The Right of Intervention, Revisited


October 12, 1991|By DANIEL BERGER | DANIEL BERGER,Daniel Berger is a Sun editorial writer.

The world is on the brink of reconvening something like the Congress of Vienna and replicating the Holy Alliance (or Unholy Alliance, as some called it). The principle we are near to reinventing is that what goes on in one country is properly the business of another.

The cases at hand are Iraq, Yugoslavia, Cambodia, Liberia and Haiti. Next week, somewhere else.

The Congress of Vienna in 1814-15 was the diplomacy of the victors in the wars against Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte of France. Its leading statesman was Prince Metternich of Austria, who managed to invent the ''right of intervention'' to justify what he proposed to do.

Out of this grew a series of agreements as to which states would exist, with what borders, that would keep the peace of Europe for two generations. Dynastic legitimacy was the bedrock. Overthrow of it in one country threatened the next, so suppression of that threat was the business of all.

The Holy Alliance of Prussia, Austria and Russia was set up at Vienna by the tsar Alexander I to promulgate Christian virtues, with all the ruling princes of Europe signing on except the king of England, the pope and the sultan of Turkey. Joining it for some purposes was England, hence the Quadruple Alliance. And then France, in the Quintuple Alliance.

This was a league against revolution, democracy, the people, progress and modern ideas -- for law and established values and peace. In its name, Austrian armies overturned revolutions in Naples and Piedmont and a French army restored the monarchy in Spain.

Alarmed lest the Spanish monarchy re-establish itself in South America, Britain encouraged the U.S. to do something. This led to a few sentences in President Monroe's address to Congress in 1823 telling Europe to butt out of the Americas or risk war with the U.S., the ''Monroe Doctrine.'' And this led to President Theodore Roosevelt's ''corollary'' in 1904 claiming U.S. police power to ensure that American republics did not provoke European violations of their sovereignty.

The doctrine which created the U.N. in 1945 renounced all this. The U.S. respects the sovereignty of anything that can be called a nation. Collective security is for nations to band together to protect one sovereign state (Poland or Kuwait) from another (Germany or Iraq).

It does not help a state that is not sovereign. But all of a sudden there are problems of right and wrong, and of managing the peace, where doctrines of respect for sovereignty do not reach. The Western world craves new Metternichs to fashion new rights of intervention. This time, legitimacy is seen as democratic rather than monarchical, but otherwise it is 1815 all over again.

This effort began with the human-rights elements of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) -- the Helsinki accord of 1975 -- and its subsequent

creation of a Conflict Prevention Center.

Then there was the problem in Iraq this year. If the U.S. would not overthrow Saddam Hussein, would it let him butcher all the Kurds? The answer was no, and the U.S. and partners moved into Iraq, miles ahead of rationale, out of moral compulsion and guilt for having stirred the Kurds up in the first place. We now claim a right to police what arms Iraq may possess, and will figure out why later.

With Liberia in a three-way revolution bringing misery to all, its West African neighbors invaded to bring peace, or failing that, to make the dispute four-sided. They could not tolerate its anarchy.

And then there is the problem of Cambodia. Its neighbors want a settlement there. The U.S. and other nations that backed the heinous Khmer Rouge indirectly, when it was a thorn in Vietnam's side, now say the Khmer Rouge must never again rule Cambodia. The reason is that the Khmer Rouge murdered too many Cambodians in the 1970s, and we would feel awful if they did again and it was our fault.

Yugoslavia has panicked Western Europe. As a result, the European Community gave itself authority to mediate in a dispute between a federal and a state government without considering that this is an internal affair. The Europeans are creative in using supranational institutions for Yugoslav intervention, including the CSCE and a hitherto pointless military forum called the Western European Union (an embryo NATO minus the North Americans), wondering how far to go.

The army coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti galvanized European and American powers into thinking that this must not be allowed. The U.S. has used the Organization of American States as cover for action before, but some American states opposing that in the past are more accommodating this time. Mr. Aristide went to the OAS for help in an internal matter.

The problem of how to intervene legally in another country for humanitarian reasons or democratic legitimacy -- the reverse of Metternich's legitimacy -- has not been solved. But the world has been acting ahead of its rationale, out of a sense of right and wrong as well as in national interests.

Iraq armed is a menace to its neighbors. Yugoslavia in civil war breaks the peace of Europe and propels refugees. Albania in despair sends Albanians to the poorest part of Italy. Haiti in tears sends boatloads of Haitians to the hospitality of Florida. Iran condemning people elsewhere deprives them of life and liberty in Britain and beyond.

A half-century ago, One World was the slogan for an ideal. Today FTC it is a cruel fact. Our concept of national sovereignty must catch up with it.

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