After Iraq: can we build a better world?

Adrian Taylor

By Adrian Taylor

As the Iraq war fades, some repairs need to be made to transatlantic relations. The good news is that Europeans and Americans can probably agree that:

i) the world is better off without Saddam Hussein;

ii) Iraq must now be helped to become a prosperous democracy;

iii) we need to find a better way of handling crises and promoting a better world.

This article focuses on how to handle the last of these questions.

The Bush Administration: asking the right questions

Even many who hate President Bush’s policies admit that this Administration has dared to pose some good questions:

1. Why should we continue to treat with dictators given that they are the cause of many countries’ economic impoverishment, human rights abuses and insecurity?

2. How can we stop the spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction?

3. Why do our post-World War II international institutions (United Nations, World Bank, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation…) seem so ponderous and out of step?

This is crucial, as many European have for decades posed similar questions, and pointed out that the world order, whilst perhaps “stable”, is deeply flawed and needs change.

The Europeans: need to start thinking of better answers

The biggest failing of all Europeans in recent times – and this applies to Tony Blair and Jose-María Aznar just as it does to Gerhard Schröder and Jacques Chirac – is their singular lack of creativity. It was their inability to find a serious credible alternative to the first two questions which left them the choice of either being sucked into the US’s slipstream, or being repelled by the same blast of cold air, as the juggernaut of American military might bulldozed its way to Baghdad.

Moreover, Iraq is the beginning (not the end) of the Bush Administrations plans to restructure the world order. If the European Union fails to become pro-active, Iraq may just be the first of many shocks, which could deconstruct 50 years of integration.

Finding a carrot: making NATO an attractive bride for the whole world

The UN and NATO must change, and the EU can help

The UN is having trouble tackling the fundamental issues of our day. Whilst all blame cannot be parked at its door, a better way has to be found to bring poor, oppressed peoples the chance of sustainable democratic development. Making the world a better place cannot be done all by stick, it must be done by carrot too. NATO, another cornerstone of our post-war order, has also come under strain with the Iraq War. Indeed, its institutions (requiring consensus) are likely to find it ever harder to cohere following the forthcoming expansion of membership. Europeans thus face the risk that if NATO and the UN remain as they are, the US may simply ignore them.

Nevertheless the EU itself has created an effective mechanism for spreading wealth and democracy: it is called EU membership. Not that the main gains come from the act of joining. Rather they come precisely because (unlike the UN) the rules of the club are such that only countries respecting democracy, rule of law, and economic reform can join. By setting the bar very high, the EU galvanises tremendous internal positive changes in aspirant countries. In exchange these then benefit from the EU’s own financial, technical and security guarantees.

The need today is for an organisation that plays precisely this same role globally. NATO, which along with the EU is already playing a galvanising role in Central and Eastern Europe, is the ideal candidate. NATO should be renamed, and any country in the globe be allowed to join if they are functioning democratic, market economies respecting the rule of law and having solved domestic and border conflicts. Countries like Australia and New Zealand would likely be able to join at once. Countries such as South Africa, and Russia would have a tremendous incentive to continue moving in the right direction – not least with the prospect of Article 5 (mutual defence) guarantees, and a re-direction of financial support by existing members to these weaker candidates.

The mission must determine the coalition, not the coalition the mission

Some see the so-called “Wolfowitz Doctrine” as a threat, but the EU should recognise it to be an opportunity too. A NATO transformed into a global organisation could provide democracies with a mechanism for consultation on geopolitical issues, and a platform to design inter-operable military forces. Whilst not replacing the United Nations, it would provide a useful additional framework. Moreover, whenever the UN requires military action to enforce its resolutions, the new NATO’s forces would be available. NATO already recognizes that not all countries will be involved in every mission, hence opening the door to coalitions of the willing being recruited from its ranks.

To ensure that NATO decision making does not grind to a halt, a form of majority voting could be introduced, with both the US and the EU (the latter only collectively) having a veto right. Even if individual EU member states sat at the table, by only attributing a veto to the EU collectively, a powerful encouragement would be given to the development of a real European Security and Defence Policy. Furthermore, by broadening the alliance beyond its current geography, the notion that a single EU voice may threaten remaining members would be reduced, as in a bigger NATO, having a single EU voice would be a blessing in order to have rapid decisions.

Finding a stick: building a legal system to handle tyrants

International law needs to protect peoples, not just states

Still, even if an attractive force for change is built, there will still be a need to handle “bad guys with bad weapons”. Europeans shrink at the idea that Syria or North Korea could go the way of Iraq. But if we are serious in wishing to avoid this, the EU had better propose a better way to rid the world of dictators seeking Weapons of Mass Destruction.

In this context, the EU could capitalise on the recent trend in international law to accord less weight to national sovereignty, and more to the rights of peoples living in those states. In bombing the former Yugoslavia during the Kosovo crisis, NATO set a precedent, drawing limits on what a country’s leader can do domestically without interference by the international community. The war in Iraq extended this logic further: the argument made by the United States and United Kingdom was that the systematic abuse of human rights in a country, when combined with WMD, is unacceptable for the international community. Most Europeans could probably agree, if a mechanism could be found for removing cruel dictators from power in a bloodless manner, and if guilt could be established. These conditions point to the need for a law-based approach.

For an International Criminal Court that the US would want to join

Hence the EU could suggest that the Security Council be empowered to indict a leader of country and order his trial before the ICC. The rules could be drawn up so as to catch only those clearly beyond the pale. Hence leaders democratically elected could not be indicted (ruling-out the US, Russia, Israel, etc), but those who are developing Weapons of Mass Destruction against international law could be subject to indictment. [1] By making the Security Council the arbiter of who is indicted, and excluding democracies from the target list, Washington’s main objections to the ICC are removed.

Indictment may trigger change, as it did in Serbia. But it would be wise to add further teeth. In the absence of compliance by the regime targeted, the Security Council could automatically “de-recognise” the leader concerned. This would legitimise domestic opposition seeking to remove the dictator, as well as freezing the regime’s international assets, representation, and travel with “smart sanctions”. To increase the internal pressure, the Security Council could decide to spread the dragnet of indictments to other individuals in that country. As the elite feels threatened, so its interest in finding a solution (i.e. removing the dictator) increases. If after a fixed time, the regime is still in power, and not disarming, then the door would be open to “any necessary measures”. This however would authorise the use of force only for the removal of the offending individuals, hence again increasing the pressure for an internal revolution.

An interference in national sovereignty? Absolutely, but less so than invasion. And who knows, it may be that we can remove some unpleasant figures from power by encouraging collapse from within, rather than invasion from without.


Regardless of whether the ideas floated above find any resonance, the crucial fact remains, it is not good enough for us in Europe to whine about US policy. By the time we will have stopped crying, only the rubble will be left. Any solution obligatorily passes through our becoming creative – moving away from the lowest common denominator politics of what we have tried before, and suggesting new ways (and indeed processes) of doing things. Love him or hate him, George W may be doing us a favour by destroying the foundations of what we believed in for the last sixty years.

[1] China has an Non-Proliferation Treaty based right to nuclear weapons and hence would not be affected.

Adrian Taylor is Director, Public Sector Strategy, at Think Tools GmbH. based in Munich, Germany. He is also a Research Associate at the EU Center of the University System of Georgia, in Atlanta, USA. He can be contacted at The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union. April 2003.

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