Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ron Smith: Collective Security and the Responsibility to Protect

The United Nations was established in 1945 primarily as a collective security organisation, with an ancillary aspiration towards the security of individuals. This is reflected in the opening words of the Prologue to the Charter. In latter years, this broader aspiration towards human security has been reflected in the formal adoption by the General Assembly of the policy report ‘Responsibility to Protect’. This envisaged collective intervention in cases of oppression or genocide but the notion has always been in tension with the fundamental Charter principle of ‘non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states’.

The project of suppressing aggression has never worked well. Notwithstanding nearly seventy years of aggression, of one sort or another, there have been only two examples of UN action (Korea and Iraq) and both of these depended on an international fluke. In the first case, the Soviet Union was engaged in a boycott of the UN over the non-seating of mainland China and was thus unable to veto the Korean intervention. The 1990 decision to oppose the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait corresponded to the brief honeymoon which followed the collapse of communism. The present UN ‘RTP’ intervention in Libya is also very likely to prove to have been a one-off. Prominent members of the Security Council are either luke-warm, or passively antagonistic.

But the crucial factor that will determine that that there will be no more interventions against aggression, or genocide, or in support of human rights, is the impending withdrawal of the one state on which it has always depended: the United States. Contemporary political developments in that country are producing a majority consensus of right and left against intervention abroad in any circumstances beyond those which bear directly on national security. In substantial part, this situation is a product of the dire financial plight in which America finds itself, which means it can no longer afford to be the world’s policeman. There is a second factor, and that is the persistent criticism of what is sometimes called, ‘American exceptionalism’, and the ubiquitous anti-Americanism which characterises so much of the trivial commentary on international affairs, in countries, like our own, whose interests (in terms of security or protection of human rights) have been served, down through the years, by the actions of the United States. There is an adage which I think originates with Nial Ferguson, ‘be careful what you wish for, you may get it’. We may be at the point of a prime example.

If I am right, this development towards American isolationism, will take us back to a time (nearly three-quarters of a century ago) when the Western world was pleading with the United States to take a part in resisting aggression, which it eventually did. (What Churchill later (WW2) called, ‘the New World coming to the aid of the old’). This resulted (after WW1) in the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations, which, of course, failed precisely because it could not deal with aggression (at that time by Italy and Japan).

For the contemporary world, the question is, who will now resist potential genocide (as in Kosovo in 1999)? NATO, without the US? I don’t think so. As retiring US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates has recently observed, only a minority of the membership of NATO are actually contributing to the UN-authorised operation in Libya and those that are, are running out of both ammunition and will (and they are also strapped for cash).

So who do we think would lead United Nations operations against a future aggression (say, a repeat of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990). China? Russia? To put the question is to identify an absurdity, although one might imagine the intervention of interested parties, on one side or the other. But that is the old ‘world order’, not the new. Again, who might lead a disinterested intervention to prevent the slaughter in a situation like that in Syria at the moment?

For countries like New Zealand, another question might be, ‘who would be a dependable ally in the event that our security in the South Pacific was threatened, as it was some sixty years ago?’ Australia? Certainly! But can we imagine that the United Nations would come to our aid? Or NATO? Probably not in both cases! And on present trends, possibly not the ally that saved us the last time! The ally that we so pointedly and proudly rejected in 1985! It is a thought that ought to give us pause.

1 comment:

Brian said...
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Collective Security.
Since the halcyon days just after World War 11 when the world was enthralled with the concept of the United Nations; as a means whereby nations would come together as a “collective” for the good of everyone.” For once in the history of this planet we would be able to “outlaw” war for ever, or so went the euphoria during that period.”
Dissention set in very quickly, with the Iron Curtain dividing the world into two camps and with the rebuilding of Europe, plus the ever increasing demand for independence from the colonial rule. This surge of freedom against the former Empires blinded us all from the extension of the Communistic Empire, not only in Europe but also in Asia.
With the United States assuming the role that Britain had occupied of World Leader was bound to clash with the aspirations and expansion of the Russian & Chinese communist ambitions. For a time Britain/Europe/Australia/New Zealand and a few other countries pulled their weight in providing a combined defence shield.
Then came the rise of our “independence” in defence issue, opting out of Anzus then our drop in economic terms from a first rate country, to our now lowly status. Since thenl elected Governments have made a rule to avoid expensive commitments such as new armaments and equipping our service personnel with up to date military hardware. Hence the pathetic state of our Armed Forces, no strike air force, which in military terms means any deployment of our army against an enemy, means suicidal slaughter.. (Worse than World War 1 over the top trench attacks).
The excuse being offered at every budget being the lack of finance, “we are a small economy, any monies spent on our forces could be better used”. Both government and Opposition having a very poor understanding and concern of what real modern warfare entails!
But however a great deal of how to win an election by increasing a budget on welfare, and other social policies. Hanging over their decisions is the Green Party with its allegiance rooted firmly outside these shores; and an MMP electoral system that has destroyed any chance to make difficult political decisions.
It is a word for word recitation of what was said by Politicians during the 1920’s and 1930’s, and again the lessons of history are being ignored. Put this with the case of distance and our “benign environment” being thought by the public as sufficient for any defence.
Now we are faced with another serious problem with the United States now in talks with the Taleban in order to achieve a “peace”! If this happens the prestige of America will be back to the days of Vietnam, and it will set a precedent that “Terrorists” can be negotiated with, and that Afghanistan will achieve a lasting peace.
There is little doubt that the type of Warfare being waged since the U,S, and its allies engaged in Afghanistan was bound to fail due to the geography. Since Alexander the Great, the British intervention during the Afghan War, and the Russian Invasion no nation’s forces have been successful in that country.
The only way to defeat the Taleban was, and still is, to use Atomic weapons, but regretfully due to the so called humanitarian taboos which seem to apply only to Western Nations; and more importantly the lack of a leader of the calibre of Harry S. Truman we are faced with another back down.
The price will be paid by generations not yet born, and in the end perhaps the eventual Demise of Western Civilisation.

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