Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
June 21, 1999
Defend global common good
The war in Kosovo the past three months has contained enough inhumanity to last any nation a century. The massacres of Kosovars by Serbian forces, the illegitimate NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, and the creation of a million or more refugees are scars on the souls of Western nations.
The cowardly, immoral NATO bombing was no way to address even massive human rights violations. It was ineffective at preventing those crimes and even goaded Serbia to raising them to a higher level. And if it was somehow to be justified because Slobodan Milosevic is "another Hitler" (a dubious proposition), well that new "Hitler" remains in power.
However, what may be of significant long-term importance for the global community was the assertion by NATO leaders - and the subsequent endorsement of this view by the UN Security Council - that it was acceptable to violate a nation's sovereignty in order to protect human rights.
National sovereignty was the basis of post-Second World War efforts at peacemaking. The international community had decided that expansive nationalism was the main threat to world peace. The way to protect the peace was to protect borders and the governments which ruled within those borders. If those governments chose to slaughter their own people, no other government should intervene.
(This principle of national sovereignty was conveniently forgotten, mainly by the United States, when socialist governments, perceived to be a threat to American national interests, were formed in underdeveloped nations.)
The Kosovo war decisively put an end to this principle of national sovereignty. Western nations staged what they saw as a "humanitarian intervention" in an independent country where they had few interests of their own.
Where does the Church stand on this? Pope John Paul has been outspoken in criticizing both the NATO bombing and Serbia's slaughter of the Kosovars. The Church is firmly opposed to war in the modern world and sees few, if any, instances where military force might be morally justified.
However, Pope John Paul has also spoken in defence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human dignity, not national sovereignty, is the main lens through which the Church views the global community.
In his 1987 encyclical On Social Concern, the pope stated that humanity today "needs a greater degree of international ordering" (n. 43). Lasting world peace is inconceivable, he said, unless world leaders abandon power politics and work towards greater collaboration.
This certainly suggests a greater degree of world government than is currently in place. And while the Church does not propose specific reforms which should occur, the greatest concern with a higher degree of world government is that such reform would give even more power to the powerful. Many international institutions, from the International Monetary Fund to the Security Council itself, often serve to increase current power imbalances. What is needed is some form of "government" which is non-coercive and which gives power to the powerless.
In 1991, the pope wrote another encyclical, On the Hundredth Anniversary. In it, he proposed not just greater political order on the international level, but also a more just international economic order. He spoke of the need to protect those who "have little weight in the international market." Specifically, there is a need for "effective international agencies which will oversee and direct the economy to the common good" (n. 58).
The victims of human rights violations need protection. So do the victims of an expanding global marketplace which pays greater heed to profits than to human dignity. Whether the Kosovo war will move us toward such a world remains to be seen. But one thing is certain - the interests of the world's powerful need to be restrained in the interests of the global common good.
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