Much of written history displays the conquests of the most powerful nations over less powerful ones. This has led to ever-changing territories as nations have been conquered or have conquered others and the most powerful nations or alliances of nations hold the ultimate authority. Especially in the past century, however, there has not been one major world power but many powerful nation-states capable of dominating the smaller nation-states around them. Before World War One, a balance of power (in Europe at least) system kept nations from unleashing their power and dominance on less powerful nations. As this system collapsed after the war, the League of Nations was set up as a forum to end disputes peacefully.
This system too collapsed upon the start of World War Two and after the war was resolved great debates began to try and establish a better form of resolving conflicts via peaceful means. What emerged is the United Nations, a modern forum that has attempted to keep the world at peace for over fifty years now. Yet there has been numerous devastating wars during the last fifty years which the UN has not been able to resolve. What I’m trying make clear here is that we cannot allow states to rule with ultimate state authority for it seems that it is part of our human nature, when we are more powerful than others, to impose our authority on them for self-beneficial reasons. Thus I disagree with the statement that “in international politics, no authority should supercede the authority of the state” and that establishments like the UN are necessary to protect powerful nation-states from themselves.
Once analyzed, my views regarding this statement take some aspects from both the idealist and realist schools of thought. These two major theories emerged during the twentieth century; the idealist theory emerging after the First World War and the Realist theory after the Second World War. Both are still debated when discussing issues regarding the involvement of foreign nations in another Nations affairs. With regard to this statement each school of thought has distinctly different opinions.
The idealist school has several basic assumptions that shape its general views on international relations. Idealists assume that human nature is basically good and man has natural tendencies to assist, cooperate, and care about his fellow beings. Thus men are not created evil, rather it is their environment which influences them to act in evil ways and that social progress is possible and inevitable and these values reflect their “ideal” vision of international relations. Their vision is that the international community must make their aim to prevent future wars and this can be accomplished by eliminating the environment that makes people evil, namely their institutions, government and basic structures. In another, less militaristic view, they conceive international relations behaving in a harmonious, “invisible hand” like fashion. Thus they see a need for an international community and international laws to promote peace and discourage war.
The realist school of thought takes a much different point of view based on its assumption that human nature is essentially evil. With this outlook, realists view the acquisition of power as the main goal of individuals, and in parallel the state as well, and that power relations govern individual and state policies and directly influence their behavior. International relations between states is seen as an anarchic environment where a nation’s primary concerns are of self-preservation which can only be ensured through military power. Thus international alliances are rigid and cannot be trusted and that a balance of power is the only way to ensure international stability, agreeing with the statement in question. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a prominent ‘natural’ philosopher who influenced realist theory, proposed a description of a central world government which:
“Must embrace all the important Powers in its membership; it must have a legislative Body with powers to pass laws and ordinances binding upon all its members; it must have a coercive force capable of compelling every state to obey its common resolves whether in the way of command or of prohibition; finally it must be strong and firm enough to make it impossible for any member to withdraw at his own pleasure the moment he conceives his private interest to clash with that of the whole body .”
Although a philosophic vision by a realist may be somewhat contradictory, it does abide by all the basic tenants of realism but replaces the volatile balance of power system with a utopian central government which, in theory, could create world peace, a very appealing notion. However most modern realists would disagree with any authority higher than the state, even an ideal one such as this.
To say that no authority should supercede the authority of the state it a radical statement. The last time there was no formal authority over the state in peacetime was in 1913. Therefore the best way to analyze the former statement is to see how institutions such as the UN and foreign states intervention in foreign countries has resulted and see if a formidable conclusion cannot be made. We know that a balance of power form of international peace can exist along side with an institution such as the United Nations, as in the cold war. Thus the UN cannot be seen as an effective authority to keep nations from invading foreign states or from keeping government from treating it’s citizens in a humane fashion. However, the UN has intervened fifteen times since 1989, compared to only fourteen operations in the subsequent forty-one years of the institutions existence . These will be some of the issues that will guide this analogy of the UN’s effectiveness as an international authority.
One of the main reasons the United Nations uses its authority to intervene in foreign states is for humanitarian reasons. Such interventions are justifiable for many reasons, primarily for the preservation of “the right to life, the right to personal safety, or the right of due process,” and it would be immoral to pretend that “these rights are merely issues of domestic jurisdiction.” On the international level, there is a direct correlation between a states domestic sphere and its international sphere because when there is a domestic situation of misery and tyranny it incites the states government to find external distractions, seen in Hitler’s foreign policies in the late 1930’s . Moreover, it is impossible to shield the people of one’s own state to the inhumanity and violence in foreign affairs because of the refugees, exiles and dissidents who arrive at one’s own states to seek refuge. For such reasons Article 2.7 was established in the United Nations Charter, giving the UN admissible rights to intervene in foreign affairs, mainly if the state concerned gives its consent, if an internal conflict assumes an international dimension recognized by external sponsors and internal factions or if a state denounces the rights of its citizens as stated by the UN Commission on Human Rights. These reasons for intervention are somewhat hypothetical and usually the UN would have to look at some more realistic reasons for intervention. This breach in article 2.7 would be welcomed by the activist school, represented by many of the industrialized nations, while the status quo school would be deeply suspicious of any interpretations of the article – resembling the realist school – which is favored by most of the developing states. However, if a situation entails systematic and massive suffering which is supported by a wide spectrum of the international community then intervention is deemed necessary. But the intervention is only militaristic as a last resort, for the UN can use sanctions, bilateral pressure and bureaucratic measures to try and resolve a situation without the use of force . Thus even with the subjective nature of humanitarian crisis’ the UN has reasonable and effective measures to deal with them.
However the United Nations and indeed humanitarian intervention in general, can be questioned and proven as an unjust reason to intervene both morally and realistically. The power held by international governmental organizations is seen as too great by its critics, making decisions ” in a world of multiple issues imperfectly linked” it has the power to intervene “under the guise of humanitarian” concerns . When referring to humanitarianism there is the realist concern that the state is assuming the morality of its citizens, thus pushing its morality on its citizens and undermining the citizen’s liberties and freedoms. There is also the concern of a countries own well being as it may become over-run with the refugees it was trying to liberate and/or incite an unfavorable self-image in the foreign country it was trying to help. This is so because it is impossible to reach the victims of oppression without “shaking heaven and earth,” thus disrupting another countries institutions and policies and in turn their way of life, not always for the better as seen in Vietnam . Along with the moral questions raised, the UN itself has only a limited capacity to handle the growing number of requests made on it. It is now seen that the states of the world have “overblown expectations” of the UN and without strengthening its resources the effectiveness, performance and credibility of the organization will suffer . In this sense one must also question the equality of UN peacekeeping for we have seen it to be effective in Europe, but it was in their power to intervene in Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Chechnya but they didn’t. It is fundamentally hypocritical to use the principle of humanitarianism for Europe and not for the rest of the world; it could even be viewed as being racist . These examples all seem to point in a general direction, towards the impracticality of any authority over the state. For example, when a single country intervenes in a foreign countries affairs and “plays the role of moral judge and moral policeman, it will risk the maximum of distortion and hypocrisy – the maximum of internal backlash if it fails… and the maximum of backlash abroad “. Finally when dealing with individual nations there is always the threat of a double standard, such as proclaiming ‘humanitarian abuses’ in a foreign state but then using its power solely for economical/political reasons. These are all faults or areas where faults could take place by allowing institutions like the United Nations or Countries like the US to justify having authority over foreign states.
The example of humanitarianism has been used to encompass all reasons for intervention into other states because the use of such a term so sensitive; it is the difference between a common international community of caring, compassionate human beings and the division of people on terms of territory, nationality or religion. Thus if I can describe accurately and clearly the benefits and dangers of humanitarianism these points will relate to and go beyond the expectations of foreign intervention for any other reason. To clarify, if I describe the benefits and dangers of going into Kosovo for humanitarian reasons these same benefits and dangers will not only be equal to the US’s and UN’s involvement in the Gulf War but go beyond it to relate to morality and humanity.
I would now like to go back to Rousseau’s idea of a Utopian central government. Would an international organization like this not relieve all the problems and dangers presented accompanied by the United Nations and solitary Nations intervention in foreign Nations affairs? Although it is hypothetical and somewhat unrealistic I would argue that it would, while ensuring humanitarian rights and a peaceful state of international affairs. Perhaps, as an international community we need to reform and give more power to the United Nations in order to ensure justice and morality in its conduct and apply it more on a worldly basis instead of using it primarily for industrialized nations. To allow nation-states inviolable sovereignty would be extremely dangerous to its citizens and to the world as a whole and would be much more war prone than it currently is under the United Nations.
- Adeney, Bernard T. Just War, Political Realism, and Faith. London: Scarecrow Press Inc, 1988.
- Hoffmann, Stanley. Duties Beyond Borders: On the Limits and Possibilities of Ethical International Politics. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1981.
- Holmes, Kim R. Humanitarian Warriors: The Moral Follies of the Clinton Doctrine. Washington DC: The Heritage Foundation, 2000.
- Neack, Laura et al. Foreign Policy Analysis: Continuity and Change in Its Second Generation. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1995.
- Otunnu, Olara A et al. Keeping the Peace in the Post-Cold War Era: Strengthening Multilateral Peacekeeping. New York: Trilateral Commission, 1993.