of world order which the Pentagon now claims for it, because it cannot postpone the domestic reconstruction that is widely seen as necessary. Nor can it withdraw from the cooperative quest for world order. In order to be able to do both, however, the US must have a government capable of dealing with more than one crisis at a time and of planning beyond the next congressional election. The ability of the American political system to redirect expenditures toward internal needs as well as toward even a modest system of international peace-keeping is very much in doubt. The same can be said about the ability of American leaders to foster a conception of citizenship that does not equate patriotism with the refusal to pay more taxes. Such questions about American political culture make it difficult to be optimistic about US leadership in the years to come.

The depressed mood following the Gulf War should teach us at least two lessons. Large-scale wars, even those widely deemed necessary and just, may not contribute to a decent world order. As long as statesmen put more energy into the logistics of war than into efforts to anticipate and prevent violence, whatever semblance of international order emerges will more likely be the result of accident than of design.

March 12, 1992

  1. 1

    See “A New World Order and Its Troubles,” in Nicholas Rizopoulos, editor, Sea Changes (Council on Foreign Relations, 1990), pp. 274–292.

  2. 2

    See Michael Doyle, “Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Summer 1983), pp. 205–235, and Vol. 12, No. 4 (Fall 1983), pp. 323–353.

  3. 3

    See Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars (Basic Books, 1977), chapter 6.

  4. 4

    I.L. Claude, Power and International Relations (Random House, 1962).

  5. 5

    See the powerful argument along these lines in “Conscienza cristiana e guerra moderna,” La Civiltà Cattolica (a Jesuit magazine published in the Vatican), July 6, 1991.

  6. 6

    See S. Hoffmann, “Avoiding New World Disorder,” The New York Times, February 25, 1991, p. A19, and Lincoln P. Bloomfield, International Security: The New Agenda, a paper published by the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota (1991).

  7. 7

    As John Steinbruner has pointed out, modern technology encourages offensive strategies (even for defensive purposes), and the kinds of arrangements that might be reassuring to potential enemies (both sides agreeing to an equal density of force deployments and equal firepower) would require a fundamental shift in the way in which states are used to ensure their security: they would have, in cases of violations by rivals, to rely on external guarantees, rather than on their own accumulated might, or on their alliances. Steinbruner, “The Consequences of the Gulf war,” The Brookings Review, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Spring 1991), pp. 6–13.

  8. 8

    Downgrade Foreign Policy,” The New York Times, May 20, 1991, p. A15.

  9. 9

    Learning from the Gulf,” The New York Review, March 7, 1991, pp. 34–37. See also his further argument for a rapid deployment force, under Article 43, to intervene in conflicts such as those in Yugoslavia and Somalia. “Who Can Stop Civil Wars,” The New York Times, December 29, 1991.