political revue


Year XXXII, 1990, Number 3 - Page 189



Europe and the Gulf Crisis
The Gulf Crisis has provided convincing confirmation, in conditions of acute difficulty, and thus so much more significant, of the extent to which world politics has changed following the about-turn imposed by Gorbachev. For the first time a local conflict has not been used as a pretext for the United States and the Soviet Union to line up on opposing fronts, and has not seen the two superpowers and their allies competing to provide military reinforcements for the two sides in the conflict. On the contrary, the reaction of the international community to Saddam Hussein’s aggression towards Kuwait has been almost unanimous, and this near-unanimity is reflected in the repeated UN Security Council resolutions condemning the aggression. Even the United States, which has provided most of the military effort necessary to prevent Saddam’s expansionist aspirations from extending beyond Kuwait, have felt the need to use the UN to legitimize their intervention, thus recognizing the UN’s role as quasi-world government. The rule of law that the international community is trying to enforce gives for the first time a hint of Kant’s cosmopolitan law; in other words, the internal legal structure of a federal world state in the making. Thus, the comparison of Saddam Hussein to a common criminal assumes some plausibility.
To deny the extraordinary nature of these novel elements would mean giving up the possibility of understanding what is happening. Yet at the same time we should not hide from the fact that this is not the complete picture. It is by no means irrelevant that the reactions of the international community to Saddam Hussein’s aggression have not been completely unanimous. In fact, some Arab countries have sided more or less openly with the aggressor. Not only that, but also a fairly significant proportion of Arab public opinion sides with the aggressor, even in countries whose governments are vigorously opposed to Saddam Hussein’s action.
The reasons for this attitude are well-known. The Middle East has been permanently destabilized by the Palestinian and Lebanese problems, and is scarred by cases of exploitation and social injustice that are possibly the most scandalous on the planet today. Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are states in which a political elite holds onto incalculable wealth accumulated by the labour of an army of the underprivileged – generally coming from poor and overpopulated Islamic countries – who are deprived of the most fundamental rights and subjected to the barbarous hardships of a medieval legal code. The United States, as protector of Israel (albeit rather less unconditionally now than in the past) and of the plutocratic and obscurantist dynasties of the region, and armed guardians of the Middle East’s precarious equilibrium, are seen by large bodies of Arab public opinion as those chiefly responsible for a situation which is objectively unsustainable. Saddam Hussein can consequently present himself to this same section of public opinion as a champion of the Arab cause and paladin of the oppressed.
The international rule of law which the great majority of the world’s governments, under the impetus of the United States and with the backing of the United Nations, is today committed to enforcing by means of the embargo and threat of war, is therefore imperfect in that it legitimizes barbarous and unjust regimes. Hence it is understandable that young Americans (and Europeans) do not show any enthusiasm when asked to risk their lives for an ambiguous cause, in which safeguarding the right of every country not to be attacked (in itself sacrosanct), is mixed up, at least in part, with protecting the interests of the Emir of Kuwait and his dignitaries.
If today the international community is bringing about the first suggestion of cosmopolitan law, this is due to the increasingly widespread consciousness – at least in the northern hemisphere – of the common destiny which links all mankind. However this consciousness remains inadequate, since it is limited to only a part of the planet, however rich and powerful that part may be. International law has to evolve from being a pure formalization of the power relations between countries into true cosmopolitan law. If that process is to be decisively speeded up, relations both between and within countries need to be based on that minimum of justice necessary for all people to possess the consciousness of belonging to a single common human destiny. That necessarily includes those hundreds of millions of people to whom the survival of the human race remains an abstract and far-off problem compared with the daily struggle of their own individual survival.
The present international equilibrium is not capable of promoting a radical change in this direction. It is, without doubt, founded on completely new, collaborative relations, which have supplanted the old bipolar equilibrium based on competition and power confrontation. But in reality it signifies the perpetuation of the status quo, and the Gulf Crisis is the clearest demonstration of this to date. Whatever its outcome, the problems which caused it will not be resolved, nor is there any international conference which in the current state of affairs could resolve them. Yet an equilibrium which is not capable of resolving problems, but only of perpetuating them, is necessarily unstable. Even if bi-polarism has been buried for evermore, the current detente will remain precarious.
Elsewhere we have emphasized the distinction between traditional détente and innovative détente. The current alliance which imposes the embargo on Saddam Hussein is a manifestation of the former, and shows both its conservative nature and its fragility. However, in order for the Middle East’s problems to be significantly brought closer to a solution, the latter form needs to be adopted, which involves establishing and spreading international democracy. In other words it will be necessary for the widespread consciousness of a common destiny, which makes mankind (at least in the long term) a single political subject, to translate itself into a proposal for a new institutional formula, alternative to that of the nation state, one which places the relations between countries, and between citizens and power, on a new basis.
It cannot be repeated too often: this formula is federalism, and it can only come about within the framework of the European Community. If the Community succeeds in creating within itself a prototype of a federal state by means of the democratic control of currency, and thus of the great decisions of economic policy, this will have profound consequences. If this first embryo of federalism can be achieved here, then more consideration will be given to proposals for a grand plan of economic collaboration with Middle Eastern countries. This would aim in its turn to encourage the beginning of a process of federal unification of the Middle East, and thus of democratization of its constituent countries, including – improbable as it may seem today –the state of Israel. Let us not forget that in Western Europe the end of the century-old hate between France and Germany, and the development of federalism, were brought about by a horror of war. There seems no reason why this should not also happen in the Middle East.
This process is the responsibility of Europe, and it is towards this end that Europeans should strive. The repeated calls for a larger military presence in the Gulf are quite simply senseless. It is certainly true that the lack of co-ordination between the Community countries in their attitude to the crisis has been deplorable and has hindered them from playing any role in the affair. But it is equally true that a massive European military intervention would change nothing in terms of the strategic situation in the region. Rather, it would create a permanent and irretrievable rift between the Arab people and the Community, closing all openings to political dialogue between two regions of the planet which geography, economic structure and the distribution of resources render profoundly interdependent. After all, if today the outcome of the crisis is uncertain, that clearly does not stem from an insufficient presence of American troops, ships and aeroplanes, but from the intolerably high political cost of a war for the United States nowadays (which is the case for any other industrialized country). It is as well the case to state clearly that, if in the highly developed societies of today it is common to find increasingly radical anti-war stances, this is not a sign of cowardice, but the result of a growing consciousness of the senselessness of war in a world which is moving towards unity. This does not mean that the American military effort, with the sacrifice it involves, does not merit respect. The-United States, as the world’s major military power, have the responsibility of maintaining the existing equilibrium, to keep it from breaking up before any alternative has been developed, thus preventing anarchy; and they have faced this responsibility. Yet, objectively, Europe has a quite different historical responsibility: that of paving the way for a new equilibrium to be created, a more peaceful, democratic and progressive state of affairs than at present exists, which encourages and does not hinder the process of unifying the entire human race. This responsibility requires different policies and different means. It is important that Europeans be made aware of this.
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