Why we’re in this mess


Why do you think we can’t seem to solve international problems anymore? The short answer is that the nature of our security threats have changed, but our international doctrines and institutions have not. Simply put, the post-World War II international system is broken and our ideas are out of date.

This summer we have had two reality checks which underscore how our security threats have worsened. The first was that in the Middle East Hezbollah proved that it is a professional, modern army with the discipline, the command and control, the tactical intelligence, the weapons and the will to thwart the Israeli armed forces attempt to disarm them.

The second reality check was in Britain where the thwarted terrorist plot showed how elusive Islamic jihadists remain ready, willing and able to commit mass murder on an unprecedented scale to achieve their aims.

These jihadists are unlike any enemy we have ever faced because they embrace suicide bombings of the innocent; because they represent no state; because they have no centralized command and control system, no massed armies, no industrial complex or logistics system that we can target. So unlike the Cold War, there are no ground rules, only the peculiar logic of perverted Islam. We are now living in a Hobbesian world: nasty, brutish and dangerous, where our enemies are stronger and old doctrines and old institutions are no longer relevant.

The two linchpins of the post-World War II order _ the United Nations and NATO _ were designed for a very different world: to deter overt cross-border attacks from states with massed land, sea and air forces. The UN was to be a collective security organization that would keep the peace around the world. In Europe, NATO would deter a Soviet attack. As a collective security organization, the United Nations failed, but NATO did successfully deter Soviet aggression.

Today, we have a two-part problem. The first is that we face more dangerous enemies who cannot be contained or deterred. We need a new doctrine. The second part of the problem is that we still need international organizations to legitimize and use force against the jihadists. But the United Nations is broken and NATO has yet to prove itself in Afghanistan.

Deterrence threatened potential enemies with massive retaliation if they attacked us first. It worked with the Soviet Union, a rational state that did not want to destroy itself. But jihadists welcome the opportunity to destroy themselves as they commit mass murder. They cannot be deterred. And because they will use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons if they get them, we cannot wait for them to attack.

Anticipating and preventing attacks must be our top priority. We must rescue the concept of pre-emption from the morass of Iraq.

If we need a new doctrine, we also need a new organization to legitimize the use of force against our enemies. The United Nations cannot do it because its credibility as a collective security organization is damaged beyond repair.

At last September’s summit, for example, it could not even agree on a definition of terrorism. And whether you supported or opposed the Iraq war, the U.N. Security Council failed. If you supported the war, the United Nations failed to enforce its own resolutions against Saddam Hussein so the United States and Britain had to act to enforce collective security. If you opposed the war, the U.N. Security Council failed because it was unable to restrain two members from invading Iraq.

Add to that the United Nations’ dismal catalogue of failure in recent years: the moral and military debacle in Bosnia, the egregious human rights violations by U.N. peacekeepers in the Congo, and the sordid corruption uncovered by Paul Volcker in the Iraq "Oil for Food" program. Worse, consider the consequences of the United Nations’ failure to define an explicit mandate for the expanded UNIFIL to disarm Hezbollah. Without it, Hezbollah will just hide its weapons and wait to strike Israel another day.

Unlike the United Nations, NATO remains capable of transforming itself to meet new challenges. Its performance in the Kosovo war in 1999 proved that. But now NATO faces its first 21st century threat: a resurgent Taliban in southern Afghanistan. As of Aug. 1, under British command, NATO deployed 9,000 troops to Helmland in southern Afghanistan, a lawless province that produces one-third of the world’s opium. There has been intense fighting and it is clear that there are not enough troops, helicopters or other key pieces of equipment to suppress the Taliban. NATO’s credibility is on the line and without rapid reinforcement the mission could fail.

If we are to successfully meet the security threats of the 21st century, we need to learn the right lesson from the "founding fathers" of the post-World War II system _ FDR, Truman, Churchill and their key advisers: abandon the doctrines and the institutions that no longer work. They not only had to rebuild whole societies, but an international system shattered by World War II. Moreover, they had to guarantee a long-term peace by transforming Germany, Italy and Japan from fascist adversaries to democratic allies.

These "founding fathers" succeeded because they did not hesitate to abandon old doctrines and institutions that were no longer relevant. They did not look for quick exit strategies. Instead, they had the stamina and the strategic patience to work together to create new doctrines and institutions to implement them, however hard it was and however long it took.

Today, we need the same courage and the same vision to replace doctrines and institutions that have outlived their usefulness. We must embrace pre-emption.

The time has come to dismantle the United Nations. It should become three separate bodies with accountable CEOs, rigorous accounting and ethics standards and open, competitive recruitment.

The core would be a treaty-based global security organization of like-minded nations modeled on NATO with national forces dedicated to it. Its mission: enforce collective security and prevent terrorist attacks by preemptive use of force where necessary. The other two agencies could focus on global health/humanitarian issues and the global environment.

Only by embracing radical reforms like these can we meet the very different threats of the 21st century.

(Ray Raymond is a retired British diplomat, and a professor of political science at the State University of New York at Ulster and adjunct professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. E-mail raymondr(at)sunyulster.edu.)