Joshua Cohen: We will be talking this afternoon about the prospects for cooperative security that have emerged with the end of the Cold War. The topic divides naturally into two parts. First, what are the basic international trends and emerging problems that security institutions need to address? And second, how should international institutions respond to these new trends and problems? I suggest, Ambassador OO, that we take these issues up in turn, beginning with what you referred to in a recent article as the “disorderliness, disorientation, and incredible complexity” of what is misleadingly called “the new world order.” What do you see as the major emerging trends that international institutions must address?
Olara Otunnu: A major challenge is the shifting locus of political conflict. With the end of the Cold War, we all breathe easier because the prospect of a major US-
Soviet conflict has disappeared. But at the regional and local levels there is anything but peace. The disappearance of East-West rivalry has at least had one positive impact: it has removed the East-West prism through which every conflict was viewed previously. Now we can see regional or local conflicts in their own terms, which is an absolute prerequisite to resolving any conflict. This also means that regional actors have gained leverage in conflict situations because the major powers have now more or less disappeared from the local scene, a development which creates complications of its own.
Another important feature is a shift from interstate to internal conflict. Internal conflict — what you might call tribal warfare in Europe, in Africa, in Asia — is now a very nearly universal phenomenon and the central preoccupation of the international community.
JC: What are the implications of the shift in the locus of conflict?
OO: I see two main aspects of the change. One is principally a European phenomenon. There we are witnessing a resurgence of claims for self-determination in their classical form: Peoples demanding their own nation-state, their own territory, their own government. This is the kind of self-determination that colonial peoples claimed in the 1950s and 1960s. I believe that the European situation is somewhat unique and will settle down after a while. While it lasts there is the big problem of where you draw the line between self-determination and other kinds of dispensation. The constituent republics of the former Soviet Union have become independent, and then within those republics there are Russian minorities as well as various communities with links outside their republics who want to rearrange their borders. Where do you draw the line in the classical process of self-determination? That’s a serious issue to be resolved in Eastern and Central Europe.
In other parts of the world — especially Africa — I see demands not for classical self-determination but for what one might call a second generation of self-determination. Despite appearances, most of those troubles are not about redrawing boundaries. They are about having political participation, about being given economic opportunities, about being given space for expression of identity: in other words, they are about people seeking to have a better deal within existing boundaries. These two kinds of situations require different strategies.
JC: Your mention of political participation and economic opportunity suggests other changes that are accompanying changes in the locus of conflict. I am thinking of shifts in normative ideas, in particular with regard to democracy and human rights. What kind of importance do you attach to these changes?
OO: They are of very great importance. In the area of democracy, something fundamental is going on in the world. We have seen a democratization of the whole continent of Latin America. Similar changes are proceeding in Eastern Europe. And as I speak, a major development is unfolding in Africa. One no longer hears the old argument that there are different forms of democracy for different kinds of society, depending on the level of economic development, or on the social or cultural system. I think that in most parts of the world today, you hear demands for the same kind of democracy as is practiced anywhere else. The argument has shifted to whether the impetus for democracy comes from within a country, or if instead it is tele-guided. Much clearly depends on whether the particular democratic practice has been given a local flavor, whether local institutions have been built to respond to democratic demands, and therefore to make it genuine and durable within a country.
Similarly, in the area of human rights there has been a major evolution. It is rare nowadays to hear a state say to the UN or to the UN Commission on Human Rights that, with regard to human rights concerns, “you have no right to express concern about the human rights situation within my borders.” A government under attack is more likely to argue that: “the facts you allege are not correct,” or “you are selective in expressing your concerns,” or that “the real reason for your denunciation is not concern for human rights, but a hidden political agenda.” What is not disputed nowadays, however, is the right of the international community to express concerns about violations of human rights within a country.
What we are seeing, in short, is the globalization of certain values, at least in the area of human rights and democracy.
JC: Yet the international system continues — at least in principle — to be based on the idea of sovereignty. We have a system of separate states, and the associated idea of non-interference in the internal affairs of those states. What happens to this system when conflict devolves to sub-national levels and values become more global?
OO: What happens is that the gap between the theory of national sovereignty and the emerging reality steadily increases. The two trends I have mentioned — growing levels of conflict within states and the development of universal norms — are among the important pressures on sovereignty as an organizing principle. But several important additional factors are also at work here.
First, there is what I would call “objective interdependence,” which points to a cluster of issues such as the protection of the environment and health epidemics like AIDS, or such matters as terrorism and the production and consumption of drugs: issues which cannot be solved within national boundaries. Here we need some level of coordinated international action. This may provide the basis for new forms of cooperation between North and South, though the form of cooperation remains a big issue of debate, as the Rio conference so clearly demonstrated.
Added to this are what I would call issues of “subjective interdependence” — in particular, the politics of conditionalities. Clearly today there are very few developing countries — certainly not on the continent from which I come, Africa — which can respond to structural adjustment programs initiated by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank by saying with any confidence: “Thank you very much for these recommendations but we don’t think they are in the best interest of our country.” This loss of external control has again brought pressure against national sovereignty.
There is also a trend — most dramatic in Europe — toward the voluntary pooling of sovereignties, with countries voluntarily moving towards regional groupings to which they effectively devolve certain measures thus surrendering sovereignty in crucial areas.
Finally, I also want to refer to the role and the activity of non-state actors. For several hundred years the international system has operated on the presumption that the central actors are sovereign states. In reality we have seen the growth of a number of non-state actors who influence substantially what goes on in the world — transnational corporations being the best known.
JC: Given the declining significance of sovereignty and the growing importance of global values, how can international institutions address new issues of conflict? How can they deal with regional and sub-national conflicts in ways that are morally legitimate and that effectively reduce the level of violence?
OO: The short answer is that we need a system of collective security. This is necessary partly because the very nature of threats have changed. Most of the threats in the world are not necessarily directed at a particular country, they are not necessarily expressed in physical terms, and it is very difficult to define what a major national interest is in a given situation. For that reason, many of the conflict situations in the world cannot possibly be handled by a given country or by a group of countries. Moreover, respect for human rights and democracy are increasingly global values. For that reason it seems appropriate that the agents representing those values be international in composition.
JC: What sorts of collective arrangements? Regional security groups?
OO: Regional groups have the advantage of proximity to the problems they aim to resolve. In the case of tribal warfare in Europe, the European Community (EC), the Commonwealth of Independent States, and NATO, among others, are very close to the problems. So they presumably understand them better and have immediate interests in resolving them.
In terms of mechanisms for response, however, I do not believe that it will be possible in the near future for regional organizations to respond effectively to the challenge of conflicts within states. Few regional organizations have relevant traditions. It takes a long time to build up a tradition of mediation in peacemaking or peacekeeping. The UN has been at this now for more than 45 years, and still has problems.
Also, regional groups often suffer from the perception of being partisan. Perceptions are important in this matter, and regional organizations — whether European institutions or others — are not always seen by the parties in conflict as being sufficiently neutral.
Moreover, in the case of Third World regional organizations, there is also a problem of resources. Peacekeeping is expensive, and apart from the Europeans I cannot see any other regional group with the resources to mount a successful, major operation.
JC: What implications do you draw from this skepticism about regional organizations?
OO: That for the foreseeable future, peacekeeping will have to be the responsibility of the United Nations. I certainly think that serious measures should be taken now to develop the capabilities of regional groups in areas of peacemaking and peacekeeping. But strong regional capabilities lie somewhere in the distant future, rather than in the near term. In the meantime, the most promising way of strengthening international institutions is to address emerging problems through a reordering at the UN.
JC: What sort of reordering do you have in mind?
OO: To answer that question we must first understand that the end of the Cold War has signalled two developments with far-reaching impact on the role of the UN Security Council.
First and foremost, the Security Council has been freed from the paralysing East-West gridlock. As a result, the Security Council is for the first time in a position to fulfill the role envisaged for it under the Charter. With its new-found activism, the scope of its decisions, and the increasingly intrusive character of the measures being adopted, the `new’ Security Council resembles the nearest thing to a mini world government.
Second, there has been a rearrangement of power relations in the world, which is reflected directly in the Security Council. Soviet superpower has been replaced by a relatively weak and dependent Russia. China is in a reserved and cautious mood. The Non-Aligned Movement is in a state of political disorientation, searching for a new role in a rearranged world order. The United States, in spite of its financial and domestic constraints, has been thrust into a position of preeminence without a counterweight. Meanwhile, Germany and Japan have come into their own as world economic giants, now in search of appropriate world political roles.
Together, the renewed authority of the Security Council and the realignment of power within it have highlighted an emerging concern: how to ensure that the decisions of the Security Council are both effective and legitimate in light of emerging values of human rights and democracy. I sense a growing disquiet about the process of Security Council decision-making and about the scope and nature of its decisions. Whether the UN continues to command broad-based legitimacy will depend on how these concerns are addressed over the longer term, especially by the Western powers, who constitute the dominant force within the United Nations today.
JC: You mentioned concerns about the scope and nature of Security Council decisions. What sorts of changes in the scope of Security Council jurisdiction would now be advisable?
OO: The Council’s mandate is to assume primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. In the past, the notion of a “threat to international peace and security” was generally understood to encompass acts of aggression or breaches of the peace, involving some actual or potential military manifestation, usually in the context of an inter-state or regional conflict.
In recent decisions, a trend is emerging of a more expansive interpretation of “a threat to international peace and security.” Measures being adopted by the Council have become increasingly intrusive and coercive, applying not only to international situations but also to internal conflicts.
JC: As in the case of Iraq?
OO: Yes, but not only in that case. In Resolution 688 of April 1991, the Council held that the internal repression of Iraqi civilian population and the consequent cross-border flow of refugees threatened “international peace and security in the region.” In Resolution 748 of March 1992, the Council made a determination that the failure by the Libyan government to extradite the suspects in the Lockerbie case constituted a threat to international peace and security. More recently, the Council made a determination that the magnitude of human tragedy in Somalia constituted a threat to international peace and security.
Regardless of the particular circumstances that may have animated these decisions, they form a body of precedents with far-reaching implications for future situations. Yet it is arguable whether all these determinations fall within the scope of “a threat to international peace and security” as originally envisaged in the Charter.
The decisions of the Security Council are not subject to any system of judicial review. The Council is self-regulating and in that sense can designate any development “a threat to international peace and security.” However, if the Council were perceived as departing too far from the spirit of the Charter, this could erode its authority and legitimacy. The situation calls for a judicious measure of political self-restraint, especially on the part of the Western permanent members.
JC: What can be done to promote such restraint?
OO: In view of the increasingly far-reaching scope of measures being adopted by the Council, the wider UN membership wants to be associated more closely with decision-making, and to reduce the recent tendencies towards less transparency and less participation. Similarly, the Council is not meant to function in isolation. The legitimacy of the Council derives from the special responsibility conferred upon it by the membership of the UN as a whole. According to Article 24 of the UN Charter, the 15 members of the Council act on behalf of the entire 183 members of the organization. It is in this context that the Charter assigns to the Council primary but not exclusive responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.
The challenge is to develop a practice which can respond to the need for more transparency and greater participation, while at the same time ensuring prompt and effective action.
JC: What might that changed practice look like?
OO: One way to achieve these aims would be to alter the composition of the Security Council. The present membership structure includes five permanent members and ten non-permanent members chosen on a regional basis. This reflects the world situation in 1945. But with pressures mounting for the recomposition of the Council– from Japan, Germany, and some developing countries — it is apparent that reform of the Security Council cannot be postponed indefinitely.
One possibility would be a new, three-tier membership structure. The first tier would consist of the present permanent members: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States. They would retain their right of veto, but with a new understanding that the veto would be used in the more restrictive spirit envisaged in the Charter. The veto should be used as a defensive mechanism of last resort, a kind of shield to protect a permanent member when a vital national interest is truly at stake. As it is, no veto has been cast in the Council since May 1990.
With its new-found activism, the scope of its decisions, and the increasingly intrusive character of the measures being adopted, the `new’ Security Council resembles the nearest thing to a mini world government.
The second tier of membership would be composed of new permanent members without the right of veto. It would be difficult to grant permanent seats to Japan and Germany without making a similar dispensation for some of the developing countries with equally strong claims. So along with Japan and Germany, the new permanent members might be Brazil, India, and Nigeria.
The third tier would consist of rotating non-permanent members, in the same way as at present; this category may need to be expanded from the present ten to a maximum of 15 to reflect the consequence of the reallocation of seats within the various regions.
In addition to the reconstitution of the Council, two further measures need to be considered: first, the institution of a regional veto for Africa and Latin America to counterbalance the ones that already exist for Asia and Europe and North America. Such a veto would be exercised exceptionally and collectively when a fundamental regional interest is at stake.
Second, the composition of the Security Council should be reviewed periodically, perhaps every 15-20 years, in order to take account of the evolution of power relations in the world.
This new structure would assure greater representation and democratic legitimacy– appropriate to the global values discussed earlier — while preserving a capacity for prompt and effective action.
JC: We have been focusing on the reorganization of the UN as an institution. What about norms? Regional and internal conflicts of the kind you emphasized earlier raise new questions about the standards that ought to guide UN action — for example, in the area of sanctions.
OO: The issue of the legitimacy of sanctions is not new, but has been highlighted by the recent experience during the Gulf crisis. The sanctions enacted against Iraq were by far the most comprehensive ever put into place by the UN. Yet they were eventually considered inadequate for the task of reversing Iraq’s aggression against Kuwait. Since then the Security Council has imposed sanctions against Serbia and Libya, and possible action is being considered against North Korea.
In considering the effectiveness of sanctions, we need to evaluate their success in isolating the target country, and in inducing the necessary change of policy or attitude on the part of the target government. But we also need to consider the often serious impact on other countries. We live in a world of objective interdependence. The Gulf Crisis demonstrated that when links among countries are severed abruptly, the impact can be devastating, especially for the weaker economies of developing countries. It became clear during the Gulf Crisis that, in spite of Article 50 of the Charter, no concrete framework has in fact been developed for providing assistance to countries seriously affected by the application of sanctions. An unprecedented number of countries (21 in all) applied for assistance from the Security Council under Article 50 in 1991; each claimed billions of dollars in losses. In order to encourage future compliance with sanctions regimes, it is important that this problem be addressed in a more satisfactory manner. Similarly, the Council needs to address the problem of humanitarian consequences of sanctions, especially on civilian populations within target countries.
JC: What about intervention?
OO: We need to be specific about types of intervention. The principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of states, enshrined in Article 2.7 of the UN Charter, has been viewed as a pillar of the international system. As things now stand, Article 2.7 constitutes a powerful but not an absolute barrier against “intervention” or “involvement” by the international community. Intervention is now considered admissible in a range of cases, including cases of collective military action; or when a state gives its consent to the involvement of the United Nations in matters otherwise within the state’s domestic jurisdiction, as in the case of the monitoring of elections in various countries; or when an internal conflict has assumed a major international dimension and when this fact is recognized as such by the internal factions as well as their external sponsors (as with the present situation in Cambodia, or the situation in Afghanistan before the withdrawal of Soviet troops); or in order to denounce human rights abuses in a given country by the UN Commission on Human Rights or the General Assembly.
But the issue which lies at the heart of the present debate is: under what circumstances is physical intervention acceptable in response to a grave humanitarian and human rights situation within a country?
JC: How is current thinking on this issue evolving?
OO: Two schools of thought have rapidly emerged within the UN. An activist school seeks a more flexible interpretation of Article 2.7, whereas the status quo school is deeply suspicious of any further erosion of the barrier erected in Article 2.7. It should be noted that this debate has increasingly taken on a North-South dimension, with the leading industrialized countries belonging to the activist school while most developing countries tend to favor the alternative approach.
Two competing principles here will need to be balanced over time. On the one hand, the stability of the inter-state system depends on accepting and respecting the sovereign rights of states. On the other hand, international opinion cannot permit massive and dramatic suffering to be shielded behind the walls of sovereignty. In effect, the changing concept of sovereignty, the growing importance of democracy and respect for human rights, as well as the increasing flow of information are changing the notion of the domestic affairs of a state.
When, and in what circumstances, is the level of suffering within a given country of such magnitude as to warrant physical intervention by the international community? The search is for an acceptable threshold.
Two recent decisions constitute landmarks in this evolution. Resolution 688 of April 1991, concerning the situation of the Kurds in Northern Iraq, was the first marker in this direction. Here massive internal repression and the flow of refugees across international borders became a basis for intervention to protect the populations in distress. The second development, even more radical, concerned Somalia, where humanitarian intervention was authorized (Resolution 794 of December 1992) in a situation of generalized violence where the state itself had already collapsed. In Somalia, the UN will have to preside over “transitional arrangements” for the country, facilitating a process of national reconciliation as well as the resuscitation of defunct state structures.
It is unlikely that the search for an appropriate threshold and balance will be resolved by juridical design. However, in circumstances where the magnitude of suffering is so great the following scenarios could provide possible criteria for physical intervention by the international community:
* When access to populations in distress is being blocked by parties in a conflict within a country.
* When all other means of exercising pressure have been exhausted and an international presence seems desirable to combat a further deterioration of the situation.
* When the state itself has collapsed and there is no recognizable central authority.
The appropriate threshold and balance will likely emerge slowly over a period of time, perhaps on a case-by-case basis. On a pragmatic level, the Security Council cannot intervene in every situation. In making a decision the Council also will have to consider what is feasible and practical. One thing is certain, though: that from the point of view of legitimacy, the Security Council must be seen to act with consistency across situations and so avoid the accusation that appeals to human rights and democracy are simply being used as political weapons.
JC: Let’s hope they can do that.