Cooperative Security: From the Bottom Up
The four decades of the Cold War are perhaps the starkest historical example
of what Barbara Tuchman has described as "the March of Folly." This
observation must be the point of departure for any serious discussion of a cooperative
security system for the next century -- in particular for a system suited to
the North/South context.
Acting contrary to their own long-term interests, and overlooking evidence available
to them, nations produced a world that is now redundantly militarized, hopelessly
in debt, stunningly unequal, and rampant in disaffection and violence. Only
an historian coming to maturity after 1989 -- someone wholly uncontaminated
by forty years of atmospherics -- could possibly assess the full costs of the
Cold War. The most powerful nations, commanding the best minds and technology,
went on an odyssey of self-inflicted enfeeblement. It took a Robert McNamara
to confess that decision-makers were trapped by "misinformation, misjudgments,
It is also worth reminding ourselves just how resilient these entrenched misperceptions
have been. Decades after peace had been stabilized under the balance of terror,
the multi-trillion dollar Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was launched. Years
after Gorbachev had unilaterally halted nuclear tests, offered to withdraw intermediate-range
weapons from Europe, and end Soviet involvement in Afghanistan, Bush's first
official statement as President (21 January 1989) was to warn against glibly
believing that the Cold War was over! Within a few months the Berlin Wall came
down, and in quick succession the communist dominoes fell, the Soviet Union
splintered, and NATO had to begin a search for a political raison d'être
for its continuance. The biggest challenge we face in reordering relations among
states are the mindsets conditioned by four decades of Folly.
The Historical Background of the Current Morass
The present economic and security disarray in the Third World can be traced
largely to the fortuitous if unfortunate coin-
cidence of decolonization and the Cold War. The former ended the empires and
made international society multi-continental, multi-racial, and multi-religious;
the latter negated diversity by demanding ideological conformity and strategic
subordination. The two processes worked at cross-purposes. Decolonization was
centrifugal; the thrust of the Cold War was centripetal. If the transfer of
power in India had occurred on the basis of the decolonization process and had
already been initiated before the Second World War, the tragic partition of
India not only could have been preempted but responsible nationalism would have
retained a stronger vigilance against militarism and greater zest for economic
The Cold War no doubt accelerated the transfer of power in the European empires,
but it also vitiated the positive dynamics of self-determination and blurred
the diversity of international, and human, society. The competitive quest of
both blocs to win friends and allies by forging military pacts and pushing military
hardware, insidiously weakened the resolve to democracy and national discipline
in the newly independent countries. Third World countries convinced themselves
that the self-interest of the donors guaranteed unending economic support and
rescue, but this complacency actually coopted the developing countries into
a debilitating dependency. The Third World leadership -- mostly from the middle-class
-- were convinced that socialism was the only way to distributive justice and
that the Soviet bloc had intrinsic strength as the wave of the future. While
criticizing the West, they overlooked the fact that political independence had
given them a margin for self-regarding discretion. And, while criticizing the
West, most developing countries accustomed themselves to outside help with strings
attached, never anticipating that the Cold War would end and that they would
be abandoned with piles of debt and inadequate earning capacity.
To be sure, non-aligned countries asserted their independence during the Cold
War by focusing on peace and development. But they also came to bank on the
permanence of the ideological divide and relished the artificial importance
which flowed to them from East/West competition. As a result, they were quite
unprepared for a political earthquake in which the aligned disengaged from extended
military and political commitments; domesticated their foreign policies; adopted
eclectic liberal socio-economic models; and, disregarding ideology, moved to
a freer choice of trading partners. Having grown dependent on the mutual suspicions
of the power blocs, the non-aligned countries were quite unprepared to find
that their original gospel was being embraced by the aligned themselves!
The Intellectual and Psychological Legacy of the Cold War
The end of the Cold War has left disoriented economies and distorted perspectives,
both of which present serious obstacles to forging relations with the loosened
world dispensation. To adjust, and to begin finding bearings in the post-Cold
War world, we must identify some of the intellectual fallacies which dominated
and limited debate during these decades, and which now hinder constructive avenues
of response to international disorder.
1. Dependence on Military Aid: Social progress as a vital ingredient to
national security -- a basic element of non-alignment -- was unwittingly abandoned.
Despite much lip service to economic development, military security became central
to the national agenda even of the social democratic countries. Indeed, with
some donors -- at least in some countries--the military came to be viewed as
the most reliable engine for modernizing traditional societies. The armed forces
became the protector of the government at home, rather than the guardians of
national boundaries. The officer cadre, with large numbers trained abroad, became
part of the international rotary of professional soldiers, defense scientists,
and strategists who shared allegiance to the weapon culture and fascination
with its exotic sophistication.
2.ational Security States: At the height of the Cold War, the Third World was
in the vanguard of the call for disarmament, for beating swords into ploughshares.
Now that the North itself is working to strengthen domestic economies by cutting
back on defense, the Third World is muting its own thesis. With severe unemployment,
internal disaffection, and frequent assassinations, the non-aligned themselves
have become "National Security States." The right to individual protection
for even lesser members of the government has become a status symbol. It is
not surprising that there is an unspoken consensus for "more security"
rather than more political channels for addressing civil affairs.
3. Soft Economic Priorities: Cold War interactions and the flow of aid
has made most Third World countries soft economies, with little economic or
political reserve to resist debt traps. In many countries, notably in African
states, development was financed almost entirely by outside help, with only
a negligible share from domestic savings. Even then aid was not harnessed to
improved economic productivity; instead, a great part was squandered on building
prestige. Third World capitals are dotted with sophisticated conference and
stadium complexes funded by past assistance. They are monuments to ill-conceived
glory and a public record of the priority attached to glamour. The foreign aid
connection also tended to encourage imports, inappropriate technology, and,
as in the construction of TANZAM railway, unskilled labor. One could argue that
but for the Cold War, many countries in the Third World would have resisted
dependency and the economic free-fall ultimately associated with it.
4. The Habit of Scapegoating: Imitating the politics of the great powers,
Third World countries have made "scapegoatism" part of the craft of
governance. Never before in peace time have domestic failures been habitually
deflected by the projection of imminent, external threats from malign powers.
The perceived menace of international communism led to the witch-hunting of
McCarthyism; the Soviet Union justified brutal suppression of Hungary by pointing
to the diabolical design and unreconciled hostility of imperialism and capitalism.
Trillions were spent on intelligence and subversion, propaganda, disinformation,
and counter-insurgency. There is very little positive gain to show from these
Flattering these examples by imitation, smaller countries established their
own intelligence units which were allowed vast unaccounted funds. They too became
extra-governmental nuclei of power and policy. As governments floundered at
home, or as protest became articulate, the "foreign threat" was used
to whip up popular support, suppress democracy, and brand dissent as traitorously
disloyal to national interests.
5. Managed Consent? The Cold War connection also encouraged a false faith
in the power of modern technology to marshal and maintain popular confidence.
The information and communication revolutions, and associated military innovations,
led to an enormous accretion of power to the state. In one party states these
instruments fostered the Orwellian illusion of being able to condition or coerce
the people into obedience.
As it happened, these very instruments politicized and empowered the people
and actually challenged the authority of the most powerful states. Ironically,
the information revolution has fueled disbelief in information ministries. It
has also precipitated ethnic, tribal, sub-national, and fanatical sectarian
identities. In countries with well-established democratic safety valves, demands
for autonomy and independence (e.g., Quebec and Scotland) are being negotiated.
But in most of the Third World, violent centrifugal forces pose a serious threat
to the national establishment.
National governments have often responded to this challenge with brutal suppression.
But the capacity of the state to suppress and coerce has been trumped by the
power of defiance and terrorism. Hijacking of aircraft, thanks to the media,
has become an instrument of propaganda for freedom fighters and disaffected
minorities. For our purpose here, it suffices to note that nervous governments
challenged from within are likely to be more hesitant about a cooperative global
order, if it requires reducing their means of counterinsurgency and suppression
6. Sensitivities About Sovereignty: The legacy of militarism, economic
extravagance, and populist scapegoatism currently manifests itself in parallel
but contrary attitudes toward North/South relations. In the face of deficits
and urgency of economic development and coping with disasters, there is no alternative
for the Third World but to look for outside rescue. When it is issued, the appeal
for help is urged on grounds of enlightened internationalism in an interdependent
world. But when it comes to the application of international political principles
-- universal human rights, or arresting ethnic genocide -- the old resistance
against intervention in internal affairs is aroused. This ambivalence is crystallized
in Third World attitudes toward the United States. On the one hand the United
States is recognized as the respondent of last resort for economic assistance
and disaster relief even when requiring a military cover (as in Somalia). On
the other hand, America is still frequently seen as a threat to national sovereignty
that must be kept out.
This nervous sensitivity about sovereignty is itself part of the legacy of the
Initial Steps to a Cooperative International Order
Given this historical background and legacy, what can be done? While the imperative
and framework for cooperative global order can emerge from enlightened intellectuals
in the West, the actual structuring must begin at the bottom -- in the minds
of the multitude who are baffled at the degeneration surrounding them.
1. Reorienting National Public Opinion: The first task is to instruct governments
and educate public opinion about contemporary realities. The presumed free ride
is over and the greater dangers are internal and not international. With due
deference to Mao Tse-Tung, power doesn't flow only from the barrel of a gun;
the people are "informed" and aware and don't get fooled or remain
suppressed for long. When political rights to economic and social dividends
are denied, people can and have put the most powerful governments on the defensive.
For credibility and legitimacy people will respect austerity and purposefulness,
but bloated, bureaucratized governments forfeit the right to make such calls.
Scapegoatism has diminishing returns; self-righteous hyper-nationalism becomes
a liability and does not command respect or response. When commercial considerations
are on the ascendant, the flow of investment and technology will be for economic
-- rather than political or strategic -- considerations.
Projecting these non-populist lessons, after decades of delusion, may well appear
politically suicidal. But beating drums about callous international forces will
not yield results or overcome indifference. This is all too evident in the attitudes
towards so many countries in Africa. An enlightened government could encourage
back-benchers to lead the reorientation process. If it is combined with the
rigorous discipline that some East-European nations have shown, it could evoke
greater sympathy and indulgence. Special responsibilities rest with Third World
academics to become more self-critical and warn against ostrich-like chauvinism.
Nations have to be made aware that long-term national interests may be better
safeguarded by reversing militarized redundancy.
2. Defusing Internal Strife and Disaffection: To mold domestic public opinion--
or, rather, to reinforce it in its imperative -- is to find negotiated solutions
to internal civil strife. There is some progress in ending long-lasting civil
wars in Mozambique and Angola. There is obvious revulsion at militarism signaled
by Eritrea's return to peace and in the mutual trust re-established between
Christians and Muslims in Lebanon. But in Kurdistan and Sudan, wholly internal
conflict continues. There is no will to reconciliation and national reconstruction
in Afghanistan; there is no retreat from personalized corruption in Zaire, and
persisting genocidal friction in Kampuchea. The world looks in with horror,
but for every case of international concern there are twice as many cases of
international indifference to suffering.
To address such internal strife, most countries in the world -- and not just
in the Third World -- must reverse the centralization of power and embark on
a deliberate policy of constitutional devolution. Federalism, rather than unitary
governments alone, will assuage the rise of ethnic politicization.
3. The Challenge of Regional Diplomacy: A basic error of the Cold War was
to see all inter-state conflicts as proxy wars of the superpowers. Intra-Third
World conflicts generally have a regional dimension which was submerged or exacerbated
by false globalism or the half-truths of the Cold War. Almost all tension-ridden
areas -- South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Korea and the Far East,
West Asia, East and Central Africa, the Central American area-- have a local,
ethnic, or regional dimension. Even if the Association of South East Asian Nations
(ASEAN) has achieved only limited success in regionalizing trade and development,
it has succeeded spectacularly in moderating old bilateral and regional political
tensions. (It should be recalled that ASEAN was born in Southeast Asia, not
as a result of Western encouragement.) A resolution to the Arab-Israel problem,
like the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, is at last inching towards
progress, because in both cases the anticommunist partisanship of the United
States has been abandoned. But there is not yet full recognition that alleviating
poverty in South Asia (with 500 million people living below the poverty line)
requires functional cooperation in the subcontinent -- notably around international
rivers -- and the region's economic and ecological interdependence.
The false concept conceived in Washington that regional security requires regional
hegemons like the Shah of Iran, or India, Egypt, and Nigeria must also be rejected.
The stronger regional powers can only promote confidence by offering economic
opportunities; but like the superpowers, they too will be frustrated if they
arouse suspicion that they are coercing their smaller neighbors, even when that
suspicion is unwarranted. India's intervention in 1971 was to support a clearly
established Bangladeshi demand for independence. But India faced frustration,
despite deployment of substantial military capability in Sri Lanka, because
it offended Sri Lankan nationalism and was opposed by the militancy of the Tamil
I have been urging that the quest for international peace must be secured, to
begin with, from within countries. But es-
tablishing a decent, fair, cooperative system of international security requires
broader international action and changes in international norms, attitudes,
and institutions -- beginning with the UN itself.
1. The UN and Global Security: With the end of the Cold War and the paralysis
of the veto, the UN can start afresh, nearer the Dumbarton Oaks vision of collective
response for international conflict resolution, peacemaking, a prophylactic
role for the Secretary General, reactivating the Military Staff Committee and
the longer term peacekeeping responsibilities. In the past three years, the
UN commitment to peacekeeping has stretched to 14 countries, including the enabling
approval for the operation in the Gulf and a $2 billion deployment in Kampuchea.
While there is now wider support for intervention under UN auspices, an effective
role for the UN still faces many serious impediments. Financing such operations
through an organization which is already too bloated and teetering on the edge
of bankruptcy is only one of them.
The more difficult problem is whether interventions can be seen as principled
forms of peacekeeping. The protracted hesitation to intervene against religious
intolerance and ethnically motivated barbarism in Yugoslavia has damaged the
moral prerogative of the North to intervene in cases of genocidal tribalism
in the South. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait -- where there was the vital global
interest of oil -- may not easily be duplicated. The United States carried the
major share of the operational responsibility but, reflecting its changed economic
capacity, sought contributions to share the financial burden.
In the future, any UN sanctioned force must be a mix which more or less reflects
the racial, religious, and cultural diversity of the organization. But such
operations may still depend on logistical capabilities commanded only by the
United States, Western Europe, and possibly Russia. The great powers, in keeping
or enhancing their standing, should not deny the UN this infrastructural support.
But to give the UN a moral authority aimed at nonviolent defusing of conflicts
and ending internal barbarism, the organization's capacity to act independently
and promptly should be strengthened. It seems to me it is time to discuss the
idea of a directly recruited standing Foreign Legion of, say, three independent
brigades. Such a force could provide the trained nucleus for expansion according
to the particular requirements of a crisis. Some new method of independent revenue
(for example, a small tax on international tourism which is dependent on international
stability) could also be envisaged.
The core problem is how to square the international compulsion to intervene
without offending the principle of domestic sovereignty. A careful case law
should develop according to which outrages against international law and morality
or humanitarian disasters would warrant effective action by the UN or a regional
body. There are sensitivities in the South to such action. But even so, there
will be calls to restore peace, rescue and provide relief (as in Somalia, Kampuchea)
in gross tragedies. The UN must retain the image of independence and impartiality
and ensure that interventions do not appear to subserve the interest of the
Group of Seven (G7).
2. Arms Transfers and Sales Registry: It is vital that the reduction of
military budgets by the former members of the alliances should not become a
spur to the intensification of competitive arms trade abroad-- which in effect
means the export of militarization to the impoverished South. For too long,
Third World economists have conveniently argued that arms transfers were wholly
supplier induced -- aimed at promoting the political or commercial interests
of the exporters. Actually, even in the Cold War years, arms transfers were
often tailored to the security priorities of military regimes or security-obsessed
recipient states. After the oil price hikes OPEC nations went on an arms purchase
spree; arms producers responded with alacrity by selling overpriced, over-sophisticated
weapons as an easy method of recycling petrodollars.
Even in the face of opposition from both prospective buyers and sellers, international
non-governmental organizations should urge the compulsory registration of arms
sales and transfers, under UN auspices. There have been an unknown number of
Irangate-style arms sales for profit; cheating with governmental connivance
will continue with the increase in Third World conflicts and transnational and
internal violence. But international public opinion is building up against the
arms bazaar. We need a variant of Amnesty International to report on surreptitious
sales of arms, nuclear material, and technology.
3. Conventional and Nuclear Arms Control: Arms control can only make progress
if there are sincere efforts at regional confidence-building. The old Conventional
Arms Control Talks summarily terminated by the United States in Mexico in 1978
must also be resumed, with a requirement of annual progress reports to the UN
The problem of nuclear proliferation also exemplifies the confusion between
old and new definitions of security and reveals how considerations of domestic
politics and prestige further complicate them. It would now be conceded that
Hiroshima was the original sin, and that the failure to consign atomic weapons
and technology to the UN under the Baruch plan was a second mistake. When the
British decided to retain the nuclear option -- a decision for which there was
no plausible military justification -- nuclear weapons became a symbol of political
prestige. Finally, some 40 years later, the Soviet Union has demonstrated that
a nuclear arsenal neither brings international prestige nor helps to preserve
the integrity of the state. In this confusion, in which every country with a
nuclear capability has a subjective rationale for it, progress toward non-proliferation
requires that all nations in the nuclear game quietly recognize that the costs
of possessing such weapons are greater than the rewards--that it produces more
national anxiety than national prestige. On the other hand, a lack of nuclear
weapons has not prevented Japan from becoming a superpower, capable of sharp
disagreement with its biggest trading partner and of defying its nuclear neighbors.
Hypothetically, Sweden and Switzerland, Mexico and Cuba, Libya and Syria, Vietnam
and Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, Croatia and Serbia could one day make
a crude bomb, and -- after further miniaturization -- even a terrorist organization
could deposit or deliver it in a vehicle or find a suicidal, human bomb carrier.
Non-proliferation is another example of a problem where progress will only come
when international principles are adopted and observed without selective exceptions.
4. The North in Relation to the South: I emphasized earlier that stability
and security must be built brick by brick from below. But it would be unrealistic
to deny that ultimate success depends on the carrot and the stick wielded by
the G7 -- specifically, by the United States. Arrogant assertion that the G7
must police the world, with the UN Security Council in tow, reflects an error
in comprehending nationalist dynamics in the South. The asset of the G7 countries
is that they can also promise economic and humanitarian relief -- and ultimately
outside socio-economic help alone cures the spreading cancer of violence. But
having lost the global enemy, the G7 should see their role as guardians of principled
internationalism. The hesitation in the G7 comes because, in wielding the stick,
they do not want to risk retaliatory bruises and bloodshed. It is simply false
fears that turn every operation into another Vietnam.
There is a new spur to internationalism around ecology and human rights. Distant
starvation now intrudes into our living rooms. Because of its history and power,
the United States is still looked upon as having a deeper concern for the world.
In turn, the world will accept US leadership when it crusades against brutality
and armed aggression. But the United States would have to exercise restraint
on arms exports. Giving priority to rescuing Russia and Eastern Europe commands
understanding. But if the Cold Warriors now see a civilizational unity of Europe
and North America against Islamic Fundamentalism, or the politico-economic co-prosperity
axis of China/Japan and the Far East, then there will be no chance to scale
down the present levels of conventional or nuclear arms programs.
Conclusion: On Diplomacy
The prospects for cooperative security in the South are not bright -- not, at
any rate, in the near term. There has been too much paranoic militarization;
too much turbulence, violence, criminalization, and corruption in politics;
too much ethnic, tribal disaffection threatening the disintegration of states.
The defeat of communism has no doubt given a sense of triumph for liberal democracy
and the market economy, but it is not the End of History. Much remains to be
done to advance the Kantian concern for peace in an interdependent world.
A livable, safer, freer world requires committed action in both the North and
the South. Exasperation in the North and old suspicion in the South are, in
part, the detritus of the Cold War. Both would be helped by a renewed commitment
to classical ideals of diplomacy. We still live in a world of sovereignties;
rogue nationalism still holds sway over many parts of the world. During the
four decades of the Cold War, diplomacy was reduced to the craft of complaints
and accusations, rhetoric and semantic jugglery.
The diplomacy of the 21st century must be constructive, if only because big
wars "must not be fought and cannot be won." Members of the world
community are distinguished by size, economic capacity, technological base,
work ethic, and military capability; but nations have a new sense of equality
and are confident in their independent nationalisms. Constructive diplomacy
will require comprehending the sensitivities and misperceptions between sovereign
negotiating partners, each with its own politicized public opinion. In fact,
popular reaction as much as governmental calculus now determines the boundaries
of negotiation. The challenge in the post-Cold War world is to find non-offending
compromises. Gorbachev achieved a miraculous turnaround of entrenched suspicions
by unilateral concessions. This is wholly different from the traditional method
of professional diplomacy -- hard reciprocal bargains, negotiated in complete
But ultimately the challenge to diplomacy is to consolidate the conviction that
there is a common interest in cooperative peace and progress -- rather than
in a world dominated by the three hubs of North America, Europe, and China/Japan.
That consolidation in turn would be fostered by a shared commitment to elevating
principles of international law and morality over the coercive abuse of power,
callous indifference to poverty and suffering, and disregard for ecological
interdependence. The most powerful states-- the countries of the North -- face
the greatest temptations to violate these principles. For that reason, they
bear a special responsibility for upholding them.
Click here to return to the Boston Review Forum, After
the Cold War: The North/South Divide.
Originally published in the June-August 1993
issue of Boston Review