One of the ideas that John McCain had during the campaign, which he spoke of intermittently but that never received much attention, was the concept of some sort of League of Democracies as an adjunct to the existing international system. As it turns out, James Steinberg, reportedly the man being tapped as Hillary Clinton’s deputy at the Department of State, proposed something similar in a Los Angeles Times op-ed he co-authored in 2005.
Steinberg declared that, “It would be unfortunate if President Bush’s doctrine of preemption were a casualty of the Iraq war.”
The problem, Steinberg argued, is not the concept of preemtive war itself, but of unilateralism:
When states fail to meet their responsibilities, the international community will need to step in. Diplomacy and economic pressure are frequently sufficient to do the job. But there will be times when limited military action will be the only effective way to obviate an imminent threat – before, say, a state produces enough fissile material to make nuclear weapons or before terrorists are fully able to hatch their plots. One problem with the Bush doctrine, then, is not that it is overly reliant on preventive force but that it too narrowly conceives of its use, primarily to deal with terrorism and to remove threatening regimes.
The Bush doctrine’s other problem is that it insists that individual states, or at least the United States, must have the right to decide when preventive force is justified, even though the threat affects the security of many. The decision to use force in these cases cannot be one state’s alone.
Of course, if preemtive action is deemed necessary to retard or eliminate a threat to America’s national security, and other nations won’t go along with such action, should such action be ruled out? In other words, does all possible U.S. military action need to meet John Kerry’s infamous “global test”?
Steinberg goes on to write that the U.N. Security Council is undependable, and that while regional networks such as NATO are more reliable (see Kosovo as the model), global challenges often are beyond their scope. He then proposes:
Which leaves the alternative of creating a coalition of like-minded states. One such coalition could be composed of democracies, because democracies should have an interest in upholding the norm of state responsibility. Because these governments are elected, their collective decision to use force would carry more legitimacy than a decision of any one of them. And if it proved impossible to convince any or most of the coalition’s democratic peers that a state had failed to meet its responsibilities and that intervention was therefore justified, that outcome in and of itself should give pause about proceeding. Iraq was a case in point. Finally, the existence of an alternative decision-making body may prompt the Security Council or a regional organization to act sooner.
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