- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2005

There is a basic contradiction in U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s reform proposal. In a dynamic world of contending nation-states, the United Nations is anything but united. It cannot be both “the world’s only universal body with a mandate to address security, development and human rights issues” — the dream of world government, and still respect that “sovereign states are the basic and indispensable building blocks of the international system” — the reality Mr. Annan grudgingly concedes.

The way Mr. Annan tries to square the circle is the old saw about collective security. “In an era of global interdependence, the glue of common interest, if properly perceived, should bind all states together in this cause, as should the impulses of our common humanity,” he writes. “Such cooperation is possible if every country’s policies take into account not only the needs of its own citizens but also the needs of others.” But the needs of others are vast.

Mr. Annan feels “whatever threatens one threatens all. … We must respond to HIV/AIDS as robustly as we do to terrorism and to poverty as effectively as we do to proliferation.”

Resources are always limited. It is nonsense to plea, as Mr. Annan does, that while “we perceive different threats as the most pressing… the truth is we cannot afford to choose.” Governments must make choices, putting their own peoples’ welfare and security first. States are reluctant to commit blood and treasure to matters of little strategic interest.

Effective action requires coalitions of the willing. Mr. Annan notes a majority of U.N. peacekeeping missions are in Africa, “where, I regret to say, developed countries are increasingly reluctant to contribute troops.” Yet, it is only where major powers have no vital interests that the U.N. can be called in.

Mr. Annan knows the problem, “an essential part of the consensus we seek must be agreement on when and how force can be used to defend international peace and security. In recent years, this issue has deeply divided member states.”

Iraq is the case in point, but the lack of consensus has run through the entire history of the United Nations as well as the League of Nations before it. Both were formed by the alliances that won the world wars. To idealists, the new postwar bodies were to transcend these alliances in the name of collective security. But the only consensus was protection of the status quo created by the victors. Even that did not last very long.

There is an endless waltz to history, a three-step dance of war, peace and revolution. Wars are fought to create a new order of peace, but that status quo does not suit everyone. Allies fall out, enemies rebuild and new powers arise. Their revolt against the status quo shatters the peace. Those who prevail create the next system of order, and the band plays on. E.H. Carr wrote in 1939 of this waltz between the world wars, “Utopian writers from the English-speaking countries seriously believed that the establishment of the League of Nations meant the elimination of power from international relations. … What was commonly called the ‘return to power politics’ in 1931 was, in fact, the termination of the monopoly of power enjoyed by the status quo powers.”

The revolutionary powers were the Soviet Union and the German-Italian-Japanese Axis. All but Germany fought in World War I on the side of the remaining status quo allies, England, France and the United States. But time, and changes in governments, shifted their alignment.

This also occurred after World War II, and in less time. The Soviet Union remained a revolutionary power, and China became another after its civil war. The former Axis states supported the new order that emerged from their defeat.

And while communism has failed as an economic system in Russia and China, both powers remain discontented. The alliances that confronted each other in the Cold War have undergone realignments, with the United States enjoying more support among former Warsaw Pact states than in an “old Europe” dominated by traditional foes France and Germany.

The U.N. Security Council still represents the WW II coalition that created it. In the debate over Iraq, the five permanent members split 3-2. Expanding the Security Council by including Japan, Brazil, Germany and India will make consensus harder to find, not easier.

Mr. Annan sees the rising pressure of new revolutionary forces: “Divisions between major powers on key issues have revealed a lack of consensus about goals and methods. Meanwhile, over 40 countries have been scarred by violent conflict. More than 1 billion people still live below the extreme poverty line.” Mr. Annan assails the status quo (and indirectly the United States) by noting “many states have begun to feel that the sheer imbalance of power in the world is a source of instability.”

Mr. Annan wants the United Nations to become “a forum for resolving differences rather than a mere stage for acting them out.” But the history and nature of world politics indicates successful diplomacy is based on hard bargaining that recognizes conflicting national interests and the balance of power, not on illusions about a “common humanity.”

William Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

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