Year XXXIII, 1991, Number 2 - Page 118
The Gulf War, the UN and the New World Order
Wars are very revealing events: they reveal the real power relations between states and they bring to light deep historical trends, which would otherwise remain hidden. The Gulf War has been the occasion for evaluating the crisis of the old bipolar world order and for identifying the initial characteristics of the new world order.
The Gulf crisis has shown important new elements, with respect to the previous regional crises which took place during the Cold War.
For the first time the two superpowers, Russia and America, were not on opposing fronts, as it had been the case since the Korean war right through to the war in Afghanistan. In Russo-American relations the elements of convergence now prevail over those of conflict. This is the most evident sign of the irreversible decline of the bipolar system. Not even the United States, the most powerful state in the world, is now able to impose on its own a solution to important regional crises such as that of the Gulf.
From this comes the second novelty of the Gulf war. The superpowers have become allies and acted in agreement with an impressive international alliance which, under the aegis of the UN, forced Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. The reconciliation between the USSR and the US has therefore stood the test of the Gulf War. However fragile its structure may be today, the UN has demonstrated that it is a potential World Government, which can play an ever-increasing role in the fight against aggression and in restoring its member states’ lost rights.
The third novelty consists of the fact that the war was fought to restore international order and legality. In the announcement made at the end of the meeting held in Helsinki on September 9th 1990, one month after the invasion of Kuwait, Bush and Gorbachev affirmed: “We must prove, beyond all doubt, that aggression does not and will not pay”. In actual fact, they wanted to establish such a precedent so as to discourage future aggression. If Saddam Hussein had no reason to expect the strong reaction caused by his coup de main, from now on it will no longer be so.
But there is more to it than this. From now on there will be an even greater commitment to enforcing all UN resolutions, including those concerning Israel. The joint commitment of the two superpowers in promoting the peace conference in the Middle East is moving precisely in this direction, although the European Community’s lack of supranational powers, which would allow the latter to act with a single voice, makes all attempts at creating a peaceful order in this area both weak and insufficient. The occupation of the Arab territories by Israel and the refusal to acknowledge the rights of the Palestinian people keeps alive the most dangerous source of tension in the Middle East.
Finally, the creation within Northern Iraq of a protection belt for the Kurds in an embryonic autonomous region, assumes the form of a right to intervene in the internal affairs of states, whenever human rights are violated. In this uncertain and initial transient phase towards a World Government, therefore, the need has arisen to supersede the principle of non-interference, proclaimed by Article 2 of the United Nations Charter, on which the whole structure of international law is founded.
After examining the international situation which has emerged from the Gulf War, it therefore appears that the need to establish a new world order founded on law has asserted itself. Although it is not the expression of a sovereign power, international law can be somewhat effective when a common interest asserts itself between states for the enforcement and respect of norms which ensure peaceful coexistence. In the present phase of world politics such a tendency has arisen because the international order of power is such that no state is able to impose unilaterally its will on other states. The new powers to enforce the norms of international law thus depend essentially on a favourable equilibrium in power relations within the state system, and not on the attribution of coercive powers to the UN.
However, alongside these new elements, the Gulf War has shown signs of continuity with the old order. First of all the war, although it was fought under the aegis of the UN, was the expression of the old way of solving conflicts. Moreover, the predominant military contribution was given by the army of the US, which continues to play the role of world gendarme. Finally, it must be noted that military intervention, if it has put a stop to the hegemonic aspirations of Saddam Hussein, has not solved any of the explosive problems of the Middle East – military imbalances, economic injustices, violation of human rights – nor has it opened the way to a solution of the Palestinian problem. It has simply had the effect of perpetuating the status quo. Two hundred years after the American Revolution, the United States has in fact committed all its resources to restoring a feudal monarchy. Respect for international law is not therefore enough to guarantee peace, which is threatened by the tensions between North and South. It is in fact a law which perpetuates resounding injustices, that offend democratic consciences. These evident deficiencies of the UN are the expression of its institutional limits. The United Nations does not have a democratic structure, but is rather an organization dominated by the big powers, which have a right of veto in the Security Council. It possess neither armed forces nor its own financial resources, but they employs those made available by member states.
These limits on the UN emphasize the fact that if the old bipolar order is dying, a new world order has not yet asserted itself.
The crisis of bipolarism leaves no room for American monopolarism, as many superficial observers would expect. The United States has also come out of the Cold War exhausted. Eloquent proof of this is the tremendous balance of payments deficit.
World politics tends to evolve towards the formation of a multipolar system which, as we have seen, represents an order in power relations which is favourable to the prevalence of law in international relations. But the assertion of a new world order founded on law can be successful only if the transformation, albeit gradually, of the UN into a just and democratic World Government is started. And this requires that other powers or groupings of states should emerge from the ruins of the old order and stand side by side with the United States and the Soviet Union in a World Government. Hence, the tendency which must assert itself in world politics, if the grand design of refounding the UN is to prevail, is the redistribution of world power in a multipolar sense. The struggle which is taking place all over the world, which tends to create regional or sub-regional groupings of states, is the clearest demonstration of this trend. The regional dimension is in fact indispensable to create modern forms of economic development and to counterbalance the excessive power of the most powerful states. The important issue on which the formation of a stable world order depends, and which remains unresolved, is that of the establishment, first in Europe and in the Arab world and then in the rest of the Third World (sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia, Latin America), of state groupings of regional dimensions. With this basis, the UN can become a guarantor and promoter of a fairer distribution of power and wealth in the world.
Regional unifications, by creating a more balanced organization of the world, represent the main premise for the democratic transformation of the UN. In actual fact, the great difference in size of the member states (the fact that China, a state with over a billion inhabitants, and Nauru, a small island in the Pacific with 8000 inhabitants, both have one vote in the general Assembly) represents the largest obstacle to the proper functioning of the UN.
The European Community, precisely because it represents the most advanced spearhead in the political unification processes taking place in the world, could become the centre for the initiative of reform of the Security Council in a regional sense. In fact, a new great power has arisen in Europe (Germany, after the unification), which, according to widespread opinion, has all the qualifications to become a permanent member of the Security Council. Instead, the Community could promote the alternative of representing the Twelve itself, thus helping to reduce the number of members in the Security Council and to simplify the functioning of this organ. The Security Council seems destined therefore to become the second branch of world legislative power, in other words to take on the role of Senate.
The reform of the Security Council is but one aspect of a wider reform programme of the UN, that is inspired by principles of international democracy. The objective of a democratic representation of peoples in the UN, however distant it may seem today, possesses a great mobilizing power. Considering that no substantial reform can come through the initiative of governments, only pressure from the peoples can push governments along the road to peace and international democracy.
The organism which is destined to embody this principle is the World Parliament, which will be the result of the democratic transformation of the general Assembly. However, the fact remains that, in spite of the great progress of democracy in Eastern Europe and in Latin America, most of the member states of the UN do not have a Parliament. The creation of a World Parliament can only be a gradual and long term process, as the institutional evolution of the European Parliament shows. At the beginning it was composed of members of the national Parliaments, then it was elected by universal suffrage, and finally it claimed constituent and legislative powers.
The fact that democratic institutions are the heritage of only a part of humanity, allows us to identify the states that will take in hand the process of forming the World Parliament. This consideration suggests that we should follow with particular attention the institutional evolution of the Assembly of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, which has lately been established. If we take into account that it has an interregional dimension, that it covers the area in which democratic institutions were born (the West), and the one where they are now spreading following the fall of the Communist system (Eastern Europe), and that the problems it has to face are of a global nature, it is not out of place to surmise that it could become the embryo of a World Parliament.
At the same time, the role of the General Secretariat as potential World Government will tend to grow gradually as the independence of the UN with respect to its member states develops. Up to now the General Secretary, from his appointment, up to the political directions which have inspired his actions, has been in fact a figure subordinate to the choices of the five permanent members of the Security Council. The convergence of interests between the great powers is the condition for the progressive emergence of the authority of a world power above states, the efforts of which will turn first of all to the assertion of legal procedures in the settlement of international conflicts.
Moreover the progressive affirmation of the binding nature of the sentences of the International Court of Justice, represents another chapter in the development programme of UN institutions aimed at reinforcing international law, and the instruments for the peaceful solution of international conflicts. The model of the European Court of Justice, which has managed to assert the supremacy of Community law, even before democratic European power was consolidated, shows what potential the International Court of Justice has in the new era of world politics. Strong economic interdependence, and the elimination of the option of war as a means for solving conflicts, represent in fact the historic conditions (which have asserted themselves within the European Community and are beginning to do so at worldwide level) for law to prevail over force in international relations.
Having illustrated the broad outline of the reform of institutions, it is now necessary to consider the problem of the powers and competences to be transferred to the UN. The area in which it is possible to achieve, in the near future, a reinforcement of the latter seems to relate to the power of directly recruiting troops for use in “operations for maintaining peace”, so as to make the UN armed forces progressively independent from the member states.
Another promising prospect is offered by the World Conference on the Environment and Development, that will take place in Brazil next year. It could mark the birth of a World Agency for the Protection of the Environment which, to fight the greenhouse effect, might promote the institution of a tax on carbon emissions to contribute to UN finances. As a result, the action of the UN would be based on an initial form of financial independence.
Moreover, the creation of a single currency and a European federal bank would represent the preconditions for the formation of a new international monetary order of a polycentric nature, which is therefore more stable, more open to the participation of the regions of the Third World, and raises the need arise for a world currency and an instrument to govern the world economy, a need which is increasingly widely felt.
Finally, following the model of international Authority established by the Convention on the law of the Sea to control the exploitation of the resources situated on the seabed, it would be possible to extend the concept of the common heritage of mankind to other parts of the planet, such as the atmosphere or Antarctica.
These are merely a few general pointers to initiate the debate. The democratic reform of the UN, however far the prospect of its full realization may be, is starting to be a matter for discussion among political forces. It is therefore indispensable that the federalists should set out their position as soon as possible. This is necessary if they are to continue the proposing and initiative-making role they have always played.