The Making of a Security Community: The United Nations after the Cold War

By Fromuth, Peter J. | Journal of International Affairs, Winter 1993 | Go to article overview

The Making of a Security Community: The United Nations after the Cold War


Fromuth, Peter J., Journal of International Affairs


In passing from the Cold War to the present, the old alliances of East and West have traded the angst of doomsday for the complexity of community living. During the Cold War period, so long as the alliances' security policies were dictated by the so-called clear and present danger of annihilation, their moral foundations were self-evident. So long as their resources were equal to the threats they faced, the alliances were physically and politically self-sufficient as well. The bipolar structure of the Cold War dispensed with any necessity, and prevented any ability, to build a universal security consensus, much less consult with one. Challenges to the justice or equity of the status quo - often raised by developing countries and lesser states within the Western alliance - were swept aside by the larger challenge of survival itself.

Yet as the danger of Cold War-imposed nuclear doomsday has receded, so too has the global security system that was sustained by the fear of mortal danger. There is no longer a single threat capable of eliciting the same moral clarity or strategic simplicity, nor any ultima ratio to legitimate the same narrow political foundations and exclusive decision-making forums. The world is indeed a safer place, but keeping it that way may now be more difficult.

The difficulty starts with the political and conceptual basis for continued U.S. security, since public support of the required investment will be hard to reconcile with a demonstrably declining risk of attack. Another difficulty is that current global security concerns are geographically and culturally diffuse, unlike the nuclear and ideological challenges from the former Soviet Union. A third complicating factor is that the critical theaters for confronting nuclear security or nationalist violence will more often be within states rather than between them. A further challenge, a derivative of the first three, is that the active support of the international community is essential to meet most security needs - a radical change from the self-sufficiency of the Cold War alliances, and one that requires very different political skills.

Notions of sovereignty also have changed in fundamental ways. While the state remains the basis of international action, the legitimacy of the state now is increasingly seen as coming from the people.(2) This concept of sovereignty poses a threat to those countries who believe that sovereignty derives from the soil or institutional organ of a state. In addition, changes in the concept of sovereignty suggest that "added to the dimension of |right' is the dimension of responsibility."(3) In the post-cold War context, this means that a state's failure to fulfill its responsibility may lead to international intervention, as exemplified in the Iraq and Somalia cases discussed later in this article.

A possible response to these challenges, but an inadequate one, is the proposition that with the end of the Cold War, all countries now belong to a single international political system and thus ignore systemic dangers to the detriment of their safety. Certainly the issues at the top of current U.S. security concerns - violent secessionism in Europe and Eurasia, destabilizing regional conflict and proliferating weapons of mass destruction - support the case for extended self-defense. Yet the members of the international community will never be equally affected by such phenomena, and the United States will rarely be the soonest or most threatened by any of them.

To proceed beyond narrow calculations of national interest, and to meet the geographical, legal and political challenges of global security after the Cold War, a new international security system must answer a question its predecessor was never asked: Whose security is to be preserved? This article argues that the only sustainable rationale for the security of the many is the security of the whole, which requires the designation and the preservation of the international community as both a legal and a normative order. …

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