August 18, 2003


We are in the aftermath of the Cold War, and it is time for us to recalculate how global security is to be maintained. The institutions of the Cold War - the UN, NATO and other standing multinational alliances, proxy warfare, and the spectre of Mutually Assured Destruction - were sufficient to the task of keeping the world from descending into a third world war, by providing the incentives and methods to step down before a hot war could start between major powers.

Those institutions, though, are simply not up to the task of dealing with today's challenges:

  • The UN - in the guise of the IAEA and the NPT - are incapable of stopping states from developing nuclear weapons - even near-absolute pariahs like North Korea. The spread of chemical and biological weapons is even broader, and these are very dangerous against cities or in confined areas (for example, Israel is very threatened by these weapons, because it is so small, and so close to enemies which have at least chemical weapons).
  • NATO has proven to be unable to cope with security problems in their own backyard, unless the US decides to be the prime mover. As a result, the crises in the Balkans in the 1990s spiralled out of control until the US decided to intervene. This is not surprising, since NATO was really designed as a defensive alliance against invasion, rather than as a European guarantor of peace.
  • No organizations or mechanisms exist to try to solve the problem of terrorism. Indeed, member states of the UN have used this as a tactic against other member states in order to keep just this side of overtly attacking their neighbors (think Syria and Israel, for one example).
  • The UN has proven incapable of restraining agression between states. In the few cases where inter-state aggression has been challenged, the challenge has come from the US, using the UN, and would have happened without UN sanction. (Indeed, in the cases of the recent Iraq campaign and Kosovo, there was no UN sanction.) I cannot think of any examples of successful UN-sanctioned interventions which did not involve the US, unless the British action in Sierra Leone was conducted under UN mandate.
  • The UN has proven incapable of preventing genocide and massacres, even when their troops were ostensibly protecting the victims. (Search google for 'un peacekeepers massacre "failed to prevent"' and look at the shameful roster.)

What is needed is a new framework for securing the world. The outline of such a framework is beginning to emerge.

One pillar of a new security regime would be local intervention by regional powers. The US would provide the backing force to ensure that the interventions didn't fail. The Australian interventions throughout Oceania are an example of how this can be done. The US is also really pushing the West African states (via ECOMIL), particularly Nigeria, to take up regional security in West Africa. This is how the Liberian operation is being handled, with a relatively-small US force on the ground, and a much larger force offshore, supporting the ECOMIL intervention.

It is up in the air whether Britain would be a power in its own right or part of the EU. If Britain elects to remain independent, they most likely would retain some global role. I don't see the EU, though, engaging in any activities outside of Europe and maybe North Africa. At least it can be hoped that the EU can be convinced not to sponsor and aid terrorists and dictators.

South Africa, Brazil, India, Iran (after its regime is changed), Turkey, the EU, and Japan all need to be brought on board to this philosophy, and helped in its implementation. Together with Australia and the US, this would allow for a spread of free-market, representative, and secular government to bring long-term stability, on the backs of the regional powers to create the short-term (5-10 years) conditions for that stability to arise.

The regional powers, acting in concert with the United States and with each other, would be able to create and enforce the peace, spread good government and good economics, and in general lift the prospects of much of the world's population. In the circumstances where this is not enough, the US could intervene decisively, and undertake the 20-year plus projects (as it did with Germany, Japan and South Korea, and is now doing in Iraq).

For those states which are in-between, neither failed nor free - including Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Vietnam, some of the African countries, and so on - the US and regional powers could apply economic and military leverage (both cooperative and coercive, as needed) to push them in the right direction. In particular, these states are likely capable of doing a great deal in the fight against terrorism and WMD proliferation, and many of them could liberalize without falling into anarchy, though their lives may literally have to depend on it first.

I believe that this kind of arrangement could result in a generally-stable world in the long-term, with the threat of international terrorism and WMD proliferation decreasing over time and the threat of international wars declining even faster, although Africa would remain a basket case for quite a while, I suspect. Of course, in the shorter term, the world would have to be made deliberately unstable, and that will be strongly resisted. The old arrangements of the UN and NATO and similar alliances would dissolve, with coalitions of the willing - generally the regional powers and the US, with maybe a few other states along - coming together as needed instead.

I think that this is the outline that the British, US and Australians are pushing towards, and I hope for success. The alternative - nuclear terrorism - is too horrible to contemplate.

Posted by Jeff at August 18, 2003 02:16 PM | Link Cosmos

The google search you suggested was brilliant. It was a good post all around. As to Iran, I have a feeling Iraq will be a good ally soon too (depending how quickly they rise to their feet, of course). Iraqis are more cosmopolitan and wordly than the other Arab societies we've become accustomed to in recent years. One young Iraqi man was quoted in the media today, saying Iraq would be the Arab world's "conscience," meaning Iraqis would punish the rest of the Arab world in future generations, for not saving them from Saddam Hussein, and indeed propping him up. I tend to believe this.

Posted by: Hovig John Heghinian on August 18, 2003 06:34 PM

I'm sure Iraq will be our friend. I was speaking, though, in terms of regional powers capable of ensuring order in their regions. This has been a historical role for Iran, and one that Iran's larger population makes it well-suited for. Iraq, with the combination of smaller population and not yet being modernized, will be less capable of power projection for some time to come.

Posted by: Jeff on August 18, 2003 06:58 PM
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