Volume 19, Issue 4 / July-September 2008
Step by step, a recipe for world peace
Collective Security Within Reach
By Sovaida Ma'ani Ewing
If ever there were a great idea that failed most regrettably in its implementation, it is that of international collective security.
The concept is simple: to establish peace, the nations of the world should band together and forcibly reject any aggression among them.
The idea stands at the core of the United Nations Charter, which says the UN's main purpose is to "maintain international peace and security" through "collective measures" including the use of military force.
Yet in practice, the UN has mostly failed to intervene to stop war - or to prevent genocide, human rights violations, terrorism or any of the other things that in today's complexly interdependent world must be considered a breach of the peace.
The main reason for this failure, as any student of political science knows, is that the nations of the world have been unable to create the kind of political unity necessary to undertake collective action in those cases where it is most required.
But the situation is not quite as hopeless as it seems, according to Sovaida Ma'ani Ewing, a lawyer from the United Kingdom who has thoroughly studied the concept and written a new book, Collective Security Within Reach.
As the title indicates, Ms. Ewing argues that a comprehensive system of collective security is near at hand, or "within reach."
She makes her case by, first, discussing the progress humanity has made towards establishing a firm foundation for true collective security. Then she lays out a series of small but concrete steps the world could take to move the process forward.
The slow but seemingly inexorable advance towards collective security is analyzed, for example, in an 80-page chapter titled "What have we built so far?"
That chapter alone is worth the price of the book, inasmuch as Ms. Ewing shows quite plainly how humanity over the last century has been steadily moving towards greater integration. In the process, she writes, the foundations for a workable system of collective security have been firmly laid down.
She considers not only broad institutional steps, such as the creation of the United Nations itself, but also the evolution of thinking among many international leaders.
She cites, for example, a study done by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) as one among many studies and reports that is reframing the debate over collective security.
The ICISS was chief among proponents of the idea that the international community has the "responsibility to protect" people from large-scale loss of life or gross human rights violations, even if it means international intervention.
In its research, she writes, members of the ICISS were "intrigued to discover that even the most ardent supporters and defenders of traditional state sovereignty did not argue that a state had unlimited power to do what it wanted to its own people."
She also spends considerable time examining the evolution of the European Community, suggesting that its emergence after World War II from a collection of states with historic animosities that fueled two global wars to a highly integrated community that now cooperates across the full range of the economic sphere and, increasingly, on issues of security, offers proof positive that even the most entrenched partisans of state sovereignty can be enticed toward ever greater integration.
"[T]he European experience demonstrates that supranational institutions can begin life with limited spheres of jurisdiction that can gradually be expanded over time," Ms. Ewing writes.
The second half of the book is devoted to proposing "What we should build next." In that section, Ms. Ewing lays out, step by step, a series of detailed suggestions for how a genuine and workable system of collective security might be established.
Ms. Ewing, who currently resides in Washington, DC, proposes a new set of international institutions, agencies, and commissions that she believes can create the kind of system that will engender a new level of trust and fairness in the international security arena. She argues that such a system, by winning over the hearts and minds of both political leaders and the people of the world, can help to create the political unity necessary to move forward.
Among her proposals: an international intelligence and inspections agency that could give to the UN Security Council "accurate, timely and reliable" intelligence "that is not tainted or skewed by any single national intelligence agency"; a standing UN military or police force "beyond national control" that could enforce the Security Council's will; and an international boundary commission that might once and for all settle territorial disputes that have so often fueled conflict.
One of the critical insights she offers is that such a system might well be built from the bottom up, starting in many cases at the regional level, by encouraging new intelligence, security, and disarmament arrangements, so as to create an "efficient, equitable and well-ordered international system that is based on regional security pillars around the world."
Ms. Ewing is a Bahá'í, and the Bahá'í teachings explicitly say humanity's only path to long-term peace is through the establishment of international institutions based on collective security. And throughout the book, she draws on this and other Bahá'í principles, using them as a framework for her analysis.
"Our world cries out for new thinking and creativity," she writes. "Fortunately, the answers are already there. The Bahá'í writings, which have hitherto been little explored by the world, provide us with precisely what we need: a set of basic principles along with a blueprint for a just, efficacious and comprehensive system of collective security that will ensure the peace and security of our world."
Bahá'u'lláh identified collective security itself as the key principle for international politics. Addressing world leaders in the late 1800s, he wrote: "Should any one among you take up arms against another, rise ye all against him, for this is naught but manifest justice."
He also identified a number of subsidiary principles and actions that must be undertaken. As delineated by Ms. Ewing, among them are: the overarching recognition of the essential oneness of humanity; a firm commitment to fairness, justice, and equity in all dealings; and an understanding that force can sometimes be a "powerful basis of peace."
Specific actions and institutions proposed in the Bahá'í writings include: the need for a global convocation or meeting to establish a firm "pact" for peace; the establishment of clearly defined national borders; limitations on armaments such that every country has only what it needs to keep peace within its borders; the creation of an "international force"; the establishment of an effective world court; and, ultimately, a world legislature and world executive.
In her conclusion, Ms. Ewing says her goal in writing Collective Security Within Reach was to "pull together various isolated strands of thinking by individuals and groups and to consider them within the broad framework of a vision of collective security in the Bahá'í writings" and, in doing so, show how they all "fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to create a broad-based road map to peace."
In this effort, she has succeeded.