After the Cold War: Looking for Common Ground
Is there a North/South divide in perspectives on post-Cold War security threats
or on new ways of meeting those threats? The views of three Third World commentators
-- Eqbal Ahmad, Jagat Mehta, and Olara Otunnu -- when contrasted with those
by Alan Henrikson, myself, and other US and European contributors in this and
the previous Boston Review roundtable point to some notable differences.
Ahmad, Mehta, and Otunnu agree on post-Cold War security problems: They focus
on internal conflicts within nations, particularly in the Third World; and Ahmad
and Mehta raise the issue of nuclear proliferation. Concerning the environment
for tackling these problems, they differ. Otunnu, noting the global spread of
democratic values, is relatively optimistic. Mehta, underscoring the need for
political reform and conflict resolution within nations, points to obstacles
as well as new avenues to cooperation. Ahmad argues that the narrow interests
of the great powers will probably continue to obstruct cooperation on security
On the key features of a cooperative security system -- the main point of engagement
among past and current contributors -- the views of Ahmad, Otunnu, and Mehta
are remarkably close. All three argue that the international community should
deal with security threats by acting through the United Nations and UN-related
bodies. They view subnational and transnational actors and regional and ad hoc
groupings of states as less likely than the UN to be effective at peacekeeping
and peacemaking (Otunnu) or as useful participants in a reformed UN structure
or process (Ahmad and Otunnu).
In considering how the UN might address security threats, all three stress the
need for a consistent, principled, nonpartisan response, and they express concern
about the potential for partisan action or inaction. Mehta and Ahmad view the
West's complicit acceptance of Israel's nuclear capability as a case of partisan
inaction on a major security issue. Similarly, Otunnu, Mehta, and Ahmad suggest
that the great powers' refusal to intervene to end ethnic bloodshed in the former
Yugoslavia, following so closely on the heels of the UN-approved war to roll
back Iraq's takeover of Kuwait, has qualities of partisan inaction. The inference
is that aggression in the Gulf was repulsed not out of principle but to assure
access to oil, whereas aggression in the former Yugoslavia goes unchecked because
the West has no immediate strategic interest at stake. Mehta and Ahmad suggest
that the great powers may be unwilling to incur any loss of life or financial
burden as the price of consistent, non-self-interested application of international
law and norms. Otunnu mentions the opposite concern: that the threshold for
international military intervention in the internal affairs of nations may be
too low, given the increasingly intrusive interventions over refugees in Iraq,
hijackers in Libya, and tribal warfare in Somalia.
To avoid partisan Security Council decisions favoring action or inaction, Otunnu,
Mehta, and Ahmad advocate steps to "democratize" the UN or its peacekeeping
and peacemaking capability. Otunnu and Ahmad suggest enlarging the Security
Council, giving its membership a more representative character and equalizing
veto power by abolishing it (Ahmad) or by ensuring that every continent has
a veto in some form (Otunnu), while Mehta proposes the creation of a standing
UN armed force that is globally representative in composition. In addition,
Ahmad suggests that the UN decisions be subject to review by the International
Court of Justice and that the International Atomic Energy Agency be empowered
to help prevent nuclear proliferation and reverse the arms race. Taking a gentler
line, Otunnu and Mehta recommend that the great powers show self-restraint and
commitment to the principles of international law.
On forms of UN-mandated action, Otunnu raises questions about non-military sanctions,
whose efficacy in changing the policies of political elites is often in doubt.
Economic sanctions, he observes, may do more harm to civilians than the violent
conflicts they are meant to end, and they are unlikely to remain useful unless
means are established to offset their effects in non-targeted countries.
In sum, surprisingly, Otunnu, Ahmad, and Mehta all support pro-active UN policies,
led by the United States and other Western powers; and they stress the potential
need for humanitarian military interventions under UN auspices to end bloodbaths
in internal conflicts within nations. Less surprising, all three seek to strengthen
checks and balances in the machinery of international peacekeeping and peacemaking,
so as to reduce the partisan character of uses of force initiated or blocked
by the great powers.
Their largely overlapping proposals agree on some points and differ on others
when compared with the suggestions for a more cooperative approach to security
put forward in this roundtable by Alan Henrikson and in the previous Boston
Review roundtable by Stephen Van Evera, Hayward Alker, Jr., Jane Sharp, Jonathan
Dean, Joanne Landy, Carl Kaysen, Steven Miller, and myself -- writers based
in Cambridge, New York, Washington, and London.
Only one commentator from the North (Landy) supports broadened membership for
the UN Security Council, while one other (myself) proposes restrictions on the
composition of UN armed forces as a check on partisan action. Virtually all
the commentators from the North and the South agree, however, that the risk
of inaction by the great powers in the face of threats like those in Bosnia
and Somalia is a potentially prohibitive obstacle to the creation of an effective
collective security system. The commentators also agree that active US leadership
is needed to establish consistent, nonpartisan standards for cooperative international
action. Beyond this, they differ on the role of the great powers, sometimes
sharply. Van Evera in the previous roundtable and Henrikson in this one argue
that the best institutional framework for concerted international action on
security matters may be the Group of Seven (G7) consultations among the heads
of state of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States.
Van Evera, stressing the need for carrots and sticks to support democratic reform
in the former Soviet Union, and Henrikson, pointing to unwieldy UN deliberations
and excessive US influence in the Security Council, argue that the G7 nations
are sufficiently few in number and similar in wealth, values, and political
structure to share power; yet sufficiently powerful, when taken together, to
have a decisive impact on world affairs economically and militarily.
In contrast, Mehta opposes "the arrogant assertion that the G7 must police
the world, with the UN Security Council in tow"; and Ahmad and Otunnu oppose
G7 leadership implicitly when they call for an enlarged Security Council.
This points to a paradox of collective security which time and talk may help
resolve: Those who are most keen to see responsibility for peacekeeping and
peacemaking shared democratically -- Otunnu, Mehta, and Ahmad in this issue,
myself and Landy in the previous one -- tend to advocate principled, consistent,
and, thus, possibly frequent use of armed force to end violence and support
the rule of law. The two qualities -- power sharing and the rule of law, supported
by armed force if necessary -- are logically, morally, and historically consistent.
At present, however, they are politically incompatible because no consensus
exists on the use of force under UN auspices.
In my previous article, I suggested that internal intervention within nations
should be limited to one objective: ending genocide (or lesser but still massive
slaughter). The use of force to protect human rights more broadly should be
deferred, I argued, until people have developed trust in the peace-fostering
character of UN military action. Concerning the constraints, scale, and command
of UN interventions, I proposed that that such action be taken only as a last
resort and under multilateral command, and that the action minimize death and
destruction. These criteria involve judgment calls, and to some extent they
conflict and may slow down or stretch out a UN response.
The dearth of comments by the other contributors on the principles that should
guide and limit uses of force under UN auspices is indicative of the early stage
of international debate on cooperative security, which is also reflected in
the world's protracted inaction in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia.
How might an international consensus emerge on the legitimate objectives and
conditions of UN uses of armed force? It could, I believe, grow out of the overriding
long-term interests of the international community in collective security.
My earlier piece argued that a new cooperative security system should involve
not only reliance on multilateral peacekeeping and peacemaking, but also cutbacks
to nonoffensive conventional defenses and a ban on production and trade of weapon
systems essential for cross-border aggression. These changes, though economically
disruptive in the short term, offer tremendous benefits over the longer run.
With a strategy of nonoffensive defense and multilateral peacekeeping, the world
could cut military spending from $850 billion per year to around $250 billion,
while steadily strengthening support for the norm of nonviolent conflict resolution.
By replacing reliance on nuclear weapons to deter conventional war, an effective
collective security system would aid immeasurably in stopping the spread of
nuclear weapons. Moreover, eventually, when it is clear to all that nuclear
weapons play no role in the outbreak or outcome of conventional war, people
may come to view nuclear arms like chemical and biological weapons -- as instruments
of mass destruction which can be abolished because their use is simply unthinkable.
These ambitious, long-term goals of peace and disarmament receive scant notice
from Ahmad, Mehta, and Otunnu, in part, perhaps, because their main benefits
would accrue initially to developed nations. To develop a more widely shared
sense of the powerful values that should motivate efforts for cooperative security
-- saving massive resources in the North, ending large-scale warfare in the
South, eliminating the threat of nuclear war, and strengthening commitment to
human rights and nonviolence -- we must consider this dialogue no more than
the opening round in a wide-ranging, intensive, and extended debate.
Originally published in the June-August 1993
issue of Boston Review
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the Cold War: The North/South Divide.