Spring 2005

Is There Such a Thing as an International Community?

Douglas Hurd

We live in a world of about two hundred nation states. None of us alive today will see the day, if it ever dawns, when there is some kind of supranational authority — some authority sitting above the nation states which provides the power and guarantee of order, prosperity and all the rest of it. These nation states have hugely increased in numbers since the days when I worked at the United Nations almost half a century ago when there were fifty odd. The question now is whether we jostle together comfortably or uncomfortably.

My answer is that these relationships between the nations are governed by a mix of power and rules. History has shown that one without the other is not much good. Rules without power – that is the League of Nations between the two world wars. It crumbled because the cement was not good enough. Power without rules –that was Hitler and Stalin. You need a mix of power and rules. The phrase international community” implies rules. Usually in the world there are people who question the need for rules. They are usually the people who for the moment are top of the heap.

Today there are some people in the United States who say and without cynicism — the United States is so strong and its purposes so virtuous and honourable that among reasonable people not much else is required in the way of civilisation or rules or an international community. But we should be humble at this point. Before we scoff we need to remember that there have been periods within the last two hundred years when two European powers felt and said the same. I spent a lot of time last year celebrating, in one way or another, the centenary of the entente cordiale between Britain and France, and would make the following point to French and to British audiences alike. If you were sitting in Paris when Napoleon ruled the continent of Europe with the Grande Armée, when he deposed the old regimes, when he introduced the metric system and a great number of modern laws, what need was there to look further for a civilised world order?

When Britain a little later ruled the seas the same sort of question arose here and the same sort of answer was given. Currently I am doing research into 19th century diplomacy because I am writing a life of Sir Robert Peel. He was opposed very much to this line of thought which is quite often associated with the Tory Party, but at that time was associated with Lord Palmerston. I came across a letter which Lord Palmerston wrote to one of Her Majesty’s Consuls instructing him to make it clear to the Arab rulers with whom he had to associate that the slave trade was doomed. Why was it doomed? Because providence had appointed Britain as providence’s main instrument in ending that trade. Now that is exactly what so many Republicans are arguing. Many of them passionately feel that God has appointed the United States for the application of democracy to the Middle East. It is exactly the same feel among the people who are top of the heap.

But what is interesting in the case of the two European precedents is that each of them only lasted fifteen, twenty, thirty years. Napoleon was beat, and the British realised or were made to realise that naval power was not enough. That is the lesson also of today. The United States has a greater superiority of power over anyone else than I suppose any country has had in history since the Romans. My wife and I recently spent a very happy five days walking along Hadrian’s Wall. You cannot do that and visit the forts which are now marked by marvellous museums without being astounded at the self confidence and efficiency of the Roman Empire. In Syria or on the borders of Russia you would find evidence of exactly the same self confident Roman strength. But it crumbled. Military power is not enough and that is what the Americans have found for example in Iraq.

The United States is the superpower and I do not think, although one can discuss the future of China,that anyone of adult age today will live to see a different superpower. The United States has the power to destroy in an afternoon any régime which it dislikes, any axis of evil, and by teatime they could be gone. Yet the United States is not a destructive power, it is not Hitler or Genghis Khan. The United States has a wish to build a world order, to build a better world, to build a freer world. There is nothing bogus about this pretension but what I believe it has learned, what I hope passionately that it has learned, is that in order to build as opposed to destroy you need partners: you need rules.

In this context, I am not writing about other sectors of human life such as trade, environment, energy or social justice, I am talking about questions of peace and war. On what basis in a system intelligently based on rules and power are countries entitled to go to war? Going to war means sending young men and now young women to kill and be killed – a point often ignored by commentators and politicians though not generals. The rules of international law (international law is a fuzzy business as lawyers admit) were drawn up in 1945 in the United Nations Charter. You can go to war if you are attacked, you can go to war if your friend is attacked and he asks you for help, as we went to war to liberate Kuwait –liberate in the true sense of that word – in 1990. You can go to war on other grounds if you are authorised by the Security Council of the UN. That is what the Charter says.

The whole cause of a rule-based community received a serious setback when the superpower supported by a coalition of obedient friends broke these rules and invaded Iraq. The reasons given, at the time persuasive to large numbers of people particularly in the United States and Britain, have since evaporated with great speed and completeness. The right of self defence was extended under this argument to the pre-emptive strike. You had not been attacked but you knew you were going to be attacked by weapons of mass destruction and it was certain that this was the threat and it was sensible to respond to it before it became a reality. We now know these weapons did not exist. Then the argument shifted to the humanitarian case, which is a stronger one, of ridding Iraq and therefore presumably every obnoxious dictator in the world, of a murderous tyranny even though we could not get the Security Council to agree to it. Of course if you act without authority to change a régime you are setting a pretty baleful example to other people who may not have your high standards in judging what régime is obnoxious and what is not. But in any case that argument is now tarnished by what has happened and what is happening.

I do not know whether we have killed thirty thousand or one hundred thousand Iraqis since we invaded Iraq. I have been using the thirty thousand figure. The Lancet research suggests it is one hundred thousand. There is nothing to be said for Saddam Hussein. I met him twice in Baghdad. I met in the course of my duties a good many villains, but most villains I met at least made a pretence to be something different. Milosevic, Mugabe — you could have intelligent conversations with both of them because they were intelligent people. You did not necessarily have to believe what they said but at least they were pretending to be something other than villains. But with Saddam Hussein really there was no such pretence. His only desire was to show you that he was top of the heap and that he was not to be offended. So he filled the cemeteries. Now having got rid of him we are filling them again. Forgive that note of bitterness which I strongly feel. But you cannot end a description or an analysis there. Those of us who feel however strongly against this war and our part in it have at a certain stage to swallow our bitterness and discuss how to proceed.

I believe we must proceed down the tracks I have indicated, a track of rules and a track of power. First rules. We have a remarkable Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan, with whom I have had plenty to do over the years. He is a very good man in the literal, rather than slang sense of that word. He is of course dismayed by what he has seen and has said that. He knows that this is a massive set back which we, particularly the Americans and British, have administered to the hopes of a rule-based world. He has set up, and this is the way Secretary General’s have to operate, a high level group to consider not in crude ways how to reverse that set back but how we go on from now to deal with some of the issues that have been involved. It is perhaps too big a group, but it is an intelligent and well qualified group. My worry is that it will get bogged down in machinery. Anyone who has experience of administration knows that this is what happens. How many members of the Security Council should there be? How many of them should have vetoes? That kind of thing is unlikely in my belief to make a great deal of progress and anyway is not actually central to the point. There are two questions which are central. The rules of 1945 which I quoted about peace and war, do not deal with specifics, they do not deal with the question of the pre-emptive strike which I mentioned as a bad reason for attacking Iraq and they do not deal with the question of humanitarian intervention.

I was involved with the problems relating to the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, and I cannot look back on that with any pleasure or pride. We were faced there, for the first time on that sort of scale, with a problem. To what extent are we entitled, or is it wise, to send soldiers into a country to kill and be killed, in order to impose a particular solution of their problems on them, because there are things happening there which are intolerable to us, which when we see them on our television we think are unacceptable and we must do something to stop them. We worried about this in Cabinet over Bosnia. Without going into detail I am not happy looking back that we got our timing right. I am sure we were right to do what we did, whether we could have done it a bit earlier I do not know. We were in all kinds of difficulties with opinion and with the situation on the ground. It was an unhappy experience. At the end of that and the later experience of Kosovo people became much more interventionist. They felt of course we should go in, he was a bad man and we needed to get rid of him and liberate his people: it was automatic. And that is what we did in Kosovo. We liberated the Kosovars from the kind of oppression Milosevic was putting upon them. I wrote at the end of that we are all interventionists now”.

Well, after Iraq, we are not all interventionists now. The experience has been a different one. We have to reflect soberly through the circumstances, the rules, the conditions in which it is right and reasonable for people to go in and kill and be killed in order to change a régime. It is not straightforward; anybody that pretends that it is does not know what they are talking about. But it does need studying. People are not going to sit back and say let this carry on, let them go on slaughtering each other. There is going to be pressure to do something and we need to have better ideas and better rules about how and when this should be done. So those are two big questions which need I think to be studied.

In his second term, I am convinced that President Bush will seek partners, not because of his campaign rhetoric, indeed rather against his campaign rhetoric, but because of his experiences. And there are already some encouraging signs that President Bush will be a second term President. He will not be eligible for re-election so will therefore to some extent be insulated from all the political pressures which blow upon every President and every Prime Minister. He will be concerned with his success and with his place in history. But he will know in his heart, and his advisers — who he may well wish to change, will know in their hearts — that actually to repeat the Iraq experience in dealing with the other crisis which they face, Iran, North Korea and so on, is simply not realistic. In the end realism prevails over rhetoric.

So, I believe that the next President will look for partners, and Dr Rice’s successful trip to Europe was a first, promising sign. Not in any spirit of apology or feeling that they have got things wrong, though they certainly have, but because that is needed for the future. And to some extent these partnerships are already forming. North Korea has nuclear weapons, whether two or three we do not know. It is a tiny country run by an eccentric, to put it politely, dictator. We know very little about it, they know very little about us. It is deeply dangerous. The United States has handled this very cautiously, quite unlike its dealings in the Middle East for obvious reasons, and a reluctant partnership has formed. The United States, China, Russia, Japan and the Republic of Korea are trying, not so far successfully but not yet disastrously, to persuade this little dangerous state that it should give up its nuclear weapons in return for help with its economy and in feeding its starving people. That is a partnership, not a partnership of shared values particularly but a partnership of necessity.

Now go right to the other end of the spectrum and consider the people of Darfur and their sufferings and what needs to be done. Everybody agrees that providing food and shelter and other essentials is necessary but it is not enough. What they actually need is security and they need agreement between the Government of Sudan and the rebels and other assistance on the political side. But they also need security on the ground so that we do not get appalling stories coming out week after week of people in the camps or outside the camps being raped and being afraid to go home. I think anyone with a sense of reality knows that you do not achieve that by having sanctions against Sudan; that simply makes a miserable country more miserable. The only way you do it is by African troops on the ground and that has begun to happen. The Security Council has authorised this, encouraged it, but those African troops need training, transport, logistics of all kinds which has to come, and is to some extent coming through the United States and Europe. So there you have another partnership formed, not out of some great conference or proclamation but actually by the needs on the ground. Maybe too slow, maybe imperfect, but at least that is the essence of it. A partnership is needed and a partnership very slowly is being created.

If you look ahead there are two other crises. Iran is a very big crisis looming. Iran in enriching uranium is going down a road which could lead it to being a military nuclear power. Iranians say that is fine, we have signed the nonproliferation treaty, we are not going to become a military nuclear power but we are entitled under the treaty to enrich our uranium and we need to do that for our energy needs. To which the world says, come off it, you have got lots of oil and gas, why do you need to do this”, and they say that is our business. And then they say why is Israel, which has signed no treaty and defied many UN resolutions, allowed to be the only nuclear military power in the Middle East? What is that about? And it is not easy to answer that question. So again a partnership is forming in a very ragged way. You have the British Foreign Secretary, the French and German Foreign Ministers getting in a plane and going to Tehran to say to the Iranians, we Europeans, not Brits, French, Germans, we as Europe do not believe you should become a military nuclear power and in return for your giving that up we are prepared to have trade agreements, give you help. And the Americans sit on the sidelines and grumble and say this will not work. That is the hard cop soft cop approach. It may well be the right thing to do except I wish it were done a little bit more in concert rather than in disagreement. But this is a huge problem which needs a partnership. The United States will not in practice attack Iran in the same way it attacked Iraq. It needs a partnership.

Finally Palestine, a problem I have lived with for many years. There will be no kind of stable Middle East until there is a settlement of that question. The United States, because of its particular position vis-à-vis Israel is the key, but it needs again a partnership, it needs Europeans, it needs the Russians, it needs the UN. These are the people who made the road map. I would not be surprised if we saw European – even British forces if we can find some troops – in Gaza if Sharon manages to extricate the Israeli settlers from Gaza. If there is a real danger of chaos, anarchy and more rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza after that I would not be surprised if we find ourselves involved in that in a way which we are not now. The partnership may well produce that. Gaza is the most disagreeable place of human occupation that I have ever seen. But it is crucial to get that right if out of it is not once more to spread poison and violence across the whole area. If there is this need for partnerships and if Europe is an essential component in most of them, we have to be coherent. Here I think the British and the French are the ones with the best chance of leading Europe into some kind of coherence on these matters, whatever the merits, which are considerable in this regard, of the proposed European constitution. But neither France nor Britain is making the effort required. Our Government and our Prime Minister have been content to be the deputy leader of the coalition of the obedient. Tony Blair believes that if he gives one hundred percent public support to the superpower he will be able to exert a lot of private influence. This is entirely familiar. Churchill did this, Margaret Thatcher did this in my time with Reagan and then Bush, and in those days it worked. Even though we were the junior partner we had a substantial influence on the policy. I do not have any sense that that is happening today. The way we have set about it is wrong. But equally some French think that what they need to build is a Europe which is a rival to the United States. Half way hostile, perhaps not half way hostile but certainly a rival and that is unreal in terms of real power and in terms of what the Europe of twenty five want to do. So a partner is neither an obedient follower, at once a satellite and echo of the White House, nor is it a rival. Europe as a partner must have enough power to be worth listening to and engender enough mutual trust across the Atlantic to solve differences within the partnership. This, I am sure, is what we should aim at. It is going to be difficult but it is not unreal. My hope is that we can help on the rules side to produce a modernised set of ideas within the UN, and on the power side arrange regional partnerships which will link the superpower with the rest of the world. None of this will be easy, but I think it is possible and the alternatives are dire.

Lord Hurd of Westwell, British Foreign Secretary, 1989–1995, and is President of Montrose Associates.