What is the international community?

CK building (Ušće tower) on fire during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia (picture Tadija)

Federalists are pretty suspicious of the notion of the “international community”. It is generally taken to mean gatherings of countries who get together to enact common policies that might otherwise be controversial or ineffective. However, this simple definition can hide a lot.

For example, membership of the “international community” confers rights but not duties. There was a military intervention in Iraq because its participants chose to make one: they have made no such choice in Darfur or Zimbabwe and so nothing happens. (This is not to comment on the rights and wrongs of any of these interventions, merely to observe that the rights and wrongs are purely in the eye of the beholder.)

Furthermore, decision-making in the “international community” is wholly intergovernmental. There is no role for citizens, parliaments, elections or any of the other features of democracy. Nobody voted for the “international community”.

In recent times, wars such as the Iraq war of 2003 or the Kosovo war of 1999 might be attributed to the “international community”: neither received the approval of the United Nations. One could also say that the European colonisation of Africa in the last quarter of the 19th century was also an act of the “international community”. (I warned you to be suspicious of it.)

If the alternative to the “international community” is a simple neglect of the obligations that one country has to another, then I suppose it is something to be grateful for. Similarly, if it acts as an impulse towards multilateral solutions to global problems in place of unilateral ones, that is also probably preferable.

But political thought and practice has moved on. There are now realistic and thought-through proposals for international law and political institutions which would bring order and democracy to the international community. A parliamentary assembly at the World Trade Organisation, for example, would replace the “international community” with accountable, elected politicians debating and voting in public. I think that would be better.

Richard Laming is a member of the committee of Federal Union, and may be contacted at richard@richardlaming.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union.

More information

Wikipedia definition of “international community”

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