Why Liberals Oppose Unilateralism
“I am totally against unilateralism in the modern world,” says French president Jacques Chirac, expressing the particular European distaste for any strong U.S. action vis à vis Iraq, but also making a much larger claim regarding the morality of sovereign power itself.
As I read Chirac’s comment, the categorical nature of it made me suddenly realize how the opposition to unilateralism, about which we hear so much today, is of a piece with many other liberal positions, ranging from global gun control to campaign finance reform to anti-discrimination laws, all tending in the direction of a complete suppression of legitimate human freedoms.
What is unilateralism? It is a nation-state taking action, political or military, on the international stage, whether to defend its interests or to restore order in an area of the world that comes within its purview or responsibility. For example, when the United States intervened from time to time in Haiti over the course of the 20th century to restore a minimum of order in that desperate place, that was unilateralism. When the United States confronted the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis, that was unilateralism. When the U.S. sent massive amounts of materiél to Israel at a crucial moment in the 1973 War, that was unilateralism. When the U.S. bombed Libya following a terrorist attack on U.S. service personnel in West Germany in the 1980s, that was unilateralism. When Israel rescued its hostages in Entebbe, that was unilateralism. When Britain sent a flotilla to win back the Falklands from the Argentinean junta, that was unilateralism.
Unilateral action by a state can be good or bad, moral or immoral, successful or unsuccessful, just like any other type of action. Therefore to be against unilateralism per se is to be against the very possibility of nation-state behaving in a responsible and helpful way in the world. The results of this attitude can be catastrophic. During the Bosnian war in the early 1990s, the thing that was most urgently needed was unilateral action by a strong power in the neighborhood to intervene and restore order. In the old days, such “Great Powers” as Germany or Austria would have been in a position to take on that vital task. But by the early 1990s there was no European nation ready and willing to act unilaterally, only the damnable U.N., whose “peacekeeping” missions made the situation far worse, while the European Union, founded for the very purpose of avoiding decisive action by its members, showed itself totally incapable of taking any steps to stop the slaughter. It was not until the United States stepped in, acting “unilaterally,” that the immediate violence was brought to a halt (though the U.S. pursued a multiculturalist concept of order that made a permanent settlement in Bosnia impossible and required American and other troops to stay in the area indefinitely.)
Liberals are against unilateralism for the same reason that they are against private ownership of guns. As Jim Kalb once pointed out to me, since liberals believe in equality, they are against power, because different people inevitably possess different amounts of it and so oppress each other. Thus liberals are against private gun ownership, because it suggests differentials of power among individuals, which suggests inequality and oppression. For the same reason, liberals seek to restrict the freedom of political organizations to buy political advertising because some candidates and groups will be able to buy more advertising than others, which suggests differentials of power, which suggests inequality and oppression (the recent campaign finance law is to free elections what gun control is to self-defense). And for the same reason, liberals oppose independent action by nation-states because such action suggests differentials of power and thus inequality and oppression. Since freedom of action by persons or polities and the resulting hierarchies of power and influence are built into the very structure of existence, what liberals are seeking is nothing less than the total suppression of the natural order of things, including individual freedom and national sovereignty. The attempt to eliminate all power must thus lead to the concentration of all power in a global totalitarian state. Such suppression, and such a regime, is the ultimate goal of the ascendant liberal ideology that John Fonte has dubbed transnational progressivism, but which could more appropriately be called transnational radicalism.