We have all heard the argument regarding Iraq, Afghanistan, the war on terror, and interventions in such civil war and democides as those in Liberia, Congo, Angola, Sudan, or Somalia, that they should be a matter of the United Nations, or the international community. Indeed, the refrain that the international community and its surrogate the United Nations should be involved or consulted, is a common mantra concerning such conflicts
The word "international" is one of those mental blockers that bypass thought. It is a word suffused with vibrant feeling and moral equalitarianism. It involves a negative--nationalism and a self-centered focus on the nation is bad, a cause of war and disharmony among nations. Most important, it also involves a deeply resonating positive--opening one's arms to all cultures, all cultures, and all beliefs are good. It implies certain questions: who are we of one nation to say that something is evil, morally repugnant? Who are we to make war "unilaterally"? And it implies an answer: we should recognize that we must come to a consensus with all of humanity, despite our different views, if we will have world peace and harmony. The word has become in most discourse on world events the equivalent of "apple pie" and "motherhood."
Many of those who teach and write books or commentary on international relations use the concept in this way, and have passed down this null mental usage to generations of students, newspaper readers, and TV viewers. And this is one of the reasons that thought on Iraq and the war on terrorism is often so short-circuited. To see this, unpack the term international, not as emotion or morality, but empirically. International, then, simply means what goes on between or among nations. This would be a dull empirical concept were it not a modifier of community. "International community" then refers to all nations forming a body with common interests and under international law.
With this understanding, look at the claim, "We should involve the international community in the Iraq war (ignore that there are already over 40 nations involved somehow, and just consider the claim rhetorically), or in the postwar reconstruction, or in the trial of Saddam Hussein. How mentally blinding this concept of international community is can be shown by asking a simple question. Who makes up this community?
If unmodified, "international community" must refer to all nations. There are 192 legally sovereign states that make up this community, of which about 121 are democracies (89 liberal), most small and hardly internationally active. There are 71 non-democracies, 47 (minus Iraq) of them allowing virtually no freedom to their people. It is instructive to name these 47 members of the international community. They are listed in the following table.
Does anyone interested in democracy, in creating a democratic Iraq and Afghanistan, really want the bloody masters of China, Congo, Angola, Cuba, Haiti, Iran, North Korea, Laos, Libya, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Vietnam, among the other 47 nations, poking their noses into the democratization of Iraq. After all, their masters are generally thugs commanding a gang that rules a nation at the point of their guns. They rule, as does the Mafia. Yet, they are a substantially and legally part of the international community, despite international law being nothing more to them than what secures their rule, or of which they can take advantage. If those using this term "international community" really don't want to include them, then they should qualify the term by something like "democracies," or "democratic nations," or "democratic community," which incidentally, is a true community.
There are other relevant mental blockers in use, such as "United Nations" and I have dealt with that elsewhere. But, there is one especially pernicious mental blocker that appears in many political science textbooks and expert commentaries, and that is the use of "leader" in referring to those who officially head a nation. While it is true that a leader is defined as "a person who rules or guides or inspires others," the connotation is more one who leads, as does a democratically elected president or prime minister. Do we really think of a Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein as leaders, or even rulers, a rather antiseptic term for these bloody murderers and war criminals? Are we willing to say that a Hitler was a leader because he exercised command, or authority? Are we also willing to say that the godfather of a Mafia gang is a leader? I don't think this is what we mean to say when we use the term "leader." Yet, generally, in the literature on governments, the term leader is so applied, and there is even a sub-field of political science called leadership studies, which would include within its compass the Hitler's of this world.
To use the term leaders for all heads of states mentally blinds one to the a fundamental distinction. This is that between elected heads of state and those who have seized control over the state by force--they command its citizens, as a gang would, not by authority, but by fear. It provides a good feeling term (in our culture "leadership" has a positive value) for what is often fundamentally evil.
Then what would I call the Hitlers, if not leaders or rulers? Lets call a spade a spade. They are thugs, and were we to consistently to use this description for them, we would better see them as they are, and have a better mental handle on international affairs.
Another mental blocker is the term government itself. I need not go into this, since the analysis of the good feeling word ("to govern") parallels that for leadership. I should just point out that if for the "government" of countries like North Korea, Syria, Libya, Cuba, etc., we used the "ruling gang," or simply gang, such as the North Korean gang, and its prime thug Kim Chong-il, we would have a better appreciation of the actual state of international affairs, and the so called community of nations.
You are the visitor.
Return to commentary page.