The Relations Between War And Politics (III)

Part I, Part II

War, national interest, and the League of Nations

In broad terms, the national interest refers to the goals of foreign politics, objectives, or policy preferences that benefit a nation or society as a whole. That is the foreign policy equivalent of the public interest. However, the concept of national interest is practically vague and contested. The concept is most widely used by realist theorists, for whom it is defined by the structural implications of the anarchy in IR and, therefore, the concept of national interest is closely linked to national security, survival, and the pursuit of power.

Nonetheless, for those theorists dealing with the phenomenon of decision-making procedure, the national interest refers to the strategies and goals which are pushed by those politicians who are responsible for the conduct of national foreign policy. This may mean, however, that it degenerates into mere rhetoric. Alternatively, the concept of national interest may refer to the goals of foreign policy that have been endorsed by the democratic process. In many practical cases in modern history, ethnocentrism was directly linked with the concept of national interest even to the degree to be the synonym. Ethnocentrism is a policy in which the actions and/or intentions of its own or other national groups or individuals are evaluated by the application of cultural, political, or in general civilizational values and theories drawn from the observers’ own culture and experience.

It was traditionally thought that national interest was a legitimate goal of the nation and other forms of states in their war practices. In other words, for centuries the warfare was legitimized by proclaimed formal national interest, especially of national security. Historically, many of the European states have been regularly in warfare between each other especially the neighbors for the sake to get land, different dynastic claims, or, for instance, colonial gains. Nevertheless, in all of such and similar cases, resort to warfare was a generally accepted mechanism for keeping the balance of power or establishing a hegemony but under the moral and legitimate umbrella of the protection of national interest.

The term and concept of balance of power are used in different ways. As a policy, the balance of power refers to a deliberate attempt to promote a power equilibrium, using diplomacy, or war, in order to prevent any state or political actor to achieve a predominant position. However, as a system, the balance of power refers to a condition in which no one state predominates over others, tending to create general equilibrium and to prevent the hegemonic ambitions of all states. Nevertheless, neo-realists argue that the international system tends naturally towards equilibrium because states are particularly fearful that the other state would be a hegemon.

Up to the late 19th century, in fact, it was no developed legal constraints of war when it was agreed on the general law on the war in order to limit the use of some of the nastier technological possibilities for both making and using weapons.

The situation changed after 1918 as a consequence of the unexpected cost and carnage of the Great War (1914−1918) when some international mechanisms to prevent war were established including the institution of the League of Nations. The League of Nations was established at the end of WWI by those Great Powers who won the war meeting at the Paris Peace Conference with the strongest support in the personality of US President Woodrow Wilson. However, due to the post-WWI policy of isolation, the US Senate did not ratify the US membership in the League of Nations and, therefore, the post-war strongest nation-state became out of a new global security mechanism. Moreover, among all post-war Great Powers, only the UK and France became members of the League during its existence while other Great Powers of Germany, Italy, Japan, and the USSR either joined the organization late or resigned or even did both.

Peace conference
Opening session of the Versailles peace conference at the Trianon Palace, January 1919

The task of the League of Nations was to prevent military aggression in global politics by applying a system of collective security. Therefore, it was hoped that all potential aggressors are going to be either deterred or at least effectively punished by the collective international security body of the League or, more precisely, its leading nations – the UK and France. However, this great illusion became visible in the 1930s starting with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 when the Great Powers of the UK and France became unwilling and probably unable to impose effective sanctions on the aggressor. The case of Manchuria was soon followed in 1935 by the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in whose political fate no other Great Power had some direct interest. Both cases became the decisive test of efficiency for the League of Nations which failed and, therefore, left the open room for the start of WWII. Neither the UK nor France got sufficient international support for the imposition of some serious and effective measures against the aggressor except partial economic sanctions which, however, had been lifted in 1936. The Brits were happy not to risk the loss of even a small part of its fleet in the conflict with Italy when the British colonies in Asia-Pacific have been menaced by expansionist Japan and when the USA still followed the policy of isolation and neutrality. Similar to London, Paris held that the campaign against Italy for the colony in East Africa would be abortive at the time when all the French army was needed to prevent possible early conflict with Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, Abyssinia became consequently incorporated into the Italian colonial empire in 1936. In fact, as an imagined institution to resist the aggression and warfare in IR, the League of Nations effectively stopped to function and formally continued to exist in a phantom condition till 1945 when became officially replaced by the OUN.

In essence, the collective security mechanism of the League of Nations failed to exterminate war from the practice of nation-states to protect their national interest. After 1945, a stronger international legal system and regime against war and the use of weapons has been created including the supranational institution of the Organization of the United Nations (the OUN) as well as based on an idea and the concept of collective security. Therefore, after WWII, formally, the war became illegal for almost all purposes except self-defense and collective security. At the same time war became increasingly perceived as not moral practice in the IR. Nevertheless, practically, the national interest still is playing the focal role in the contemporary wars as it was clearly stated, for instance, in US President Bill Clinton’s speech to the nation after the Kosovo War in mid-June 1999. The justification of wars in both Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 following the case of 9/11 in 2001 started to move the criteria of warfare to the direction of making pre-emptive and preventive attacks more publically acceptable in the eyes of a nation.

Collective security and the system of OUN in IR

An idea of effective collective security is the foundation of the OUN. Fundamentally, collective security has to be a system to protect global peace and security by the common agreement and activity of all nations. Therefore, the focal idea of the concept of collective security is to institutionalize a permanent arrangement of the balance of power in which the whole international community has to agree to oppose any armed aggression by any member state. The very theoretical logic of the concept of collective security is double: 1) No state can stand up to all of the other member states of the system together; and 2) The military aggression will be consequently permanently deterred. However, in practice, it became impossible to apply this logic to the post-WWII nuclear Great Powers especially to those two of them called Superpowers. Furthermore, five Great Powers with a permanent veto right in the OUN SC have been self-protected likewise their regional clients (for instance, Israel).

Nevertheless, there are extremely required necessary conditions for collective security:

  1. All member states must accept the status quo sufficiently in order to renounce the use of force for any purpose other than for the very purpose of defense of their own borders and territory.
  2. All member states have to reach an agreement about a clear legal definition of the act of aggression in order to avoid a particular self-individual explanation of aggression so that practical paralysis can be avoided if the case of aggression happens.
  3. All member states, but particularly the Great Powers, have to be willing to commit their own armed forces and funds to prevent aggression even in the case if it is remote from or opposed to, their immediate national interests. However, another solution is to establish, pay for, and find means of controlling, an international armed force to deal with the prevention of the act of aggression.
  4. All member states have to prevent actively any breaches of sanctions that might assist the declared outlaw.

As it is known, attempts by the League of Nations to effectively implement the concept of collective security failed because of the inability to meet all of these conditions. The OUN SC is a mechanism for collective security. On one hand, its operation in 1991 against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (its former historical territory separated from Iraq by the Brits at the very turn of the 20th century) is usually seen by the Westerners as a good instance of successful implementation of the concept of collective security. However, on other hand, NATO’s military intervention against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999 without permission by the OUN SC can be understood as a good example of classic military aggression against a sovereign state.

Harry S. Truman, Tom Connally, Edward Stettinius Jr., Harold Edward Stassen, Virginia Gildersleeve, Charles A. Eaton, Sol Bloom, Arthur Vandenberg
President Harry S. Truman and the entire American delegation look on as Sen. Tom Connally signs the United Nations Charter in San Francisco, June 26, 1945.

The OUN’s Charter model of both democracy and global politics recognizes that the world community consists of sovereign states, connected through a dense network of different relations. The model defends single persons and groups who are regarded as legitimate actors in IR. Peace and peaceful collective cohabitation are the ultimate political goals of the model which can be achieved by worldwide democracy. The OUN immediately after its creation in 1945 recognized that certain peoples are oppressed by colonial powers, racist regimes of foreign occupants and, therefore, they are assigned rights of recognition and a determinate role in articulating their future and interests. Consequently, in Africa and Asia started a new type of war – the Identity war. That is a war in which the quest for cultural regeneration, expressed by the demand that a people’s collective identity is publicly and politically recognized, became a primary cause for conflict. Nevertheless, the OUN placed restrictions on the resort to force, including the unwarranted use of economic force or sanctions.

The creation of new rules, procedures, and institutions were designed to aid law-making and law enforcement in international affairs with the final security purpose to avoid conflicts and especially wars. There was the adoption of legal principles delimiting the form and scope of the conduct of all members of the international community which provided a set of guidelines for the structuring of international rules and behave. It was as well as expressed fundamental concern for the rights of individuals, and the creation of a corpus of international rules seeking to constrain states to observe certain standards in the treatment of all citizens. The preservation of peace, the advancement of human rights, and the establishment of greater social justice became proclaimed as collective priorities. Public affairs now included the whole of the international community. With respect to certain values as peace and the prohibition of genocide, international rules within the umbrella of the OUN’s Charter and law now provide, in principle, for the personal responsibility of state’s officials and authority in general and the attribution of criminal acts to states including different types of war crimes.

The OUN recognized the systematic inequalities among peoples and states accepting the concept of “common heritage of mankind” (UNESCO). Nevertheless, it would be quite misleading to conclude that the era of the UN Charter model simply displaced the Westphalian logic of both IR and international governance. I would claim that the essential reason for such a standpoint is that the UN Charter framework represents, in many respects, an extension of the former pre-WWII interstate system of IR. The OUN was designed partly to overcome weaknesses in the former League of Nations, but as well as to accommodate the international power structure as it was understood in 1945. Nevertheless, the OUN Charter system of IR including dealing with war and warfare and taking into consideration the practice of the veto rights in the OUN SC is, in fact, and unfortunately, democratically wrapped and dressed the old Westphalian Order in IR.

As a matter of fact, the division of the globe into powerful nation-states, with distinctive sets of geopolitical interests, is built into the OUN Charter conception in 1945. As a result, the OUN is virtually immobilized as an autonomous actor on many pressing issues. Manifestation of this is the special veto power accorded to the five permanent members of the OUN SC (the UK, the USA, the USSR/Russia, France, China). This privileged political status added authority and legitimacy to the position of each of the major Great Powers. The five veto power states are, therefore, protected against censure and sanctions in the event of unilateral military action in the form of their veto. They have the right to unilateral strategic state initiatives if they were necessary for self-defense.

The OUN’s submission to the agendas of the most powerful states is reinforced by its dependence on finance provided by its member states. In sum, the OUN’s Charter model of IR, despite its good intentions, failed effectively to generate a new principle of organization in the international order – a principle which might break fundamentally with the logic of the Westphalian Order and generate new democratic mechanisms of political coordination. However, the OUN’s Charter system is distinctively innovative and influential in a number of respects. It has provided, nevertheless, an international forum in which all states are in certain respect equal. Such forum is of particular value to third world countries and to those seeking a basis for consensus solutions to international problems for the sake to avoid military conflicts.

Finally, it has not to be forgotten that the OUN’s Charter has provided a general framework for decolonization, and for the pursuit of the reform of international economic institutions. It provided also a vision of new world order and IR based upon a meeting of governments and of supranational presence in world affairs championing human rights and trying to prevent military actions across the globe.

To be continued

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.
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One Comment
  1. Emergence of new world powers has almost ensured new cold wars in coming time. But lets pray that they dont become hot from cold.
    Thank you for prividing such a thoughful and nice articles

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