Drawing Up A Workable International System: A Muslim View


The global criticism of the Iraq invasion is constant and candid but not comprehensive or forward looking. This criticism often diagnoses the systemic ailments in the exercise of national systems of authority in the US and the UK translating into questionable use of force internationally and into undermining international systems. It identifies the threats to global and regional stability and to national sovereignty from militarily stronger countries. Also points to another central dilemma of the international community ‘s response to ‘erring’ States and governments, which threaten global stability and sustainable peace. Yet it does not present any coherent system to deal with this problem.

These are nevertheless central issues for an international community seeking to tackle destructive discontentment which ‘invades’ much of the human ‘collective’; whether within the international, regional or national context. To tackle these issues both differing and uniform responses are required from States individually and collectively. For example a strategic rethink is required by the Muslim states. It is now their need and that of the global ‘collective’ that they play a more coordinated and collective role in world affairs. By using the institutional platform of OIC to move in a unified manner to deal with questions of force-based interventions, admissible evidence, unilateral indictments all of which undermine national sovereignty. Indeed the Muslim countries can no longer remain passive spectators on the question of intervention when they themselves are facing intervention. For example on Iraq a unified OIC position on troop contribution is necessary. Muslim states must abandon the path of collaboration, capitulation and confrontation to opt for constructive and dignified engagement and partnership. The French and German response to US unilateralist policy over Iraq created space for genuine cross-civilization principles-based cooperation in working for a new credible world system.

Similarly the United States has to reverse it wrongs. While upholding its security concerns it must recognize the necessity to play by transparent and credible rules. The UN remains the only functioning multilateral institution. Rejecting its role and the collective wisdom of the majority of UNSC members over Iraq , the US has faces continuing problem in Iraq. Similarly its ‘clean sweep’ often suspicion and not credible-evidence based policies in dealing with the curse of terrorism , to requires serious revision. The latest complainant of this approach is the Saudi Foreign Minister. He is in the US to tell President Bush that his country is being considered guilty on the basis no substantive evidence. Twenty-eight pages of information gathered by US intelligence services on possible Saudi Government links to the 11 September attacks on the United States, were deleted from a 900-page congressional report released last week. The Saudi Government maintains it has nothing to hide but cannot respond to blank pages.

Meanwhile a unified global response is also required to address the current challenges faced by the international community. Any effective approach evolved for this purpose must factor in the following seven principles. One, a universally accepted list of objectives for an international system that functions consensually and hence credibly is required. Essentially it may require revisiting the UN mandate. Such an exercise undertaken under the UN auspices would help build bridges between a world bitterly divided over the Iraq invasion. If carefully planned, this can help replace rage and recriminations with dialogue and a unifying common vision. It can help arrest the global slide towards the enactment of clash of civilizations.

Two within what kind of framework would such a system function? The modalities for operationalizing such an international system requires resources and systems. Resources exist and additional would follow provided a consensus based system is in place. A legal framework which sets down the parameters of State behavior with reference to other States, hence the rule of law that defines inter-state behavior, would be the essential first. However for the rule of law to be effectively enforced it must be backed by the threat of force. Law is enforceable only insofar that its enforcement is backed by the credible threat of force..

Three, how will such a system be regulated? What ‘tool kit’ should be made available to the managers of such a system ? An entire continuum ranging from negotiations to use of force must be identified. These would include special envoys, censure through resolutions, boycotts, embargoes and sanctions as part of an escalatory continuum available to international managers for applying pressure on erring States.

Four the definition of what kind of pressure can be legally and logically applied at which given point to coerce a government to abandon practices that undermine peoples’ rights, undermine regional and global peace and security. Clearly a credible and objective criteria is required for identifying conditions of State behavior in which different pressure tools can be applied.

Five, what justifies international intervention. Flowing from the pressure range issue, is the need to delineate conditions that would justify international intervention, through use of the range of pressure tools including pre-emptive strikes, in the functioning of a State. Significantly much of the policy, think-tank, media and even peoples’ discourse divides the States according to civilized and uncivilized, freedom loving and dictatorial, evil and friendly, extremist and liberal. These are subjective labels. They lend themselves to manipulation by the militarily stronger States. The abiding criticism remains that most interventions have not promoted a peoples’ welfare but have promoted strategic economic and strategic interests of an invading state or of its allies.

Six, what qualifies as admissible evidence against a state or government and what verification mechanisms should be put in place to check the veracity of all evidence. At present unilateral Prosecution, indictment and punishment of the ‘State’ has acquired unprecedented frequency; Afghanistan, Iraq, a threatened Iran, a suspected Syria and a threatening North Korea. Yet even before deciding on how to tackle States is the question about the selectivity and validity of the US and of international ‘concerns.’ Similarly the validity of concern and subsequent action is linked to the critical question of evidence. Unsubstantiated media reports, selectively chosen statements, president’s opinion and proclivities or unverified intelligence information is no evidence. At best these constitute ‘leads.’ The US invasion of Iraq has comprehensively demonstrated that without independently verifiable evidence subjectivity and selectivity would define the interventions. Verifiable evidence is indeed indispensable to the international community’s effort to effectively deal with the ‘erring state.’

Seven whether a world system aims at dealing with governments who head the State or with individuals. Does it consider, as spelt out in the UN charter, the governments as the unit for engagement or does it cut across to engage with the citizens of the State who have a legal contract with the State. The UN charter acknowledges the State as the valid entity as an interlocutor. Unless manifestly dangerous, the rights of the State laid down in the concept of sovereignty, have to be honored. Exceptions included the genocide-committing State in Adolf Hitler’s control. The relationship between UN the international monitor and the State i.e. members of the international community was of mutual observance. The State would respect international law and the international entity would respect State sovereignty.

Multiple factors have led to erosion of this relationship. Bilateral relationships have aided States to violate international law . For example US relationship with Israel enabled Israel to repeatedly ignore UN resolutions. Similarly an indulgent international community has ignored India’s rejection of UN resolutions dealing with the Kashmir dispute. Similarly adhocism and unilateralism of the powerful states has undermined this relationship of mutual observance. This relationship that is central to any sustainable system of global stability, needs to be re-examined. Additionally dramatic and high impact developments including information revolution, proliferation of power, emergence of sub-state actors, multiplication of unconventional force structures, human rights violations, Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), proliferation of small weaponry, diminishing credibility of State and of the international system and unilateralist actions, now require the addition of a third tier in the international system. This third tier of sub-state actors should be introduced in the international order through a credible and transparent system.

The flamboyance of the Bush-Blair rhetoric of a new world order, of a world where freedom reigns, notwithstanding the global situation is marked by chaos and commotion. We witness a scene of ‘systems unhinged’ rather than of functioning systems. Yet the silver lining in this ‘unhinged’ situation is the realization that the status quo will not work. The challenge to human race has acquired new dimensions. It is now exposing the inability of an increasingly Hobbesian international system to ‘deliver’ on what is most needed for order and stability; justice and fair-play. Similarly the Hobbesian ways of the State too are under attack within the national context. Old ways and unilateral force-based responses alone would not work.

The United Nations must take the lead in evolving a proactive, comprehensive and practical response to the post-Iraq facing the international system. The United Nations can alone facilitate the building of a future consensus-based system. The global community needs to be challenging the status quo which pushes the global community towards more dangerous and deadly divides.

Nasim Zehra is a Fellow at the Harvard University Asia Center. She contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Massachusetts, USA.