he world has fallen apart; the centre has
not held*. The US seems to have abandoned its great gift
to the world, the
United Nations and become a despot. Many would argue that
it is an enlightened despotism. Despite being anti-war myself,
some of those people who supported it cannot be dismissed
as NeoCons or traitors to their political roots, Anne Clwyd
being a good example. But the US is still a despot. If the
administration had believed it had enough of a collective
security mandate to go ahead in Iraq, it would have never
tried to get ‘the second resolution’. As far
as international relations is concerned, we now live in an
empire of men, not of laws. That is, the arbitrary rule of
the United States.
The problem with arbitrary rule is that it lends no moral
weight to what you are doing. It may be that ‘We got
the bomb and that was good/ ‘Cos we love peace and
motherhood’ as Tom Lehrer sang, but the problem is
that everyone else loves peace and motherhood, and they know
it. As the US destroys one global institution after another:
the UN, SALT 2, and other non-proliferation treaties, everybody
gets the fear. The fear that all the other members of the
world believe that they are justified in doing the same and
so are forced to go down the unilateral route themselves.
Those in the US who actively want to abandon the UN have
one very strong argument. The UN is only made up of the sum
of its parts and some of its parts aren’t very nice.
What right do unelected fascistic dictatorships have to dictate,
to their own people and those of the rest of the world, which
direction this planet should take? And furthermore, wars
of liberation must be possible. For those of us who are democratic
and Marxist, we have no other ideological choice. Of course
it should be regulated, it should not include cluster bombs,
attack civilian targets, or, God forbid, deploy nuclear weapons.
But regime change, be it internal or external, is always
going to be a bloody business. Looting, lawlessness and death
will always occur. You may believe that it is not worth the
bloodshed. But at that point you leave the fold of democrats
and join those of conservatives. In many ways it is not an
ignoble position and there have been many great proponents
such as Edmund Burke and David Hume. But for all practicality,
you are a democrat no more.
So what is left for we democrats? We need a body that has
the legitimate mandate to free people who face a clear and
present danger of genocide, or whose lives have become intolerable
(which in practical measurable terms, may amount to the same
thing). We need a body that can give us a sense of collective
security, but not of being dictated to by a pack of scoundrels.
Such a body could look like this: there would be an end to
permanent members on the security council. The number of
votes a nation got would be proportional to its population
and its democratic nature. After all, a nation can only claim
to represent its population if it is democratic. ‘Democracy’ would
be measured by ‘democracy inspectors’ using criteria
as laid out by a revised UN charter. There would be a certain
minimum number of votes a nation could exercise, no matter
how low its population. But there would also be a certain
minimum ‘democracy rating’ it would have to achieve
to have any votes at all.
The effects of such a system would be startling. Nations
would have an incentive to become more and more democratic
in order to increase their power. The biggest stumbling block
to such a settlement could be China, but it may be possible
to buy it off on the grounds that once democratic it would
command more votes than any other nation. In reality as well,
the permanent members would have to stay as well. In order
to maximise power it would also lead to countries merging;
war between states may always be inevitable, but within them
may be avoidable. Imagine a democratic African Union with
peace within its borders. There was a New Internationalist
issue fairly recently about the prospects for Pan-Africanism.
It felt patronising that a magazine mostly written for and
by Caucasians should be rabbiting on about what Africans
must really choose or decide not to choose for themselves.
But the rules of the international game are always rigged
by the powerful, and leaving the rules as they are is just
an active decision as changing them. So why not set up an
international system conducive to regional integration.
Perhaps the one beacon of hope in all this is that the
US has the ideological resources to commit to such a plan.
UN, in reality, is the child of Wilson, Roosevelt and Truman.
The US supplies us perhaps with the most beautiful political
tract ever written, “We hold these truths to be self-evident
that all… are created equal… to secure rights,
Governments are instituted… deriving their powers from
the consent of the governed”. The principles upheld
in the Declaration of Independence writ large, are those
that inspired the U.N. to be formed. Even the Bush administration
has started taking tentative steps to reinvest moral weight
into the UN, by rejoining UNESCO.
It is difficult to write an article at the moment without
thinking about Lord of The Rings. At one point in the final
episode, a hobbit (I apologise that I can’t remember
which one), turns to Gandalf and asks whether Frodo and Sam
have much chance in completing their quest. Gandalf replies
that they never had much of a chance. It may be that there
is not that much chance of true collective security and global
democracy in our lifetime. Maybe the U.S. will always be
led by realpolitik, by its ruling class, by the fear that
is the price of being the hegemon. But it’s the best
shot we’ve ever had.
*Apologies to WB Yeats ‘The Second Coming’