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Axis of rational alternatives
Thinking more creatively about global security

By Majid Tehranian
March 12, 2003
The Iranian

As America moves ever closer to using military force to disarm Iraq we must see that two clear strategic alternatives do exist in the pursuit of global peace and security.

First, we may choose to follow the path of the Bush Administration and return to yet another era of power politics in which "might makes right." Second, and perhaps more radically, we may choose to build on the global cooperation achievements of the past fifty years by strengthening international "rule of law" and "the collective security system" under the United Nations Charter.

To the Bush Administration, the first alternative seems to be favored, perhaps because - at least superficially - it seems to be a less complicated solution. The United States alone or in concert with its allies seems to prefer invading Iraq, removing Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party, and then attempting to rebuild Iraq and the entire West Asian region following a Western model.

That path implies "Pax Americana" in West Asia and possibly throughout the world, particularly if President Bush also intends to take action against the other two nations that, with Iraq, he has declared to form an "Axis of Evil." Should the United States continue its commitment to this agenda, it may then act to disarm and change the regimes in both North Korea and Iran. Other countries with weapons of mass destruction may then reasonably interpret such action as warning that the new Bush Doctrine of "pre-emptive attack" applies to them as well.

The costs and benefits of this alternative seem rather evident. Significantly, the cost side includes alienation of the major European allies, Russia, China as well as the Islamic world, increased terrorism targeting Americans, an expanded US military along with the financial burden to "rebuild" Iraq. And perhaps most frightening of all, this strategy would result in the diminution of American democracy in favor of a surveillance police state.

Unfortunately, rather significant costs are offset by somewhat meager benefits, which are, at best, temporary. Most significantly and largely overlooked is the fairly obvious fact that the U.S. may win the war but lose the peace. As Afghanistan demonstrates, American politicians have a remarkably short attention span concerning foreign nation building. And, Iraq is ethnically and geo-politically a far more complex problem than Afghanistan. Governance of Iraq has been historically a nightmare for all occupying powers.

As cost of these adventures become better known to the American public, President Bush may find that his determination to be rid of Saddam Hussein costs him the 2004 elections. As in Greek mythology, the gods may punish President Bush by giving him exacting what he wants: Iraq.

Reassuringly, an alternative strategy does exist. The model proposed to achieve a peaceful resolution has as its foundation the structure that emerged out of the bitter experiences of World War I and World War II. Although collective security using this form did not worke perfectly at all times, it kept at least a precarious peace during the post-World War II period.

Post 9/11 signaled the commencement of a new phase in world politics and with it the need for peacekeeping remedies that should evolve from the post-WWII model. The nature of the new global networked society, accompanied by network wars of state and networked terrorism, has created a dire need for new global institutions of legislation, adjudication and enforcement.

Pursuit of a peace by means of post 9/11 structures requires:

1. The creation of a standing United Nations Peacekeeping Force to prevent the international community from being held hostage by the interests of those states that take military action in the name of UN. The Korean and Persian Gulf Wars demonstrated this point. In both cases, the United States took military action in the name of the UN to protect their own interests. Unless the UN is equipped with a peacekeeping force, every country will continue to have the right and perhaps the obligation to defend itself unilaterally.

Should the United States choose to "defend itself" using multilateral action, other countries (i.e. India, China, Russia, Israel, and Pakistan) will feel forced to follow suit. Increasing military aggression by individual nations, each with nuclear capability, will provide added motivation for states such as Iran, Iraq and North Korea to also acquire weapons of mass destruction. Global and national security will be diminished on all fronts, as the likelihood of accidental or intentional catastrophes will increase dramatically.

2. The universal acceptance of the International Criminal Court's authority by all states to deter the proliferation of tyrants and terrorists. When tyrants and terrorists are brought before a legitimate international rather than national court, any claim they make for legitimacy will be much more effectively destroyed.

3. The recreation of the United Nations not as an organization of states but rather as an organization of nations. To become truly United Nations, a Peoples Assembly - perhaps on the model of European Parliament - should be added to the existing chambers.

The massive peace demonstrations on February 15, 2003 showed us that all over the world responsible public opinion exists and needs to be heard. This action, building on the momentum of by other peace activist initiatives (International Treaty to Ban Landmines, anti-WTO rallies), heralds the arrival of a new surge of popular participation.

Such peaceful protests - organized quickly and largely over the Internet - illustrate beautifully that, at an unprecedented level, it is now very possible to mobilize promptly peaceful peoples and states.

Wars represent the tragic failure of human imagination. The current crisis presents us with a challenge and an opportunity to think more creatively about global and national security. Should we fail this test, we will live to regret it.


Majid Tehranian is professor of international communication at the University of Hawaii and director of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research. This article will also be published in the March 2003 issue of World Editorial & International Law.

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