Preventing conflict after Second World War

ByM Ali Siddiqi

writer who contributes to leading periodicals


January 14, 2023

Preventing conflict

M Ali Siddiqi describes crucial efforts to avoid confrontation

Two major considerations were laid before global policymakers after the end of catastrophic Preventing conflict after the Second World War and they were how to reduce number of conflicts and to appropriately manage widespread economic turmoil. Since state was recognised as the only instrument in international order, therefore, it was by securing its cooperation to prevent future conflicts. Such assurances from the state could only be obtained by securing cooperation amongst the states. The policy planning deliberated on few lines: all major world powers may band together to supervise the globe; become primarily and exclusively responsible for guaranteeing amity in a region or they equip and finance cluster of states to perform this job on their behalf. What ultimately transpired was almost a combination of all the three options as circumstances compelled the policy makers to abandon theoretical preference of the major powers coming together in this respect. The compromising nature of the future course of action fractured the potency of a decisive method and there was no option but be pursued precariously.

In this context, the political leaders of the victorious powers parleyed extensively and the consensus that emerged was to concentrate power in the three regions – European, American and Pacific and consensual approach would be adopted while resolving issues. Stalin however did not agree with this formula and it was clear that he wanted untrammeled sovereignty and a continuing association with his allies in order to avoid a return of the USSR’s prewar isolation. However, despite differences of this kind, in October 1943, the foreign ministers of the three allies adopted the principle of a global organisation based on the sovereign equality of all states and laid the foundations for a new world organisation mandated to keep peace by joint exercise of their allied power. This was the best compromise that could emerge from the devastation of war and it was considered a viable method to prevent conflicts as much as possible.

The UN was a renewed version of the League of Nations as the principal organs of the two bodies were similar simply because the perpetrators of this organisation wanted to retain a familiar framework and make it more potent to prevent conflict. In a much desired improvement the UN went far than the League of Nations that has not proscribed war but bound its signatories to pause before resorting to war and attempt to resolve their differences and banned war except in defence of the UN Charter. The fact however remained that the UN pre-conditioned war but it did not totally proscribe war. The UN however precipitated a vital change that explicitly sanctioned not only the use of international force but also the use of national force, by one state or an alliance, in self-defence. By doing so it opened the doors for ushering in a cumulative application of force to prevent war that took place few decades after the inception of the UN.

The collective decision making of the UN though was hindered by the proviso to attain majority of assent of the permanent members of its primary decision making organ, the Security Council. In absence of such decision it was not legal for any UN member to take an opposite decision; whereas an affirmative decision of the Council automatically placed all members under obligation. The problem however that was countered by the UN many times in the future was that this provision precluded all action underlining the fact that though the SC acted as the prime decision making body but it was placed under the approval of permanent members that mostly acted under their own national, regional and global interests. Nevertheless, the UN attempted to assert a degree of collective judgment against its constituent sovereign members in a period when these members had been massively strengthened by the growth of modern technology and of modern ways of influencing people.

The main contending issue was the almost absolute sovereignty of the state that it utilised both in its internal and external affairs disagreeing with the collective decision making of the UN. Like its predecessor the UN was unable to take control of the coercive means available to the state that complicated the international arena. Side by side, it was not found possible to subordinate patriotic considerations of the people of a state to broader international concerns though many efforts were undertaken to make people aware of the international connectivity of their lives. Since after 1945 it is frequently observed that the concept of globalisation became the oft-repeated mantra launched by the Western powers with a view to convince respective populations that the international connections also fare in equal measure to domestic considerations and they should be heeded with equal interest.

With the passage of time it was observed that the unanimity of major powers gathered in an international context faded compelling the use of veto to become a common tactical instrument instead of a weapon of last resort undermining the spirit of international collaboration. It was subsequently noted that the states increased the effort to engage in a series of bilateral agreements that were, to a large extent, contrary to the working notions of cumulative international platforms. The frequent use of veto underlined the departure from the unanimity rule with the result that in ensuing decades a semi-permanent minority in the UN in breach of collective spirit and resulted in formation of bitterly opposing bi-polar world ushering in the Cold War that engulfed the world for more than forty years.

The main difficulty in this period was the Russians perception arguing that the international cooperation was used by the Americans as a tool for assuring their hegemony and after witnessing the conduct of the Dutch in Indonesia, the British and French in Syria and Lebanon, the British in Egypt and Greece and western tolerance of Franco’s fascism in Spain it ceased to participate in international cooperative movement. This reversal altered the very make-up of international collective security paradigm though the USSR also began to alter its very aggressive stance on international affairs. Responding to the behaviour of the USSR the Americans became hostile in their attitude towards the Soviet bloc and got involved in actions antagonizing the USSR and its allies. This rivalry further polarised the world and the incessant tug of war badly bruised the global harmony and created a scenario that exacerbated the international arena.

The efforts to prevent conflict thus gave rise to disputes of legal nature that brought to fore fundamental political disagreements and succeeded in thwarting the aspirations of the policy makers who designed the format for peace after the end of the Second World War. Very soon the disharmonies inherent in the chaotic international arena rendered the future peace compact ineffectual with the result that the world quite quickly became polarised. While devising the contours of future peace, the policy makers in 1945 never imagined that the international organisation that emerged out of their efforts would lobby for votes to carry forward the requirements of peace. In this situation the globe did experience wars and conflicts though it would save the catastrophic possibility of such conflicts flaring up into a global confrontation. TW


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