'International community' does not refer to a global, close-knit community with shared values, a common purpose, and an absence of conflict. Rather, it is a term conveniently used by the unipolar power (the US, its allies and sycophants) to try to shape the destiny of every country on earth in its own image, and to punish those who do not conform.

By Jeremy Seabrook

April 1999

The emergence of something called 'the international community' is a recent phenomenon. This new entity has nevertheless been extremely busy in the past two or three years, expressing its displeasure at nuclear testing by India and Pakistan, making fresh raids on Iraq, expressing solidarity with the victims of hurricane Mitch, urging Japan to reform its banking system, and now, attacking Yugoslavia over the atrocities in Kosovo.

This innocuous, even benign-sounding, phrase seems to make the world a cosier, more friendly place, and to mitigate the asperities of Globalisation; but in it we can discern a de facto reconstitution of global power in the 1990s.

Clinton and Madeleine Albright have been the most vigorous proponents of the figment of 'international community', which has become part of an official pietism about the future political direction of the planet. Yet it has a more sinister purpose.

The danger of an informally constituted 'international community' is that it threatens to supersede the function of the United Nations, although it does not disdain to use that institution as a pretext for imposing itself upon the world. In the action Yugoslavia, however, even that pretext has been dropped, and NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) has gathered to itself a 'humanitarian' role, a characteristic virtually unknown in the long history of military alliances. The 'international community' owes its birth to the Gulf War. Moved to a righteous anger by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, an ad hoc global coalition was constituted, which subsequently took on a more permanent, though always amorphous, shape. 'World opinion' is the expressing of the collective will of this community, and its distinguishing feature is its resolve to act, not so much in the interests of the world, as in the interests of the dominant powers within it. Its operations are quixotic and arbitrary interventions in other countries, sometimes in the name of fighting tyranny, and now in Kosovo, in the name of humanity.

Such a shifting entity has certain disadvantages - it is not open to dissent, it does not appreciate the complexity of situations with which it engages, it lacks long-term aims and vision. Those who see in its resolve the beginnings of international law which will not permit tyrants like Pinochet or Milosovic to impose themselves on their own sometime sovereign countries, may be rejoicing prematurely.

It goes without saying that this indisciplined 'international community' subverts the very idea of United Nations. The increasingly archaic concept of the UN always implied great diversity among its members. It suggested genuine pluralism, acceptance of irreconcilable differences and unbridgeable ideological antagonisms. This inhibited impetuous action which, given the intensity of the Cold War and the competitive accumulation of the weaponry of annihilation, threatened rapid planetary breakdown if it was not curbed by the vanished symmetries of the USA and the USSR.

The international community will have none of this. The very idea of 'community' hints at shared values, an absence of conflict, a common endeavour to suppress dissent. The word 'community' is always double-edged. Implying commitment to a common purpose, it can be generous and inclusive. But it is also a powerful mechanism for the disciplining of recalcitrants.

At the level where it has real meaning, in the sense of the locality, the neighbourhood, places where people are attached to each other by bonds of propinquity, kinship or shared experience, it will uphold and support the weak and the vulnerable. But it can be merciless to those who transgress its norms.

Inflated to the global level, community is meaningless. Its utility lies principally in the smuggled idea of punishing those who do not conform. It is in this sense that it is being invoked to such effect by the USA, its allies and sycophants. The UN, with its ideal of internationalism, has been overtaken by the menace of the 'international community', with its declaration of pariah countries, outlaw regimes, rogue states.

It is a curious contradiction that, at the very time when global community is being appealed to as a matter of the highest principle, real, local communities are everywhere under threat of dissolution and breakdown, in the name of 'global economic integration', of which this bogus 'international community' is the ideological expression. Indeed, the actions of NATO in Kosovo have clearly exacerbated the catastrophe they were supposed to have prevented, as communities of ethnic Albanians are reduced to ruins, while traumatised refugees stand at border checkpoints all over the Balkans, wondering whether the host country will be any more merciful to them than the brutalities they have fled.

If the participants in this world community had ever been consulted; if it represented true interdependence and not domination of the weak by the strong; if it were devoted to something more than the maintenance by privilege of its monopoly over the weaponry of coercion, then it is just possible that it might have held some meaning for the peoples of the world. But it is just the latest euphemism for a Western - mainly US - agenda for the future of the earth and the fate of all the people on it.

Those who believe that reform of the UN might result in a shift of power in favour of the least privileged countries are already too late. That possibility has been undercut by the supremacy of a world community which has never been formally constituted, and which cares as little for community in its excessive pursuit of individualism, as it does for the world, to the exploitation of which it acknowledges no limit.

The UN may have become sclerotic and rigid. It certainly remains a monument to the circumstances in which it was set up after the War. It embodied something of the contrition and remorse of the 'developed' world at the devastation it had wrought through the repatriation of its centuries-old racism to the heart of what it had always seen as civilisation. It recognised the appeal that socialism might hold for newly liberated colonial territories, and it represented a genuine ideological pluralism.

These concerns are now obsolete. The international community is the fiction created by the unipolar power, which seeks to shape the destiny of every country on earth in its own image.

Of course, 'sanctions' remains its weapon of first choice: in a global market economy, where self-reliance has been destroyed, countries are powerless indeed when they are denied both the necessities for their survival and the money to pay for them. 'Sanctions' were the first weapon in the effort to bring down both Saddam Hussein and Milosovic; those more stealthy weapons of mass destruction than the pyrotechnics deployed to such effect over the (former) former Yugoslavia.

The long-term consequences of the intervention in Kosovo cannot be accurately foreseen, although it requires little imagination to understand the 'humanitarian crisis' will be resolved by it. There is, perhaps, something curiously appropriate in the presence of the 'international community' in the air over Serbia and Kosovo; for it, too, wheels, swoops and dives in its supraterrestrial control of the planet; a mobile, aerial concept, as abstract as it is likely to prove destructive.

What noble handiwork, these prototypical experiments in enforcing the will of an international community, still nestling restlessly behind the ossified structures of the UN, but straining to break through the constraints these impose. Let the world - particularly those countries which remain outside of its embrace, or risk expulsion from it - observe and tremble. For the UN will do little enough to help them when this 'international community' is roused to vent its anger on anyone who contests its right to the superintendence of the world, or its own arbitrage of what is legitimate, and who must be compelled, by whatever force necessary, into the path of its own version of righteousness and reason. - Third World Network Features


About the writer: Jeremy Seabrook is an author and freelance journalist based in London.