Multinational Conflict Management: Does the Concept Conflict with Sovereignty?In a 2002 Foreign Policy article, Thomas Friedman said "globalization is the integration of everything with everything else" (p. 64). This statement says a lot about the nature of our global system. All states are connected in one way shape or form. Following this globalization phenomenon characterized by Friedman means the boundary lines of sovereignty are no longer thick. They have become thin. The line is not easy to see. There is a parallel connection between this aspect of globalization and the management of conflict today. States cooperate in a more multinational fashion to deal with conflicts. So does the multinational concept conflict with state sovereignty? Yes, but the conflict may be more of a technical one. The alternative to strict sovereignty necessitates a multinational effort.
Kaufman et al characterize sovereignty as an autonomous reality of a state. In their textbook, Understanding International Relations, they suggest sovereignty means, "no authority exists to order the state how to act; there is no actor with the legitimate authority to tell a state what to do" (p. 50). In other words states are generally free to act as they wish. And, they are free from having other states intervene in their acting as they wish. This is of course, generally speaking. Where this level of autonomy becomes problematic external to the state is when a state is in conflict and that conflict affects others.
Iraq, for instance, has a decade's long history of being a nuisance to other states in the region. And because they hold some of the world's largest reserves of oil, they impact the global energy markets. The international community has a vested interest in Iraq being relatively free from conflict. So technically one might say that despite Iraq's "material breach of all its obligations under relevant resolutions" (cited in Art & Waltz, p. 283), as Robert Art and Patrick Cronin point out in reference to UN Resolution 1441, there is little that should be done because they are sovereign. This situation, however, is simply not feasible.
So the question then becomes: who should deal with the conflict? Essentially there are three options. First, nobody could deal with the problem. Unfortunately this is the least feasible of the three. If little to nothing is done to address festering state problems, then the problem just grows. With regard to Iraq in the early 1990s, Art and Cronin point out that, "Saddam became more adroit at seeking tailored approaches to finite goals against a sagging international coalition" (cited in Art & Waltz, p. 279). Under this model the problematic state maintains its sovereignty. But, the regional and international community suffer.
The next alternative is to have a single state confront the problem. While this approach may in the short term offer efficiencies and sometimes rapid effectiveness, the long-term side effects of a unilateral approach can exacerbate other problems. This is somewhat what the United States did in Iraq in 2003. Dobbins et al point out that, "The deadlock at the UN…reinforced the U.S. administration's desire to retain control of both military operations and postconflict (sic) planning" (p. 167). This model of intervention represents a singlehanded encroachment on a state's sovereignty. The result, however, is that the intervening state, the U.S. in the case of Iraq, eventually owns the problem. On the one hand this can appear imperialistic. On the other hand, total success or total failure rests with that intervening state. Furthermore, having crossed the sovereign boundary the unilateral state risks miscalculating or misunderstanding appropriate adjustments to fix the state in conflict.
Dobbins et al point out that the U.S. understanding of Iraq going into 2003 was "woefully inadequate" (p. 185). This led to a U.S. appearance, real or not, of Westernizing a non-western state. Dobbins et al said, "There is a temptation for U.S. forces to fill senior positions with Westernized Iraqi technocrats who are not tainted with Baathaism" (p. 187). One of the big issues of unilateral sovereign intervention, then, is an issue of legitimacy. Arguably one of the reasons the U.S. has had such difficulty in Iraq since 2003 is that the U.S. has had to prove why it was the legitimate, single force necessary to create change in a problematic, albeit sovereign state.
To overcome the legitimacy issue, states may join together either through regional coalitions or as a whole internationally through mechanisms such as the UN. The third option to deal with conflict looks more like a multinational effort whereby multiple states intervene. This option brings legitimacy to encroaching upon a state's sovereignty because a multilateral corps can better justify the need to cross sovereign boundaries. There is strength in numbers.
After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the international community responded en masse. Although led by the U.S., the effort was sanctioned by the UN. Kegley and Raymond reiterate this point in their book From War to Peace. President George H.W. Bush sought strategic political steps to garner wide support. Kegley and Raymond note that, "The first step was taken by the end of the month, when the UN Security Council passed Resolution 678 authorizing member states 'to use all necessary means'" (p. 201). This singular step provided legitimacy not only to the U.S. who led the invasion, but to the entire effort to fix the problem – the problem being Iraq. Kegley and Raymond capture this point from a letter President Bush wrote to Saddaam Husein, "'What is at issue…is not the future of Kuwait..but rather the future of Iraq'" (p. 201). The situation in Iraq and Kuwait in 1990 necessitated sovereign intervention, and that intervention was best legitimated through a multinational medium.
From a purely technical perspective multinational conflict management does cross sovereign boundaries. So, from a technical sense, yes a multinational concept conflicts with sovereignty. However, sometimes states forgo their strict sovereign rights when their actions impact others. Therefore, practically speaking the greater conflict exists when problematic states' sovereignty is left unchecked. A multinational effort provides a more legitimate response to managing the conflict.
ReferencesArt, R. J., & Waltz, K. N. (2009). The Use of Force (Seventh ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Friedman, T., & Kaplan, R. (2002, March/April). States of discord. Foreign Policy , pp. 64- 70.
Kaufman, D. J., M., P. J., Howell, P. V., & Doty, G. R. (2004). Understanding International Relations. The McGraw Hill Companies.
Kegley, C. W., & Raymond, G. A. (2002). From War to Peace Fateful Decisions in International Politics. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's.