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What is the connection between the NATO action and the ambitions of some to establish a world government?
One of the questions that I have been asking myself about the NATO action is why the whole idea of it seems wrong to me, and makes me so uncomfortable. I believe it is because, at bottom, the understanding throughout my entire life that has been the foundation of my thinking about international relations was precisely that — international. The subject was “international relations.” Implied is that we have a world composed of sovereign nations, and that we are dealing with the relations among these sovereign nations and with the strategic and political environment that results from these relationships. Insofar as there is an international community, it is a community composed of these nations working out, in mutually agreeable ways, the terms on which they will conduct business with one another.
The basic assumption of this whole way of thinking is that those nations are defined, they have boundaries and jurisdictions, and that by and large they have within those jurisdictions the ability to order their affairs according to their institutions, laws and practices — up to and including some institutions, laws and practices that we would
consider oppressive, even evil. It has been an important principle of international relations that such matters are concerns of the particular country, and while another state might do its best, if help was asked for, to help develop better institutions, there was one thing it would not do — go into another country and force change. This was not acceptable, because it was aggression — the use by one country of force, without prior provocation of attack or threat, to impose that country’s will on another country. However valid and wonderful the intended change might be thought to be, such forcible imposition of it on another country has been universally deemed wrong by the international community.
There are those who don’t believe this, and who believe that we are moving toward a fundamentally new kind of global unity. They say that our increasing interdependence, particularly in finance, trade, technology and communication, make the nation state obsolete. This view has had its implications in economic and civic life already. Now, with the NATO intervention in Kosovo, I think we are seeing for the first time a use of force that is based upon the presumption that it is legitimate for a state or group of states to intervene in the internal affairs of another state without any real threat, military or
otherwise, but simply on the grounds that the state is not accepting an authority represented by the intervening states. In this case, NATO is intervening to enforce Yugoslavia’s acceptance of NATO’s authority and the terms of the Rambouillet Agreement, and to enforce that acceptance with bombing and whatever else is necessary until the government of Yugoslavia submits.
NATO is no longer acting as a cooperative defense force, which has been its defining character since its inception. Its role is being redefined so that it is now acting as the executive agent of a presumed authority to impose upon a nation state a certain form for arranging its internal institutions – otherwise known as a form of government. NATO is acting as the executive agent for a presumed authority to impose in Yugoslavia a certain form of government.
President Clinton has invoked humanitarian concerns in order to justify NATO’s use of force in the name of this presumed authority. But when you examine these arguments on humanitarian grounds, they don’t hold water. This leads me to ask what else is going on here. The argument we are being given seems to be a pretext, rather than a real motivation, cause or explanation. So what is the real rubric under which NATO is acting?
The real rubric seems to be a putative authority to require that in Yugoslavia a certain internal arrangement be accepted. NATO is insisting on the ability to dispose of the governmental structures within Yugoslavia in a way that seems right to the alliance. NATO is thus unwilling to continue leaving such questions to be settled by peaceful, and sometimes other than peaceful, means by people within the boundaries of the nation itself.
The dangers implied by this way of thinking are clear. The pretext of human rights and abuse of ethnic minorities has been used by bad folks as well as by good. Contrary to what Bill Clinton said, the Second World War wasn’t caused by ethnic strife in the Balkans. However, ethnic claims were involved in its origin. We forget this, because our memory of Hitler is predominantly a memory of his perpetration of the Holocaust. But the pretext for his aggressions — the aggressions that actually brought war on in Europe — was, among other things, mistreatment of ethnic Germans in the countries against which he took his aggressive stances, including Czechoslovakia and Poland. Hitler gave speeches intended to foment the frothing passions of the German people, in which he played upon the humiliation involved in the mistreatment of these ethnic German minorities and their inability to join with and enjoy the proper relation with the German “Volk.”
One of the explicit reasons that the principle of non-aggression was established in the wake of the Second World War was to prevent unscrupulous men like Hitler from exploiting the fact that boundaries cut through ethnic groups in various parts of the world, and using that fact as a pretext to advance their ambitions, or to impose their political will by wars of aggression.
NATO appears to be disregarding this principle of non-aggression, and reestablishing the notion that those who have the strength to do so have the right to intervene in order to react to what they regard as the mistreatment of ethnic minorities. I believe that this will be a very dangerous and destabilizing precedent throughout the world. The result could very well be that the fragile advances that have been made in international stability since the Second World War will be utterly undone, and we will be thrown into a period of incessant warfare over the course of the 21st Century.
Some have attempted to justify NATO’s intervention on the grounds that there is a general right to intervene whenever a government uses force against its people. This justification is incoherent. All government is about the use of force against the people governed — under, of course, certain circumstances. According to the American understanding, that use of force is not legitimate unless it is based on the consent of the governed. This is not just “our way,” it is in fact the right basis in principle for the foundation of governments. But I do not and never have subscribed to the view — and will adamantly oppose its adoption by this country — that we have the right to use force to impose our understanding of legitimacy on countries around the world.
Many countries — indeed, most countries — are not based upon this right principle of just government. They are not based on consent of the governed; they are based on other things. Many are based on fear and force, and some of them are based on other forms of manipulation. But it is not right for the United States to impose by force on other countries our understanding of legitimate government. Such imposition of that legitimate understanding by force would be a contradiction. We would be acting in a way that contradicts the understanding that you can only govern by consent. We would be governing by force in order to impose government by consent. We should not involve ourselves in building an imperialist foreign policy on this contradiction.
I opposed communism because it was an intrinsically bad form of government. But if an intrinsically bad form of government exists somewhere, and people are putting up with it, then while I pray to God for them in the hope that they will change, I will not endorse conquering that country in order to impose a better form of government. We had to oppose the communists because they were trying by force to impose that system on other countries. We do not ourselves have that right, any more than the communists did. It would violate the very principle we seek to defend.
By example, by judicious government of our own conduct in our relations with other nations and our internal affairs, by working cooperatively with those who are seeking in their own countries to promote and advance better institutions — in all of these ways I believe we should act aggressively and vigorously to advance the cause of legitimate and decent government. But to go to war in order to impose our idea of governmental legitimacy on other countries is wrong. We should not in any way adopt such a practice as a principle of our politics.
So when the right of intervention is claimed because a government has used force against its people, we must disagree. All governments, everywhere in the world, use force against their own people. Some of them do so to a lesser extent, some to a greater, and many of them in ways that are illegitimate because they are not based on respect for human rights and human dignity. This is true, sad, tragic and terrible, and we should work in every way to try to overturn it — except through the imposition of force. Because by doing so we involve ourselves in a deep contradiction. We attempt to establish by illegitimate means what we call a legitimate government, and yet the international situation resulting overall would be guided by our example of tyranny, totally in contradiction with the principle we articulate.
The NATO intervention is a hubristic and dangerous bid to establish a precedent for de facto world government. We must do everything we can to turn our leaders away from this ambition, and to direct them instead toward the humble project of learning the hard-earned lessons of their predecessors and applying those lessons with prudence.