Thursday, December 18, 2003

The Postwar World

The objective of the War on Terror is plainly to defeat the enemy. But this goal can be expressed in an alternative manner as the shaping of the postwar world. The surprising thing is that both formulations must be equivalent, being by definition exactly the same state. Yet unforeseeable consequences of conflict make it difficult to predict, until the last moment, what the possibilities of peace may be. When Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met for the final time in Yalta, they could allow the focus to shift from the prosecution of hostilities, for by then the Axis was manifestly doomed, to an explicit attempt to restructure a globe that had irrevocably changed. The Cold War boundaries between East and Western had their genesis in these talks. It was at Yalta that the United Nations was first conceived. It was there that the foundations of 50 years of future history were laid. Yet in a sense, none of the victors had arrived blindly at the spot. Each in his imperfect manner had groped towards that moment, guided by some vision of the future world. That was what they made war for.

Although the fight against terrorism is far from over, it must inevitably reach its Yalta moment, the point at which the victors, however they may be defined, codify and make regular the changes that have taken place. The geopolitical map has already changed utterly. The United States is master of the Middle East and Central Asia, in addition to her overlordship of the Pacific and guarantorship of large swathes of Europe. The old powers of Central Europe have attempted to maintain themselves by expanding the European Union and forging alliances wherever they could, with mixed success. A Democratic Revolution has swept over the old post-colonial world, including many nations previously beholden to Bolshevism. Many of the artificial nations formed hastily with the withdrawal of European colonialism have started to become authentically viable. While the boundaries remain fuzzy, a general picture has started to take form.

But of the fate of the United Nations, little has been said. In hindsight, the UN succeeded admirably at the task of doing nothing. The Security Council, the functional core of the UN, was designed to create a permanent state of deadlock. This kept the Great Powers from conflict by freezing everything in place. But the avoidance of world war was purchased at the price of accepting a permanent state of misery and regional conflict. In the succeeding years, nearly 60 wars would come to the attention of the Security Council for resolution. It would act in only two: Korea 1950 and Kuwait 1991, the first by accidental Soviet absence, the second, after the multipolar system had already collapsed by the accession of the United States to global dominance. Ultimately the price proved too high. Under the shadow of the Cold War, itself a consequence of the stasis designed into the peace of 1945, petty tyrants multiplied, millions were oppressed, and the most backward ideologies flourished. The aircraft that destroyed the two World Trade Center towers figuratively started their flight in Yalta, flown by men born literally not very far from where Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin pored over their maps.

It seems clear that any successor institution to the United Nations must be designed for meaningful action rather than intentional paralysis, within a framework of checks and balances. It must come to terms with the single most salient reality of the postwar world: the de facto supranational police power of the United States. The existence of this vast power is a temptation to create a world government, which is for the first time in history feasible, and for that reason utterly to be shunned. Instead of using it directly, which would be corrupting, international institutions should promote the spread of freedom and civil society, exploiting the historical opportunity of the existence of a power that provides a lower bound on the misbehavior and rapacity of rulers.

This opportunity for freedom has come before on a smaller scale, at Runnymede and Philadelphia. Not upon the promise of government but on the absence of tyranny. The world does not need a new framework of treaties, least of all a world government, but the freedom to prosper as nations on a planet in which everything except oppression is permitted. For it is self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with unalienable Rights, that the only excuse for government is to secure these rights and that these words can be translated into every living tongue.