What Lessons Should We Learn from the Crisis in Syria?
Much attention is now focused on the crisis in Syria. Should the United States and its allies use military force to punish Syria for using chemical weapons against its own citizens in violation of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle supported by both the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Security Council? Is it the responsibility of the United States and its allies to enforce this somewhat imprecise "international law," and if so, why?
One important lesson to learn from this situation is that the war problem, the use of military force by some nations against other nations, requires some serious thought and possibly unprecedented action. It is evident that our 20th-century inter-national political institutions are totally inadequate for our 21st-century global community. A second lesson is that we are more likely to be able to deal successfully with this war problem if we focus on it when war isn't imminent or already happening. If and when this crisis in Syria passes, let's remember both of these important lessons.
The key to what should be done can be found in history. Little by little in Western-style democracies humanity has learned that we can work out our conflicts nonviolently through elections and the rule of law rather than by the violence of war. We now know that the alternative to war within countries is a democratic political system where conflicts about public policy are resolved at the ballot box and in the courts.
That same basic principle applies to wars between nations. After two World Wars the nations of Europe have learned that to stop wars they need not only democracy within nations but also a democratic European Union to deal nonviolently with conflicts between nations.
Those two World Wars also led to the creation of the League of Nations and then the United Nations, moves in the right direction but not far enough. Both still preserved unlimited national sovereignty and failed to create a democratic global government that could use political and judicial procedures to resolve conflicts between countries. Consequently, we still have wars and arms races and drones and cyber warfare and crises such as this one about what to do in Syria.
It won't be easy to develop a democratic global government, but it is a task that must be tackled in order to put an end to wars and armies and increasingly horrible weapons. The history of our own country shows how it can be done. Fortunately, the first step of creating the United Nations has already been taken. The next step is to convert the United Nations, a political organization in which each country has unlimited sovereignty (a confederation), into a democratic world federal government, a political organization in which the sovereignty of each member nation-state is limited to some extent for the good of all (a federation).
The United States began that conversion at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. There this country started its crucial transition from the Articles of Confederation where each of the 13 colonies had its unlimited sovereign government, its own money, and its own militia to the new federal United States of America. George Washington was elected the first U.S. President in 1789. The slogan for that change was "E pluribus unum," "Out of many, one," and the proponents of that political conversion were called the Federalists. Our world community now needs some World Federalist leaders who will lead the way in creating a democratic world federation that puts an end to wars.
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