Andrey A. Piontkovsky

Strategic Studies Center, Moscow, Russia


Summary: In the author’s opinion, the Iraqi crisis has shown the fragility of the modern-day international security architecture and the inability of existing international organizations to react adequately to challenges that the world community is now facing. Is it possible that the time has come to strengthen international security by altering the existing world order?


The “Yalta System” Collapse


The widely spread opinion that there existed, since Yalta and until March 20, 2003, a certain international security architecture consecrated by international law and effective international institutions is a profound delusion.


The bi-polar world that had existed from Yalta up to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was based on the currently “vogue” word - “the law of the fist” - of the two top-rank players - the USSR and the USA. The UN and the Security Council became a stage on which the world’s top stars, together with a crowd of extras, competed with each other through propaganda and ideological arguments. The real issues of security, war and peace were resolved in a different place - where the two superpowers’ dialogue took place.


Let us remember for example, the most dramatic conflict of a half-century of confrontation - the Cuban missile crisis. The Security Council session, where Adlai Stevenson displayed photographs of Soviet missiles in Cuba, was quite spectacular and turbulent. However, the actual process of resolving this conflict, now on record not only day by day, but also hour by hour, had nothing to do with the Security Council.


The two nuclear superpowers learned a lot from the Cuban crisis. The result of this event was the development of a series of bilateral nuclear agreements - the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty, SALT-1 and SALT-2 (never ratified, yet observed by both parties), and the creation of permanent institutions to support these agreements.


The goal of these agreements was the codification of the fundamentally hostile relations between two entities and preventing them from escalating into military, and potentially even nuclear, conflict. War became impossible because both parties accepted the concept - nowhere openly spoken, yet implicit throughout those agreements - of mutually assured destruction (MAD). Both parties developed their strategic forces in order to allow both to maintain the potential of delivering an unacceptable degree of damage to their adversary through a retaliatory strike. Hence, the launching of a nuclear war (a first strike on enemy territory) would have automatically meant mutual self-annihilation.


The MAD concept (and not the UN Charter) was the true cornerstone of the international security system during the cold war period.


This system prevented a direct super-power clash that would have been fatal for the world, yet it failed to avert dozens of local conflicts and wars in various regions of the world that destroyed millions of lives. In many of these, directly or through intermediaries, either the USSR or the US -or both - were involved.


The nostalgic refrain regarding the inviolability of national sovereignty, supposedly effective in those happy days of the post-Yalta architecture of international security, certainly sounds strange to our ears. National sovereignty was violated to the left and to the right, including by the Soviet Union. Remember the invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan.


However, it is important to note that there were circumstances when the breach of sovereignty was clearly a good thing in the eyes of the world. The Vietnamese troops’ invasion of Cambodia was a clear breach of the latter’s sovereignty, but it saved a further third of the Cambodian population from annihilation by an insane regime.


The New Threats


Collapse of the bi-polar world generated certain illusions with regard to security, the extreme manifestation of which was the Fukuyama concept “the end of history.” Very soon it turned out that it was not the end of history, but the beginning of many new and unpleasant histories - the painful disintegration of Yugoslavia, conflicts on the former territory of the USSR, in Somalia, Rwanda, East Timor, etc. Finally, the events of September 11th demonstrated a new all-out challenge posed by international terrorism to civilization.


The world community found itself unprepared for all these challenges - both institutionally and conceptually. The illusions about security institutions such as the UN and the SC have been discussed above. Another widespread fallacy was the belief in certain norms of international law - standards that would guide all nations. If that were so, all the world’s problems would have boiled down to defining an action as being legitimate or illegitimate. If only it could be that simple. Let us review a few commonly recognized principles of international law, recorded in dozens of declarations, charters and treaties:

·Sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation;

·The right of nations to self-determination;

·Human rights formulated in the UN Declaration and reiterated in the laws of the majority of nations, including Russia;

·The right of states to self-defence.


If we now look at any serious international problem, at any of a few dozen smouldering or flaring local conflicts, we will see how wildly contradictory those principles are. In fact, all conflicts and problems are pre-eminently generated by these contradictions.


Anyone with an elementary knowledge of logic would know that if a system of axiomatic statements contains mutually conflicting assertions, A and non-A, any arbitrary conclusion can be derived. Contemporary international law represents exactly such a system, and because of that, practically any action of a state in the international arena (as well as its opposite) may find validation in one of the norms of international law.


Most advanced politicians understand this very well. Here is what President Vladimir Putin said during his press conference at the closure of the St. Petersburg summit of April 12, 2003: “However, in recent times many imperfections in the structure of international law have revealed themselves, as well as inherent inconsistencies in which, in my view, a serious potential for conflict is concealed.”


He continued, “Politicians and state leaders rely on effective legal mechanisms. The inadequacy of those mechanisms may be fraught with serious implications. I am convinced that if clearly functioning legal mechanisms for crisis resolution were set up in time, far more effective solutions to the most complex world problems could be found.”


Let us now dwell in greater detail on this principle and the specifics of its application in the world after September 11th. As mentioned above, nuclear security during the cold war was based on a principle of containment, where each party was aware that its potential adversary was not suicidal. How can this principle operate now when we are dealing with suicide bombers? A new potential menace has appeared in the world - terrorists with access to WMD - for which the containment principle does not work, and which can be countered only by preventive measures.


The principle of the inviolability of national sovereignty has never been absolute, and all the more so cannot be in the contemporary world. Initially the concept of a preventive strike was very clearly and straightforwardly formulated in the “New US National Security Doctrine” published in September 2002. The declaration by the US, of the right to conduct preventive strikes as an intrinsic extension of the right of a nation to self-defense, has been repeatedly criticized in the Russian press.


Yet, here are two quotes:


"If anyone tries to use weapons commensurate with weapons of mass destruction against our country, we will respond with measures adequate to the threat.  In all locations where the terrorists, or organizers of the crime, or their ideological or financial sponsors are.  I underline, no matter where they are."


"In such cases, and I officially confirm this, we will strike. This includes preventive strikes."


Who are these hawks, preaching a concept of preventive strikes violating the sacred principle of national state sovereignty? Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfovitz, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice?


The first quote comes from President Vladimir Putin’s speech at the October 28, 2002 session of the government. The second is a statement by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, made even earlier, on September 22, 2002.


Vladimir Putin’s declaration was an official order by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief to the appropriate government agencies to develop a new Russian military doctrine that would include the concept of preventive strikes in response to threats against which the traditional deterrence concept proved ineffective.


It looks as if each nation, taken alone, would adopt for itself, with ease and enthusiasm, the concept of preventive strike, derived from the principle of the right to self-defence, yet would be rather critical of the readiness of other nations to adopt a similar concept.


Who indeed, will, in this case, define whether the preventive strike is legitimate, and the extent of its validity in regards to the actual threat? The Security Council? Has the Security Council ever defined anything? During the cold war, when its uselessness was obvious, or in the subsequent decade, when it demonstrated its helplessness, having not been able to prevent or halt any of the conflicts that mowed down hundreds of thousands of lives in the former Yugoslavia, the former USSR, Rwanda, Somalia or Afghanistan?


World Government is at Hand


The increasingly chaotic character of the modern world, challenges of radicalism, terrorism, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction generates an objective demand for some form of non-fictitious (UN, SC) but real world government. Demand gives rise to supply. After September 11, 2001, the US has been attempting to play this role. This situation does not seem to satisfy anyone, including the Americans themselves.


Confrontation with the US and the formation of various anti-American axes will only lead the US government to become more intransigent and, at the same time, less efficient (with negative implications for the world at large) the more their isolation increases.


Pleas to return to a certain “system of international security,” allegedly destroyed by the Iraqi crisis, are totally vain appeals, be they sincere or false. There never was such a system; there were not even conceptual approaches adequate to the challenges of the contemporary world.


All the more, the world community should focus on the development of both the concept and the institutions for a new world order. First of all, it is necessary to turn to the problem of conflict within the various principles of international law and try to develop some reasonable rules of balance between them.


Yet there should be clear awareness of the fact that, with every potential improvement to the norms of international law, the solution to the problem cannot be purely legalistic. It will always be political. It is impossible to invent an abstract scheme suitable for the resolution of any emerging conflict, in which both democratic nations and totalitarian regimes bent on obtaining nuclear arms will be equal actors.


Only an alliance of responsible world powers, united by common vision of the problems and challenges facing the modern world, sharing common values and with the resources - political, economic and military - to implement their joint policy, can perform the role of efficient world government.


The structure best able to meet these requirements is the Group of Eight. Russia, having become a full member of this framework, has an objective interest in the G8 expanding its area of responsibility into the sphere of international security. Because of the traditionally informal and confidential nature of discussions within the G8, it is the most useful forum for the realization of joint decisions on key issues of world politics.


The US will remain a leader within this eight (and in the future, maybe, nine or ten), yet constructive and open discussion of the current key policy issues would allow the leading powers to develop a culture of consensus. It is in the common interest of the world community not to alienate the US but to convert it into a responsible leader accounting for the interests and concerns of its partners.


The United Nations, with its enormous bureaucratic structure, certainly will not disappear. It could play the role of organizer of joint decisions made by the leading powers.


Such a transformation of the G8 into a leading international security institution is impossible without Russia’s participation. Full participation in the G8 is a very important political resource for Russia. In our opinion, it is much more important than Russia’s permanent membership on the Security Council - a position based on inertia, exaggeration of our diplomatic attributes, and inherited after the disintegration of the USSR superpower. The G8, as an institution for global security, would simply be ineffective without Russia, which is geographically adjacent to the sphere of instability that poses the worst potential threat to the world. For the same reason, Russia will not be able to maintain its security outside an alliance with the leading industrial nations.