Debate: When Worlds Collide

Did the democratic nation-state triumph over communism only to be slowly strangled by a growing web of unaccountable multilateral institutions and faceless bureaucrats? Two representatives from opposite sides of the Atlantic -- and opposite views of history -- face off.

By and , the co-founder and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Out with the New
By Marc A. Thiessen

Out with the New
By Marc A. Thiessen

A transformation is taking place in the world of a magnitude unseen since the Protestant Reformation and the creation of the modern nation-state almost 500 years ago. Nations that jealously guarded their sovereignty for five centuries are now willingly ceding it to a plethora of new regional and global supranational institutions, which are being given the authority to sit in judgment of nation-states, their citizens, and their leaders.

Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly last year, Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared that all nations must come to accept that state sovereignty is superseded by what he calls individual sovereignty — "the human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in our Charter" — and that the U.N. has a mandate from "the peoples, not the governments, of the United Nations" to protect those rights. He is far from alone in this view. Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek has declared that "in the 21st century … relations between states can no longer be founded on respect for sovereignty — they must be founded on respect for human rights." Czech President Vaclav Havel announced that "in the next century I believe that most states will begin to change from cult-like entities charged with emotion into far simpler, less powerful … administrative units," while power moves "upward to regional, transnational and global organizations." Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott went so far as to say that the ultimate end is the end of the nation-state itself. Just months before joining the Clinton administration, Talbott declared: "All countries are basically social arrangements … no matter how permanent or even sacred they may seem at one time, in fact they are all artificial and temporary. Within the next hundred years, nationhood as we know it will be obsolete; all states will recognize a single global authority."

These are not the idle musings of bored intellectuals. They are statements of people with their hands on the levers of power. With the active encouragement of international nongovernmental and human rights organizations, these globalist leaders are laying the foundations of a new system of supranational authority.

Ironically, the drive for this new order is coming principally from Europe, the cradle of the nation-state. Regionally, European leaders are submitting their domestic laws to the scrutiny of supranational courts. In September of last year, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, struck down a British law barring gays in the military. Earlier that same month, the court struck down another British law (on the books since 1861) on corporal punishment, declaring in effect that the spanking of unruly children by their parents is an internationally recognized abuse of human rights. Great Britain formalized its acceptance of the supremacy of European law when it codified the European Convention on Human Rights, replacing with the stroke of a pen the entire body of English common law dating back to the Magna Carta. Now, if a British law conflicts with European law, British courts will issue a "declaration of incompatibility" that gives Parliament the option of either amending the offending statue — or having it done for them in Strasbourg.

It is not just the European democracies that have come under supranational judicial scrutiny. Earlier this year, when the United States permitted nato to answer a written interrogation by the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal for alleged allied war crimes during the Kosovo campaign, Washington essentially gave a supranational court jurisdiction over U.S. armed forces.

This exception notwithstanding, to the consternation of our European friends, Americans remain stubbornly attached to self-government. While it may be commonplace for Europeans to have their national courts overruled — and their citizens tried — by supranational courts, for most Americans the idea is unthinkable. Indeed, most Americans know little about this globalist movement or its aspirations for them. The creation of an International Criminal Court (ICC) that could try and imprison American citizens without the consent of their government has gone virtually unreported in the U.S. press and unnoticed by the American public. And that is just how the globalists want it.

Why? Because the globalist project is the work of intellectuals impatient with the constraints of participatory democracy. The impulse is dictatorial. Rather than doing the hard work of gaining public support for their agenda, they wish to impose it from above. And so we have the spectacle of the French presidency of the European Union (EU) recently announcing a goal of admitting 50 to 75 million new immigrants into Europe by 2050 with the bizarre and paternalist declaration: "Public opinion must be told clearly that Europe, a land of immigration, will become a place where cross-breeding occurs."

In a democracy, public opinion is not "told clearly" what will happen.

But the new global order is fundamentally undemocratic. It represents a massive concentration of power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats who preside over unaccountable institutions that are further and further removed from the people affected by their decisions. With all due respect to Secretary-General Annan, he was elected not by the "peoples of the United Nations" but by the General Assembly of the United Nations, less than half of whose members are full-fledged democracies, and almost one in four of whom are outright dictatorships. As for the EU, its only directly elected institution is the European Parliament, which is a toothless farce — a legislature with no legislative powers. All real power in the European Union rests in the hands of unelected commissioners, judges, and an appointed permanent bureaucracy.

The globalists object that their motives are pure: All they want to do is create a world with institutions that ensure human rights are universally protected. No doubt the globalists have the best of intentions. But their intentions are irrelevant. The effect of their campaign will be the establishment of unaccountable institutions that will trample, rather than protect, individual liberty.

Worse, these institutions are doomed to fail. The way to promote human rights is not by policing dictators from above; it is by replacing them from below. So long as there are dictators in the world, they will abuse their people, commit summary executions, jail dissidents, trample religious freedom, and commit genocide. An International Criminal Court cannot change that. Communism and fascism were not defeated by an international legal framework. Supranational institutions have not fueled the dramatic expansion of human freedom in the last 20 years. What has inspired and enabled the spread of individual liberty is the principled projection of power by the world’s democracies and the audacity of oppressed peoples around the world to rise up and demand sovereignty and freedom.

Today, that principled projection of power is all that prevents dictators from rolling back democratic advances. What stops communist China from invading and annexing democratic Taiwan? What prevents 1 million North Korean troops from swarming over the demilitarized zone into South Korea? Fear of United Nations censure and war-crimes prosecution? Or fear of the United States military?

The answer is obvious. But the globalists want to constrain U.S. power and popular sovereignty. They insist, against all available evidence and experience, that the only way to advance human rights is to subject all nations — be they democracies or dictatorships — to supranational laws enforced by supranational institutions. They ignore history. We cannot afford to let them.

Soybeans and Security
By Mark Leonard

I think we agree that something dramatic is afoot: the end of a foreign policy driven by the balance of power between a few strong nation-states. But before we jump to extreme conclusions, a few facts.

It was domestic politics, not an internationalist political project, that killed the balance of power. That system relied on a particular conception of the state — with clearly defined borders, a monopoly on legitimate violence, and highly centralized systems of administration and service provision — which has been in decline since the middle of the 20th century. Multilateralism is about rescuing, not destroying, the nation-state. In the past, the principle of noninterference was sacrosanct because the territorial state provided us with security, prosperity, and democracy; all threats came from other countries. Today, the threats to our citizens are less likely to come from invading armies than climate change, drug trafficking, terrorism, population movements, or the erratic flow of the $1.5 trillion traded daily in foreign-exchange markets. These problems demand multilateral agreements, not military action. Even when military action can help, it will be difficult to persuade skeptical citizens to go along with missions that are not designed to defend territory or natural resources.

That is why we are forming peacetime alliances to govern everything from chemical weapons to currencies: so that we can resolve disputes in the courts rather than on the battlefield or through economic sanctions. And, paradoxically, we guarantee security by opening ourselves up to mutual surveillance with agreements like the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and interfering in each other’s domestic affairs, right down to the genetic composition of soybeans. You are right that this kind of world will sometimes mean changing our own laws. But supranational agreements are not random codes plucked out of thin air — they are signed by democratically elected governments, and they embody universal values such as human rights or free trade. The fact that discriminatory laws have longevity (such as Great Britain’s ban on gays in the military) doesn’t make them any less offensive to the norms of our time; and the fact that protectionist behavior is supported by interest groups within your country doesn’t make it any less of a barrier to the free trade your government is pushing for.

You think that this globalism is a threat to democracy, but the most dramatic consequence of globalization has been the spread of democracy. It is not just the number of democracies that has risen — 121 free or partially free countries in 1998 compared to 76 in 1972. Citizens are better educated, better informed, and more assertive, challenging old elites and old ways of doing things. And these democratic instincts are expanding into the international realm. When Europeans are concerned about genetically modified organisms and hormones, U.S. farmers feel the pain. Sometimes unrepresentative pressure groups will skew the global agenda as they did in Seattle. But the solution to these new tensions is surely to create new ways of involving people and new kinds of institutions governed by clear rules such as a transatlantic food-standard agency or a World Environmental Organization, rather than retreating into trade wars.

We now need a broader conception of democracy. No international institution needs an 18th-century model of national democracy, because no international institution asks people to risk their lives or pay taxes. Each institution will need to be legitimized in a different way — some by their effectiveness in meeting certain goals, such as low inflation and high employment for the European Central Bank; others, such as the United Nations, by their accountability to international charters; and still others, such as the European Parliament, by direct elections. Almost all will have to be legitimized by the controlling involvement of national governments.

And that is what the EU — which you seem to have totally misunderstood — is about. You say that all real power rests in the hands of unelected bureaucrats. In fact, national governments control Europe. They are showing how transnational systems can improve national democracy. Peer review of national policies, protecting individual rights through the court of justice, elections to a European parliament, and the involvement of national parliamentarians in European decisions all create new types of accountability. This model is no United States of Europe (which would be a betrayal of people’s democratic choice), but rather a network of states that cooperate to create the largest single market in the world and solve cross-border challenges, while competing the rest of the time.

None of that renders the principled projection of power obsolete. But it does suggest that projection is more effective within a multilateral framework. History shows that the old rules brought the world to the brink of destruction. It is not a coincidence that the most prosperous, peaceful, and successful period has coincided with the rise of international law.

Don’t Tread on U.S.
Marc A. Thiessen reponds

So, Mr. Leonard and his globalist cohorts are here to rescue the nation-state! Thanks all the same, but we’ll take a pass.

Ah, but in the new international order, passing is not an option. There are "universal standards" that must be enforced, and every nation (be it a dictatorship or democracy) must be subject — like it or not.

Mr. Leonard confuses international cooperation with global governance. It is one thing for sovereign states to agree voluntarily to cooperate through "peacetime alliances," something the United States does all the time without ceding sovereignty. It is quite another for a group of nations to impose their vision of "global" moral standards on citizens of a sovereign democracy.

Take the proposed International Criminal Court, for instance. The Rome Treaty insists that this court will have the authority to indict, try, and imprison American citizens, whether or not the United States has ratified the treaty. I demand to know: By what authority?

This kind of supranational diktat is precisely what causes Americans to resist and reject the globalist agenda — and that drives the globalists crazy. Consider their indignation at the U.S. Senate’s rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (ctbt), which a majority of senators determined would undermine the safety and reliability of our nuclear deterrent. Editorial writers across Europe howled like children who had never been told "no" before. How dare the Americans resist!

But we do resist, because the international order the globalists wish to visit upon us is inimical to our democratic standards. In the very same breath, Mr. Leonard insists that the new global order is fully democratic, but then declares that it is ok for a supranational court to overrule Britain’s domestic laws banning gays in the military. Why? Because said law is "offensive." Who says the law is offensive? The British people? Was there a referendum I missed? Did their elected representatives vote in Parliament to repeal the law? No, they did not. Strasbourg made the decision for them.

If Mr. Leonard believes the law is offensive, good for him; as a British citizen living (for the moment) in a free society, he is at liberty to launch a campaign in Britain to repeal it. Ah, but he does not want to go through the difficult process of convincing his compatriots and rallying them to his cause. Much easier to go to Strasbourg and convince a panel of foreign judges. What other issues will be so decided?

Mr. Leonard credits globalization with the spread of democracy. He confuses correlation with causation. No serious person — certainly not in Prague, Warsaw, Budapest, or Berlin — will tell you that globalization liberated Central Europe from Soviet domination; and, sorry, they won’t credit the U.N. either. Most will credit the efforts of the United States and the Western democracies, which challenged and defeated Soviet communism.

International law had nothing to do with it. To the contrary, time and again during the Cold War, "international law" was used to impede America’s defense of freedom. The International Court of Justice declared U.S. mining of Nicaraguan harbors and support of the contra freedom fighters a violation of international law. The U.N. General Assembly condemned our invasion of Grenada as another violation of international law (by a wider margin than it condemned the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan). We defeated communism despite the globalists’ best efforts to constrain us.

As for the EU, Mr. Leonard declares that it is fully democratic since "national governments control Europe." He must have missed the EU’s summit in Nice, France, last December, where Britain gave up its national veto on more than 30 issues and barely resisted pressure to give vetoes up on taxes and a host of other categories. No matter — the Eurocrats will put those issues on the agenda of the next summit. The abolition of Britain is, after all, a process, not an event.

In the United States, our Founding Fathers had the wisdom to require two-third majorities in both houses of Congress and two thirds of the state legislatures to change our constitution. By contrast, European nations are handing over their sovereignty to Brussels in a series of referendums often decided by razor-thin margins — what our founders called a "tyranny of the majority." And that is when a referendum is even permitted.

Ronald Reagan once said that the most frightening words in the English language are, "I’m from the government, and I’m here to help." The same promise is even more chilling coming from a nascent world government. Mr. Leonard says we need "a broader conception of democracy." Here in America, we like the conception in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence just fine, thank you.

A Declaration of Interdependence
Mark Leonard responds

That was all good knockabout stuff, but you should focus on real issues instead of taking down straw men.

By presenting multilateralism as something that "subjects" and "imposes," you offer people a false choice between national governments that are democratic but cannot deliver solutions to key problems, and a global government that is undemocratic but able to deal with cross-border difficulties. What is undemocratic about elected governments freely deciding to pool their sovereignty with others to achieve goals that are close to their voters’ hearts? European Union measures to boost prosperity and fight pollution and international crime are clearly not unwelcome impositions forced "against the will of its citizens."

You insist on talking about "supranational diktats" and treating all multilateral institutions as embryonic states or attempts at global government. In fact, multilateral institutions only have legitimacy insofar as they enforce the common standards and objectives agreed upon by sovereign states. In the EU, member states obey the rules not because they fear the threat of force, but because they see how a rule-based system will benefit everyone in the long term — even if they don’t always get their way in the short term. Although multilateral organizations may adopt some of the trappings of statehood (a flag or an anthem, for example), no multilateral regime has any of the core functions of a state, such as large welfare budgets, direct taxation systems, or a monopoly on legitimate violence. Nor will they in the future.

Of course, no intergovernmental organization is perfect. All could be run more efficiently and all must find new ways of connecting in an age of accountability. But that hardly means we should scrap them and retrench to uniquely national solutions in an age of transnational problems and opportunities.

Your unilateralist double-think requires you to blank out the innumerable ways you depend on multilateralism every day. To post a letter, get on a plane, buy clothes, drink water, or watch a film you rely on a web of hidden multilateral institutions and agreements governing everything from air traffic control and food safety to intellectual property and pollution. By adopting international standards we have agreed upon common norms that work for everyone. The Lockerbie trial is just one example of a situation where compromise and multilateralism are delivering where ego-driven national inflexibility would have failed. The families of the victims — who had been in limbo for a dozen years — wanted details such as the venue of the trial to be conceded in return for the guarantee of justice.

The only way to promote an open and democratic world order today is to set clear rules to govern the system. You quote Reagan ("I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.") to illustrate the dangers of overregulation. However, free trade is simply impossible without some domestic governance; look at the lessons of Russian reform, where capitalism without rules has halved the country’s gross domestic product (gdp) and driven it back to a barter economy in just 10 years. Those lessons are even more evident at the international level. At the moment, less than 1 billion of the world’s 6 billion people live in countries that subscribe to the multilateral, liberal democratic principles that British diplomat Robert Cooper calls the postmodern order. "Modern" countries like China and India still live with a balance-of-power mind-set. Even more challenging are "premodern" states such as Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and, in some respects, Russia, which have very little power to contain their own problems, let alone live up to international obligations. We must help and encourage these countries to join the multilateral system — and the most powerful way to do it is to lead by example.

Believing in the rules doesn’t mean going soft. We must never be afraid to intervene militarily when dictators such as Saddam Hussain and Slobodan Milosevic threaten the international order we are trying to promote. However, unless this brute force is combined with a framework for long-term peace and prosperity — which must be based on multilateralism — the results will not be sustainable.

As for your United States, you seem to confuse defending U.S. interests with projecting the U.S. ego. It is ironic that the United States, which sought to introduce idealism into what it saw as the cynical power politics of Europe, should now have so much to learn from its former pupil.

I hope the above helps separate real disagreements from rhetorical ones. Perhaps you could use your next contribution to explain how you will get China and India to cut their carbon emissions, respect international agreements on non-proliferation, and promote regional stability if the Bush administration follows your strictures and refuses to commit itself to international norms.

World Pax, Not World Pacts
Marc A. Thiessen responds

I am not exactly sure what "unilateralist double-think" is, but it appears to mean that anyone who opposes Mr. Leonard’s brand of globalism must also be opposed to air traffic control and international mail. That is absurd.

Mr. Leonard is effectively arguing that to receive the benefits of safe air travel and worldwide postal service, America must also accept the presumed authority of an International Criminal Court to try our citizens without the consent of the American people. He can’t seem to accept that those of us who reject his global vision are not opposed to international cooperation to address common problems and challenges. In fact, we support not only postal cooperation but a lot of other cooperation as well: everything from the Gulf War coalition that expelled Saddam Hussein from Kuwait to international adoption, tax, investment, and mutual legal assistance pacts, to the expansion of the nato alliance. The U.S. Senate ratified 52 bilateral and multilateral treaties in the last Congress alone.

But there is a difference between international cooperation and supranational imposition. And while Mr. Leonard argues that multilateralism does not "subject" and "impose," the facts increasingly speak otherwise.

Mr. Leonard asserts, for example, that there is nothing undemocratic about European nations "pooling their sovereignty" to accomplish common objectives. We could have a long debate on the democratic deficiencies of the EU, but for the sake of argument, let’s accept his premise: The EU is legitimate to the extent that it is based on "voluntary" cooperation by "elected leaders" acting by the "will of its citizens." How then does he justify an International Criminal Court, which imposes its jurisdiction on Americans involuntarily, without the consent of our elected leaders, and against the will of our citizens? Mr. Leonard still refuses to answer my question: By what authority do the nations that framed the ICC assert the power to try Americans even if the U.S. refuses to ratify the Rome Treaty?

Mr. Leonard says "believing in the rules doesn’t mean going soft" on the likes of Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic. What, then, does he say to Kofi Annan, who has declared that the U.N. Security Council is "the sole source of legitimacy on the use of force" in the world? Does Mr. Leonard agree? If so, he must surely have opposed the Kosovo war, since nato neither sought nor received Security Council approval for that intervention (for fear of Russian or Chinese veto).

Following Mr. Leonard’s so-called rules would have left us powerless to stop Milosevic’s genocide. But at nato’s 50th anniversary summit, the French, German, and Belgian governments discussed amending nato’s "Strategic Concept" to bar the alliance from ever again taking any military action, save defense of territory, without the express consent of the Security Council.

The globalist framework Mr. Leonard champions — where U.N. approval is needed to project force and an unaccountable global court can try American soldiers — is a recipe for "going soft." This is why a dozen current and former senior U.S. officials (including Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Donald Rumsfeld) recently issued a statement declaring that the ICC would "chill decision-making within our government, and could limit the willingness of our national leadership to respond forcefully to acts of terrorism, aggression and other threats to American interests." That must not be allowed to happen. The projection of American military power is what guarantees regional stability and prevents North Korea from marching on Seoul or China from invading Taiwan — not obeisance to some international norm against the use of force. And the only thing that has ever worked to curb China’s weapons proliferation is the projection of American economic power through the threat or imposition of sanctions.

In the long term, however, policing dictatorships from above — be it to respect human rights or reduce carbon emissions — is not the answer. The answer lies in promoting political and economic freedom from below. Developed free-market democracies do not invade their neighbors or pollute their environment, because they must answer to their citizens. Mr. Leonard would have us sacrifice this democratic accountability and concentrate power in supranational institutions further and further removed from the people.

Yes, multilateral institutions have their place and can sometimes help states work together to coordinate collective action and address "transnational" problems. But they are means — not ends themselves. Because the United States has unique responsibilities, we cannot afford to ratify flawed treaties like the Ottawa Convention banning land mines (which would have left our forces in South Korea unprotected in the face of a million North Korean troops), the ctbt (which would undermine our nuclear deterrent) or the ICC (which would expose American soldiers to politicized prosecutions).

We cannot afford to join Mr. Leonard in Utopia, because America has real responsibilities back in the real world. That is not projecting the U.S. ego; it is protecting the Pax Americana that makes possible an increasingly liberal world order where future Milosevics are confronted, where free enterprise and individual liberty are the norm, and where an expanding community of sovereign democracies can work together to address common problems without sacrificing their independence.

Rules for Global Living
Mark Leonard responds

Your position simply does not stack up. If you admit, as you seem to in your last response, that we need multilateral solutions to transnational problems, then you also must be ready to negotiate in order to establish common standards. What is frustrating for Europeans is the schizophrenic attitude America adopts: On the one hand, the 52 bilateral and multilateral treaties you mention have brought the United States a multitude of benefits; on the other hand, America sometimes seems all too ready to threaten such gains by willfully disregarding the rules that it helped to establish.

The fundamental flaw running through your remarks is a pathological fear of supranational imposition. Your arguments about the ICC are a complete red herring. American citizens are already subject to the national laws of other countries when they live or travel abroad, including all the international agreements that country may have signed. It is due to this long-established principle that U.S. nationals can be tried in the ICC. Similarly, European citizens who travel to the United States can be tried and punished in American courts even though our governments have not ratified your Constitution. We do not denounce this authority as a "jurisdictional imposition." If you want to avoid other countries’ jurisdictions there is a simple answer: Give up international travel.

Your opposition to the court places you in pretty inauspicious company. China, Iraq, and Serbia are the only other states that see the protection of human rights as potentially "against the will of our citizens." This stance is all the more baffling since you seem to agree that we have a duty beyond a narrowly conceived "national interest" to prevent the violation of human rights.

At least that’s what I understood when you said that the international community had a moral responsibility to stop the genocide in Kosovo. Yet you do not support any means to bring Milosevic and his cohorts to justice. I find it odd that the United States — staunch defender of liberty, justice, and the rule of law — feels it cannot acknowledge that some human depravities are always beyond the pale. Why can you not agree that genocide is wrong, whatever flag the perpetrators serve under?

On the United Nations some of your skepticism is valid. The General Assembly often descends into a chamber for grandstanding and the Security Council is held back by the balance-of-power mind-sets of some of its members. Reform must be high on the agenda. However, it does not follow that operating by a set of rules would have left us powerless to stop Milosevic’s genocide. The genocide was a clear breach of international peace and security, and the use of force was therefore justified under Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter. The real threat lies in intervention without rules, a precedent that can be abused by regimes that use ethical language as a cover for brutal internal repression. At the same time, intervention without rules can provoke accusations of renewed Western imperialism and foster antidemocratic sentiment. Such interventions are also no real deterrent against future abuses, since they are largely arbitrary and short-term. One of the toughest challenges facing us is to settle on internationally agreed regulations that will legitimize future interventions.

In your final flourish, you set up a false conflict between winning hearts and minds "from below" and the importance of having rules to govern the international order. The two are not mutually exclusive but rather strongly complement each other. Indeed, the Central and East European countries that you cite overthrew communism and embraced political and economic reform in large part due to their desire to become eligible for membership in the EU. And your blithe assertion that "developed free markets do not pollute or invade their neighbors, because they answer to their citizens" is hardly borne out by U.S. behavior at successive climate change conferences. Democracies are not always beyond reproach: The persecution of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo was carried out with the support of a vociferous majority.

You invoke the responsibilities of the real world while prescribing a mind-set that is irresponsible. Certainly we need to be ready to defend our peace and security against numerous enemies. However, consider again a point I made earlier, which you have singularly failed to address: Unless we ourselves are willing to obey the rules, we will never be able to convince others to join us. That is the choice we face today. Unless the United States takes the plunge and firmly embraces multilateralism, we will all lose out.

Marc A. Thiessen serves on the majority staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations under Senator Jesse Helms. Mark Leonard is director of The Foreign Policy Centre, an independent think tank based in London, launched by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to revitalize debate on global issues.

Mark Leonard is the co-founder and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations and author of The Age of Unpeace.

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