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World peace through regional security

From armed gangs to cooperative communities

February 2013

The United Nations' peace efforts to date have borne little fruit. To secure lasting world-wide peace, we must first secure international neighborhoods. A system of regional security cooperatives may be a step in the right direction.
The foreign policy of most nations is based on the desire to live in peace and friendship with their neighbors, while seeking cooperation and commerce with all nations that desire the same. While at the same time, of course, protecting and advancing their own interests. The foremost interest of most countries has always been defense, and the motivation for defense is a fear of attack – usually by a neighboring country. This makes the international "neighborhood" a key point for the application of peace efforts.

Nations make various kinds of treaties with one another to try to assure peace; they make peace treaties, which may be a good thing, and defense treaties, which often are not. A "peace" or nonaggression treaty says that your country and mine won't start wars against one another. This is often beneficial, though the German-Polish peace treaty of 1934 illustrates its use as a ruse: Hitler, whose secret arms build-up was just under way, feared a Polish-French attack, and he signed a ten-year nonaggression pact with Poland to give himself time – fully intent on attacking Poland when he was ready, which he then did after five years.

A "defense" treaty commonly says in effect that if you get into a war we'll join in on your side, though modern defense treaties usually use "weasel" wording such as "will take action consistent with each nation's constitutional requirements," or some such. It was a network of defense treaties that lead to the spread of the First World War in 1914. Day by day, after Austria-Hungary's declaration of war against Serbia in late July, the European powers were drawn into the conflict by their multifarious defense agreements. On the other hand, the mutual defense arrangement NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) probably prevented both Norway and Turkey from being overrun by the USSR in the decades following the Second World War.

But defense treaties, such as NATO and its cold war response, the Soviet-dominated Warsaw treaty, ensure continued polarization and international tension. Where tensions already exist, defense treaties exacerbate and broaden them, drawing third parties into issues that barely concern them. Because they harden and prolong international antipathies, defense treaties are at most a temporary expedient against a threat. They lock nations into opposing camps of armed gangs, and are not the way to a lasting peace.

Most international breaches of peace, and most national defensive concerns, arise between neighboring countries. I suggested in 2005 that a worldwide network of regional security arrangements be organized under the auspices of the United Nations, where international neighborhoods could benefit from the experience of the individual states of United States and the countries of the European Union, i.e., having a comprehensive and authoritative security agreement that includes all nations in the region, to which these nations agree to submit their security disputes. Of course, several regional organizations already exist, such as the Organization of American States and the Organization of African Unity, but these are not specifically security agreements and they are probably too large to serve as "neighborhood" agreements. The size of such arrangements must be sufficient to include countries that have a joint regional perspective, but not so large as to become unwieldy.

While the U.N. continues to fiddle wishfully with the idea of global peace, mainly through the work of its "First Committee" (U.N. Committee on Disarmament and International Security), the chief result of such efforts has been the drafting of largely toothless and often redundant resolutions for the General Assembly which, when they do pass, typically result in no action or progress. Continuation of this course will plainly mean continuation of what we have experienced throughout the life of the U.N: constant warfare. It is remarkable that the U.N. has so far failed to understand – though they have a prime example in Europe – that peace can only be achieved and secured regionally. The U.N. therefore needs to establish regional offices with the mission of facilitating development of regional security arrangements.

I will call such arrangements Regional Security Cooperatives (RSC); they will be headquartered in the region and should be largely independent of the U.N., which should, however, have a role in outlining, establishing, and coordinating the RSCs. The several RSCs ought to operate under similar charters. To the degree they are yielded proper authority, RSCs will be a key to future international peace.

An RSC must involve all regional nations on an equal basis. Its aim is international peace and demilitarization, meaning a gradual reduction in military forces and budgets, coordinated with other RSCs. Its method will be a regional compact where member countries do not yield national sovereignty but commit themselves to peaceful resolution of conflicts, and yield the "right" to resolve their international issues by military force; the right of resolution of such issues will be held by the RSC. The RSC must include all nations in the region, along with – as associate members – neighboring nations. As such regions are artificial constructs, overlap of the regional boundaries is necessary for relations among the regions. Nations in the overlapping areas will participate in both RSCs. The RSC will also maintain formal relations on security issues with neighboring RSCs.

RSCs should be limited to consultation and resolution of regional security issues, and must not be allowed to become administrative or legislative power centers, à là Brussels in the European Union. Such an imperializing development would have the effects of disempowering and de-democratizing member nations, as it has in the E.U., where many countries are protesting that their citizens can no longer make their own laws.

An example of security regions is outlined below. The regions together cover all nations, and the U.N. should determine regional boundaries together with the regional nations.


There are, of course, many ways to draw such regions; this example creates three northern, four central, and three southern security regions, all with substantial overlap.

To take Europe as an example: Here, the continued existence of the NATO defense alliance still causes friction and suspicion in some parts of the former Soviet Union: Russia, Byelarus, and eastern Ukraine. NATO was established to defend against the Soviet Union, and it's reasonable that these latter countries ask themselves, "Who is NATO now aimed against?" The answer is known to all: it is clearly still aimed against eastern Europe (read Russia), at a time when the need is for cooperation, not confrontation. The very existence of NATO as a massive force (27 countries) directed against Russia cannot be seen by Russia as anything other than provoking, at a time when the Warsaw Pact is long dissolved. It is good to see that NATO does make overtures to Russia regarding sharing of information, but the fact is still that NATO is an uncomfortable thorn in the side of Russia. The fact is also that NATO in its current form and purpose is no longer needed, and that its net effect as a maintainer of peace in Europe is now perhaps negative.

The solution to the above is to transform NATO into a new European Regional Security Cooperative, merging it with the existing Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which already includes all nations of Europe, including Russia, as well as some countries immediately surrounding Europe as observers. The OSCE, which was conceived with the purpose of conflict resolution, has shown itself toothless in the face of armed conflict in Europe. Since NATO already has a protocol for military coordination among its members, which has functioned well to maintain peace among the members (though Cyprus has tested this) the new NATO/OSCE reformed as a European RSC can bring this benefit to all of Europe, and can put a final end to the division of Europe into antagonistic east and west factions. The post-NATO RSC would have as its chief mission the resolution of conflicts within Europe, and between European members and surrounding nations. It can also serve as a springboard for mutual reduction in military forces, freeing public resources for more productive use. Bringing all of Europe, and particularly its military establishments, in under the same security umbrella is such an obvious and doable goal that we should see failure to bring this about as dereliction of duty by our elected representatives.

The European Regional Security Cooperative can be achieved quickly, and can serve as a model for the other world regions. With efforts toward peace focused regionally, confidence-building steps are easier to create and implement, and movement toward a lasting peace will at long last be given a push with high chance of success.

In my 2005 article referenced above I stressed the need for the old cold warriors, the U.S. and Russia, to lead by example by speeding up disarmament. This – a second front of advance toward peace – is still needed to demonstrate seriousness of purpose. If these two powers are not serious, no one will be.

© 2013 H. Paul Lillebo

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