26 August 2003

Latest Christian Courier column

The following is my latest "Principalities & Powers" column from the 25 August issue of Christian Courier, which is now in print:

The UN, NATO and international order


Four months ago in this space I wrote of the influence of the Project for the New American Century within the Bush administration. Members of this group have largely given up on the United Nations and believe that the time is right for the United States to assert its considerable power – unilaterally, if necessary – to achieve some degree of international order. Although I believe this strategy cannot be sustained over the long term, it must nevertheless be admitted that it is occasioned by the genuine incapacities of the United Nations.

Founded in 1945, the United Nations Organization represented a second attempt at international governance in the wake of the League of Nations’ failure six years earlier. It was hoped that the UN would provide a measure of collective security for its members, thereby lessening the prospect of general warfare. For a variety of reasons this failed to work properly.

First, there was a tension between the UN Charter, with its guarantee of state sovereignty and noninterference, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which held out norms for the treatment of citizens within these states. Second, the UN Security Council, whose permanent members included the US, Britain, France, the Soviet Union and China, quickly became anachronistic as the political importance of Britain and France declined while Germany and Japan gained in especially economic influence.

More seriously, the fact that the Soviet Union and later China were dominated by Marxist-Leninist ideology meant that the UN could not act in concert in a number of areas of potential conflict, especially if the actions of a communist state were at issue. The subsequent independence of the large number of former European colonial territories more than doubled the size of the UN’s membership, bringing nonwestern cultures into the world body, further complicating its ability to function as a single responsible agent. Finally the presence in the UN of rogue states sponsoring, or at least tolerating, terrorism leaves it virtually immobilized in the face of international aggression.

By contrast, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been one of the most successful international organizations ever. Established in 1949 to contain communism, it has now outlasted its former opponent by more than a decade. Yet far from outliving its usefulness, central and east European countries are clamouring to be admitted into the alliance. Why?

For more than half a century NATO has successfully created a secure space free from the scourge of warfare. It is now functioning primarily to keep its members from fighting each other, much as it has prevented Greece and Turkey, which joined in 1952, from going to war on at least three occasions.

The problem with NATO, however, is that its zone of peace has been established primarily by American military dominance. Both during and after the cold war, its non-American members, including Canada, have been largely content to live under the American security umbrella. Although this has led to a certain order and absence of conflict, it is an unbalanced order badly in need of being rectified.

Over the long term it is in no one’s interest, including that of the US, that NATO be so heavily dependent on American power. Americans will not tolerate their young people dying on distant battlefields to protect Slovenians and Estonians. Canadians and Europeans will not wish to subordinate their own legitimate interests to those of the US. Ultimately the rest of us will have to build up our own defensive capabilities to make NATO’s zone of peace a balanced one in which military burdens are more equitably shared.

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can be contacted at: dtkoyzis@gmail.com