A “Leftys'” vision for a Safer World

It is often said that ‘the left’ has so solutions for creating a safer world. We are seen as the weaklings… the incessant negotiators and ditherers.

It is often said that ‘the left’ has so solutions for creating a safer world. We are seen as the weaklings… the incessant negotiators and ditherers.

(Audio Podcast Available)

(And thanks also to regular commenters, JaneM and David Billington for the inspiration for this article)

I don’t believe this to be true at all and I think it’s time to put into writing what I believe would be an alternative to the Bush doctrine of the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, the Missile Defense Shield, and the “With-Us-Or-Against-Us” mantra.

First, a definition of the “left” and “right”. In the political blogosphere right now, the “right” is really the right-wing American political scene. The hardline Republican “hawks”. The “left” as defined by them is anyone who does not share their view. Centrists and Democrats in America and basically everyone in Europe or Canada. Of course, this ignores the fact that the political spectrum is a little different outside of Europe and Canada.. but in the context of this article, we can define the “left” as supporting these basic values, which the “right” tend to refuse.

  1. Multilateralism
  2. Application of International Law, and
  3. Containment over Agression

A World in Transition

I think it is clear that the World Order is still very much in transition from the Cold War era of two great superpowers deadlocked militarily and politically.

We have been left with one superpower that basically inherited the responsibility to safeguard the entire world from harm. The massive resources at it’s fingertips have led to a feeling that it had both the responsibility and the right to dictate the security situation anywhere in the world.

This can no longer be the case. What we are doing by allowing this to continue is absolving ourselves of the responsibility to protect ourselves and others from harm. By maintaining the status-quo of having one mighty super-power, we simply invite others to aspire to that level of dominance… the only way to disrupt that temptation is to deflate the superpower and eliminate the need for any one country to be so far above the rest. I admit I am too young to understand the mentality of what led to the Cold War. While I understand the fear afterwards… I do not understand the thought process that kept the USSR and US from initially launching a 3rd WW soon after WWII which would have led to a nuclear war. Perhaps it was the recovery time needed on all sides after the apochalyptic casualties of WWII (especially in the USSR) that ensured that the world was basically saved from destruction due to MAD. At the same time, my ignorance is probably one demonstration of why the world can never be sure of having the benefit of another Cold War. Todays up-and-coming global threats come from many different places and many different cultures. Except perhaps China, they do not share the same mental history of just how volative MAD was. From China and India, to North Korea and Iran. These countries are all potential “SuperPowers” in their ability to start a nuclear war, yet we cannot be sure of their eligibility of being a “counter weight” to the United States… thus giving us the relative “safety” of MAD. Quite the Paradox.

We must break free of cold war thinking.

I believe the only way to do this is to strenghthen, and grow, the cross-border alliances and Institions such as the EU, NATO, the AU, the OAS, the Commonwealth, La Francophonie, and even APEC. I believe that only through the enlargement and strengthening of current military alliances, economic fora, and political groups, will the threat of state-vs.-state war be averted in the future.

In the case of NATO and the EU… these are largely European bodies… so their influence, in their current form, is limited to that Continent. Current problems aside, I believe the EU will continue to grow and expand. And as long as it does, it’s members will be that much less likely to start wars between themselves, or their most immediate neighbours. There will undoubtedly be a day, perhaps not in this century, when Russia joins the EU. That will be a turning point for world security and prosperity.

NATO is searching for a purpose, and I believe it holds the key to decentralizing the worlds military power from the United States and distributing it across its member nations. NATO must be expanded to include non-traditional countries. Russia is the obvious answer… but it needs a much wider reach. It must reach into North Africa and the Middle East. Turkey is the doorway to that region and an effort must be made to include the region in the common benefits of membership.

What must eventually happen, though, is a larger body must absorb NATO and use it as a police force. Every country in the UN, or perhaps every country that meets a certain criteria, must be forced to contribute to, and thus benefit from the protection that NATO provides. I avoid specifying the UN because I think it is in dire need of reform… but it is possible that it will survive and be useful, politically, in the future. (There are dozens of other areas that the UN excels at and will likely continue doing for decades to come… but as far as it’s affect on world politics, it is deeply flawed.)

There are a number of countries that must be more directly engaged and encouraged to participate more in these sorts of organizations. The Nuclear club should perhaps be the first priority. China is the most influential country in the world that is consistently avoided by the West. It must be encouraged to be more active in the world. While it’s human rights violations are clear, it is naive to think we can force a country of well over 1 billion to bend to our political will. That said, the economic transition that has taken place over the past decade has gone a long way towards opening up China to a more cooperative position in the world. China will arguably be the driving economy in the next century and the West has a responsibility to ensure that it does so in a stable and secure environment. That means perhaps pushing for a resolution of the issue of Taiwan, and pushing for reconciliation with Japan.

India and Pakistan are already part of the Commonwealth, but that body has been nearly useless in terms of promoting peace and security throughout its’ membership. The ongoing tension between India and Pakistan being the most obvious example.

Brazil is the preeminant example of an emerging power in the Western Hemisphere. While Brazil is already well respected as a responsible member of the world community it must be allowed to take more of a leadership roll in representing the currently forgotten South American community.

THere are many other countries, including South Africa, Indonesia, and others that are currently on the outside looking in. They are all keys to their own region and inclusion of them into a stronger regional community will hopefully moderate their political scenes and allow them to emerge as leaders.

Enforcement of International Law

This brings me to my next point on Law. The problem with International Law right now is that there is no one to enforce it. The UN certainly can’t do it… and common sense dictates that a Law is useless if you are unwilling or unable, to enforce it. This has been the root of the Iraq debacle… the right claims that the left uses the Law to avoid war even when war may be necessary, and the Left accuses the RIght of ignoring the Law by invading a sovereign nation without the Authorization to do so.

We must no longer think of International Law as governing only war between states. We must think of it as complimenting our own domestic laws. When the domestic law of a nation fails to deal with things like gross human rights abuses, genocide, acts of war, terrorism, etc., there must be an avenue for citizens to bypass their national government and bring the case before an International judiciary with the capability of setting out penalties.

For example: The citizens of the Darfur region should be able to use this ability to force decisive action by an enforcement body to protect them.

In order for us to move forward and ensure a secure world, we must take the interpretation of the Law out of the hands of individual countries like it is now at the UN and place it squarely in the hands of a Judiciary… with the support of a body (NATO++, the UN or something) behind them to enforce the law and bring criminals in front of a judge.

In the case of Weapons of Mass Destruction and long range threats… the only way this system would be able to deal with those threats is by outlawing them. ICBMs, Long Range Missiles, nuke/chem/bios. Countries, including those that already have the capability, would be forced to disarm and remove their military ability to use weapons of mass destruction ASAP. There would still be plenty of capability left for countries to act in self defense but the majority of their military strength would instead go to contributing to this police force.

Only through the strict adherance to the Law will that Law have any meaning or effect. If countries continue to produce, or are suspected of producing illegal weapons then, just like any other police force, steps would have to be taken to ensure that capability was diminished and/or eliminated.

I listed Containment as one of the tenets of the “left” and indeed it was… but I believe it is a notion best left to history and the Cold War. WHile there is still a place for limited “containment”, as a punitive measure, there must be a willingness to act decisively as well. A Police Force cannot function solely by “containing” threats to the peace. It must be allowed, and expected, to act to bring criminals to justice.

Conclusion

Now obviously these changes are dramatic and controversial. I don’t expect everyone to agree with them or go along with them… but I believe that at the root of it all we all believe that civilized society must be governed by some form of law. And that law must be enforceable and enforced.

The road to that scenario is, for now, the expansion and strengthening of regional political institutions like the EU, NATO, OAS, AU and others. I believe that as more countries feel the influence, culturally, politically, economically, and socially from being a member of these institutions, they will naturally gravitate toward a common ground based on common sense and stability.

Another road to this scenario is implementation of the Responsibility to Protect. You can see my posts on the subject here, here, and here. While it certainly has it flaws… it’s the sort of doctrine of common sense values trumping political gain and “interest” that we need to see more of. I believe the only way to really implement the “Responsibility to Protect” is by reforming the role of NATO, the UNSC and the UN as a whole in the world.

This will be very difficult. But they may all be important steps towards the ultimate goal of a world order governed not by political backroom deals, but rather civil society and the rule of law.

4 thoughts on “A “Leftys'” vision for a Safer World”

  1. Chris,

    Thank you for going to this length to outline a vision of the world. One minor preliminary point. I think there are more differences on the right than you describe. Conservative realists, for example, oppose the Bush foreign policy, as do conservative isolationists. Eastern Europe also needs to be distinguished from western Europe in terms of its attitude toward the United States. But broadly speaking I agree that the dominant mood on the right is more militant than it used to be. Your own views, however, are not typical of anyone on the left. I wish more people on the liberal and left side would think as you do in larger terms.

    I believe the only way to do this is to strengthen, and grow, the cross-border alliances and institutions such as the EU, NATO, the AU, the OAS, the Commonwealth, La Francophonie, and even APEC. I believe that only through the enlargement and strengthening of current military alliances, economic fora, and political groups, will the threat of state-vs.-state war be averted in the future.

    The benefits of belonging to these organizations and the costs of pulling out are a powerful incentive to cooperation. But the ability of these groupings to enforce conduct on other nations is limited to non-violent sanctions, except in the case of NATO where a consensus is necessary for the alliance to act. These groupings are definitely better than nothing but they don’t really solve the problem of what to do when key members disagree over war and peace.

    NATO is searching for a purpose, and I believe it holds the key to decentralizing the worlds military power from the United States and distributing it across its member nations. NATO must be expanded to include non-traditional countries. Russia is the obvious answer… but it needs a much wider reach. It must reach into North Africa and the Middle East.

    What must eventually happen, though, is a larger body must absorb NATO and use it as a police force. Every country in the UN, or perhaps every country that meets a certain criteria, must be forced to contribute to, and thus benefit from the protection that NATO provides. I avoid specifying the UN because I think it is in dire need of reform… but it is possible that it will survive and be useful, politically, in the future.

    What differentiates NATO from the UN is that NATO no longer allows members to be undemocratic, whereas the UN includes all sovereign nations. For NATO to be absorbed by the UN, either NATO would have to admit undemocratic states or the UN would have to exclude them. I don’t think either is likely. But NATO could eventually merge with the UN if all of the nuclear powers become democracies and join a globalized NATO. This may be a distant prospect now but in several decades it might not be.

    My own preference would be to have two global military structures separate from the UN. One would be a NATO alliance that gradually extends itself in the manner you recommend. The other would be a shared missile and space defense that would include all of the nuclear powers and many of the would-be nuclear states when it becomes operational in the 2020s. NATO and the missile/space defense could eventually merge if members of the latter qualify politically for inclusion in the former, and at that point the merged structure could and should be absorbed by the United Nations.

    This brings me to my next point on Law. The problem with International Law right now is that there is no one to enforce it. The UN certainly can’t do it… and common sense dictates that a Law is useless if you are unwilling or unable, to enforce it.

    We must no longer think of International Law as governing only war between states. We must think of it as complimenting our own domestic laws…there must be an avenue for citizens to bypass their national government and bring the case before an International judiciary with the capability of setting out penalties.

    The problems here are jurisdiction and then standards. Could Tibetans petition for the withdrawal of China from Tibet? Could Kashmiris force a plebiscite on whether to join Pakistan or India? Assuming we limit the right of appeal to cases where the behavior of a national government, and not its jurisdiction, is at issue, could Tibetans still sue for an end to human rights violations in Tibet? Would the treatment of women in certain Islamic countries be open to redress by an international court?

    If anything less than genocide or mass murder cannot be grounds for appeal to an international court, its terms of reference would still have to be clear enough to avoid judicial overreach and flexible enough to deal with unique situations. In cases of murder, the difference between ordinary killings and mass murder would be one of numbers, a potentially slippery standard for deciding when a nation should lose its sovereignty.

    Further questions would arise: Could a murdering government be held accountable after the fact? Would there be a statute of limitations on genocide so that past events are not grounds to force intervention? If the murdering government is replaced by an uprising, would the new government still be responsible for compensating victims of its predecessor and accepting an international presence?

    Historically, no court has ever been legitimate unless it was part of a government with legislative and executive powers authorized by an electorate coextensive with the jurisdiction of the court. The European Court of Human Rights has been successful because all of the countries over which it has jurisdiction agree by treaty to accept it, and its jurisdiction is limited to those countries. An international court that claims a wider jurisdiction could undermine the idea of a judiciary by creating an executive in judicial clothing.

    Nevertheless, I think you are on the right track here. It would be more lawful for nations to agree by treaty to consult at the request of any signatory on a case of unfolding genocide and for these nations to maintain a police force to intervene at the behest of a voting majority. That would make intervention a political rather than jurisprudential matter and would avoid the need for unanimity that limits the UN Security Council.

    “In the case of Weapons of Mass Destruction and long range threats… the only way this system would be able to deal with those threats is by outlawing them. ICBMs, Long Range Missiles, nuke/chem/bios. Countries, including those that already have the capability, would be forced to disarm and remove their military ability to use weapons of mass destruction ASAP. There would still be plenty of capability left for countries to act in self defense but the majority of their military strength would instead go to contributing to this police force.”

    It will be difficult to abolish weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them because of the effects on countries that depend on such weapons to offset weakness in conventional military power. This is the main reason why I think using future technology to abolish deterrence makes more sense than trying to get nations voluntarily to disarm their nuclear arsenals. I don’t think anyone believes that ballistic missiles will not someday be rendered obsolete. We need to begin to think about a world that no longer has them.

    “Now obviously these changes are dramatic and controversial. I don’t expect everyone to agree with them or go along with them… but I believe that at the root of it all we all believe that civilized society must be governed by some form of law. And that law must be enforceable and enforced. The road to that scenario is, for now, the expansion and strengthening of regional political institutions like the EU, NATO, OAS, AU and others. I believe that as more countries feel the influence, culturally, politically, economically, and socially from being a member of these institutions, they will naturally gravitate toward a common ground based on common sense and stability.”

    Law is not what these organizations really strengthen, but what they can strengthen is the consensus necessary for there to be the rule of law. And I agree that if these organizations can expand and grow stronger (without alienating member governments or member electorates) the world will be a better place. In the shorter-run, nations may have to make difficult choices if WMD technologies spread with advancing global modernization. But the best insurance if this spread cannot be contained is to have a plan to strengthen the world order if and when a crisis comes.

  2. Yes,

    I will definitely admit that I am simplifying the “right” and “left” greatly I hope I made that clear in the intro… but that said I think that as the blogosphere political discussion has evolved since the Iraq war the political debate has been, more often than not, quite extreme.

    “Multilateralism” could be translated to rejection of the UN

    more later…

  3. I still haven’t had time to read all of your post but I offer praise, Chris. This is so much more interesting than the same-old, same-old futile rehash of legality/illegality question of the Iraq war, the picayune focus on the DSM etc etc. I am yearning to know what is going to happend to the world in a broad sense in the next 30 – 50 years. This discussion generated by David Billingtons rather cerebral gifts of analysis and verbal expression is almost inspirational in my view. I promise I will find time in the next day or two to reread all your post and perhaps have some thoughts to share (not on David’s level, I assure you but if I have any insights, I’ll put in my 2 cents).

    Thaks for this post – I know it must have been rather time consuming. 🙂

  4. Hi Jane,

    Thanks for the comment. I was once a balloon pilot and the view from way up is great but you do want to get down again. I hope you and Chris will keep the discussion here down to earth when it needs to be 🙂

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