Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Radical Foreign Policy Change, Pt. 3: Collective Security or National Security?

In the post that began this series, I attempted to define the goals of foreign policy. I concluded they were two-fold: the furtherance of the nation's economic needs, or trade, and the defense of the nation's security. The latter is particularly complicated. Just what is national security and how is it achieved? The two simple words are used to describe quite a few competing meanings.

Prior to the World Wars (and during the interlude between them), national security meant the defense of the country's borders and the protection of its sphere of influence in the Americas and the Pacific Ocean. Beginning not long after the end of the Second World War, it came to mean victory in the Cold War. During WWI and in the aftermath of the Cold War, at least to a significant portion of the national leadership, it meant pursuing an agenda of universal democratic empire. Whether the words 'democratic' or 'empire' are encapsulated in sarcastic quotation marks depends on whether one is describing the ambitions of Woodrow Wilson or today's neoconservatives and there are significant degrees of shading on both words between the two. Regardless of which variation of the phrase one chooses to embrace, the goal was a democratic world order under the benevolent messianic leadership of the United States. Nor has this goal entirely disappeared. It is difficult to absolve even the current administration of such a vision, the foreign policy differences between Democrats and Republicans have largely been differences of tactics rather than differences of strategy.

The Cold War is over, it has been won. The world is no longer endangered by international Communism, and whether such danger was ever legitimate is open to question. The World Wars have also been won, and the aftermath of the First should have taught us all a lesson about the practicability of universalist dreams. We are no longer an isolated 'island' between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the world has shrunk so that such distances mean relatively little. So all of the theories of national security with which our nation is familiar are, if not obsolete, obsolescing rapidly. We need a new strategy for the modern world.

Such a strategy already exists. It has been tried before, with both great success and disastrous failure.

In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, with the great messianic empire builder of his era weighing his options as emperor of a tiny Mediterranean island even smaller than the not-very-big one on which he was born, the leaders of the nations of Europe met at what is today called the Congress of Vienna. During its sessions, Napoleon returned from Elba for his last hurrah and the great European summit had ended before his final bolt was entirely shot. The purpose was simple: Napoleon, for good or ill, had changed the world and Europe must now decide how to react to the changes. The goal of the Congress was the drawing of the European map, which had been entirely thrown into disarray and now needed to be reordered. This was accomplished by the diplomats and made concrete by the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo.

The architechts of the Congress of Vienna were two men with different personalities and similar goals: Prince Klemens Menzel von Metternich and Tsar Alexander I of Russia. The former was primarily concerned with protecting the Great Power status of Austria, the remaining rump of the once vast Hapsburg Empire. The latter was greatly concerned with establishing Russia, once and for all, as a European power. It was impossible to ignore the ideas of the British Empire, as the British had been fighting France consistently for the entire duration of the Napoleonic Wars (broken by brief ceasefires that were merely preparations for renewed conflict) and every other country represented had at some point allied itself with Napoleon. The paramount concern of the British, for admittedly selfish reasons, was the balance of power among the other Great Powers. The visionary Alexander, the practical Metternich, and the various representatives (Lord Castlereagh, then Wellington himself, and finally Lord Clancarty) of victorious Britain together devised a system of political alliances to secure what a latter day Russian 'tsar' would call 'collective security.' It is perhaps ironic that a system envisioned by a Russian and which ultimately favored British interests was named after the representative of the least powerful of its devisors.

For nearly one hundred years, from 1815 to 1914, the Metternich System kept the peace in Europe. There were conflicts, revolutions, and wars... but the system held together so well that none of these flare-ups were prolonged or wide-spread. Wars were signals for the diplomats to redouble their efforts, and the diplomats frequently resolved these disputes in such an even-handed fashion that one wonders precisely why anyone bothered to fight. The worst wars of this period, the Crimean War and the Balkan Wars, occurred out of the reach of this system in or on the borders of the Ottoman Empire. This, of course, was the flaw: the system had finite limits, and once those finite limits were passed it was difficult to confine the grievances outside of those limits. In 1914, as a direct outgrowth of the Balkan Wars and the indirect result of the coalescence of a unified German state to counterbalance Austria and rival Russia and France, the system broke down and horror ensued.

After each World War, attempts were made to return to a system of collective security. They were less than successful. Wilson's Fourteen Points were brushed cheerfully aside by the victors in favor of divvying up the plunder and his League of Nations was emasculated by the voters of his own country. The Soviet Union was excluded from the comity of Europe in favor of pursuing futile alliances with the former Russian ruling class that prolonged the Russian Civil War but never really had any hope of deciding it. It should not be surprising that when the civil war was over, Russia was not terribly trusting of Europe and Europe was faintly afraid of Russia. Never the less, it was only after failed attempts to renew an alliance with the Western democracies for the purpose of what was called 'collective security' for the first time that the USSR signed its pact with the Nazis. When that happened, the Second World War was guaranteed.

During the later phases of the Second World War, the United States and the Soviet Union made new plans for real collective security in the form of the United Nations. The American assumption was that the UN would be the means by which universal democratic empire would be achieved while the Russian beleif was that it was a forum for the diplomats to maintain collective international security. No one really expected any other votes to matter. Differing conceptions of the UN, and the Cold War that arose from those differing conceptions, did to it as WWII did to the League of Nations. Now the United States (and most other nations powerful enough to do so) scoffs at the UN and its 'violations of national sovreignty' and does as it pleases while the UN has become the plaything of the disenfranchised Third World. Collective security was stillborn yet again.

The United States needs to recognize that Russia has not ceased to be a Great Power and resents its treatment as a potential vassal or ungrateful stepchild. The United States needs to understand that Europe is coalescing into one of the superpowers of the future and will not remain content to simply follow the American lead for much longer. The United States needs to fully face the potential threats and challenges offered by China instead of merely seeing it as a potential shopping mall. The United States needs to recognize the vast potential of India, which inches closer to fulfilment every year. More simply: the United States needs to understand that victory in the Cold War has not made it the sole superpower in the world, it has simply restored the pre-Cold War, multi-power status quo. Triumphalism and universalism have to go out the window.

They have to be replaced by collective security. We live in a dangerous world in which all of the nations on the above list are armed with powerful nuclear weapons. So are at least two states not on that list: Israel and Pakistan. The latter is currently in disturbing disarray. That is largely the fault of the United States and its ambivalence toward Pakistani democracy when that interfered with its acitivities in Afghanistan.

The United States needs to commit itself to a policy of seeking a modus vivendi with its fellow nations on equal, honest terms. It must strive to work in a community of superpowers for the goal of collective world security. It may have to accept that sometimes it will not be able to be the leader of those pursuits. We must seek partners, not satellites.

There are real international issues that must be faced: peace in the Middle East, the threat of Islamic fundamentalism to regimes throughout Africa and Asia, the problems of terrorism, narcotics, and organized crime, the environmental question, global human rights, world poverty, and many more. Someone, at some point, has criticized the United States for 'not leading' on every one of these issues. The real problem is that these are not issues one nation can solve, they are issues the world must work to solve. The 'leadership' of the United States has frequently done as much harm in many of these areas as it has good.

A strategy of collective security is the only viable strategy for the world in which we now live. National security can no longer be guaranteed (if it ever could) by a policy of invading our enemies and rewarding our friends. We must engage Europe, Russia, China, and India in search of our common interests and common concerns and to settle our points of contention. '

'Democracy', which has always been a heavily loaded and highly subjective term, cannot be established by brute force in the face of a hostile world. If we people our world with enemies, democracy will not protect us when they all vote against us. Contrary to idealistic belief among neoconservatives and the politically naive, democratic nations are not automatically naturally friendly to one another. Rome and Carthage, who fought three genocidal wars which ended in the total destruction of the latter, were both republics. Hitler and Mussolini were elected democratically. Japan had three peaceful changes of government prior to and during WWII, with each government being more vocally devoted to war with the United States than the last. The United States, the world's poster boy for democracy, has overthrown democratically elected regimes in Guatemala, Chile, and Iran, helped to brutally suppress democratic revolution against a fascist junta in El Salvador, and deliberately took action to prevent democratic elections in South Korea and South Vietnam.

So let's start talking a lot more about collective security than national security and start teaching democratic values by example instead of by propaganda.

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