The United Nations have acted as an international vigilance committee to deal with aggression. Without authorization by formal constitution or charter, the major part of the burden has been borne and the leadership has been assumed by those with the greatest military and industrial power—Great Britain, Russia, China, and the United States. These four powers, meeting in Moscow, have now decided that this vigilance Committee should be succeeded by a permanent international government to keep the peace after the war is won.
These nations have agreed to fight the war to a finish against their respective enemies ( Japan is not at war with Russia). They have also agreed to promote the establishment at the earliest practicable date of "a general international organization, based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all peace-loving states, and open to membership by all such states, large and small, for the maintenance of international peace and security."
Is this new organization to be patterned after the League of Nations? The Declaration of Moscow does not say, but the tide of informed opinion will probably lead to certain important differences. The differences from the League should be, at the minimum, two. The first comes under the head of actual willingness to use force, if necessary, to restrain aggression; the second comes under the head of some assurance that the force will really be used by those who have overwhelming power at their command, and will be used promptly enough to prevent a disastrous world war, instead of merely to win it after hanging over the verge of defeat.
The Covenant of the League did provide for the ultimate use of force, along with provision for other "sanctions." But most of the pacifistically inclined nations which composed the League were not ready either morally or physically to take the obligation seriously. They supposed that, once the threat of force was engrossed on a piece of paper, aggressors would be frightened by the threat to such an extent that it need never be made good. They were in the weak position of a habitual bluffer in a poker game, who the first time his bluff was called (and also the second, third and fourth) had nothing in his hand. We have learned again by bitter experience that force is the ultimate arbiter. We should not make any threats without being willing and able to make them good. If we are willing and able to do this, and potential aggressors know it, only then do we stand a good chance that the threat will suffice.
Execution of the threat, moreover, must not be hedged about by so much political machinery and so many technicalities that there is strong uncertainty whether the great powers will act when the occasion arises, or whether they will act promptly. Last time the League sanctions were hamstrung on various occasions by the non-participation of the United States in the Covenant, by the reluctance of Britain or France to take the risk of war, by the eventual isolation of the Soviet Union and by the decision of the smaller powers to try to play safe by remaining neutral. If all could be sure in the future that Britain, Russia, the United States and China would act in unison to put down aggression, the cornerstone of security would be laid. No "international police force" which did not include the armies, navies and air forces of these powers would be capable of being more than a traffic policeman or a truant officer. But if it did include them, it would not need unanimous support from the other nations. For these reasons we favor the continuation of the nuclear alliance within the framework of the United Nations.
The sole hope for any militaristic or aggressive forces in the defeated nations which may survive this war, or may spring into being later, would be a rift within the Big Four. The failure of Britain and Russia to stay together, or of the Soviet Union and the United States to remain close friends, would be a victory for them. Likewise a chance of detaching China from any of the other three would give them hope. A mere spark of danger, favored by such a draft of air, might smolder and spring into flames at some future time, But if the four act as one, they will smother any fire at its inception. No Axis militarist movement would even have the chance to achieve domestic power if the Germans and the Japanese could be rendered absolutely certain that in any future war they would face the same heavy odds that will exist at the close of this one.
What assurance would these four have that none of their own number would break its promises and become an aggressor? Only the general understanding of the character and position of each. Before the war they were called even by their enemies the "satisfied" powers. They already possess great territory, stability and resources. Each requires peace for its own development, if not for its continued life. Nothing in this uncertain world is less likely than that one or more of them would deliberately attack any of the others.
But what about the other nations? What about the United Nations as a whole? Each of them is jealous of its status and rights. While none of the others has as much military power, actual and potential, as any of the big four, all will wish to be regarded as equals. We cannot create a world order without considering France or, in the second and third ranks of power, such nations as Turkey, Brazil, Holland, Sweden and the rest. Access to the resources of these nations will be necessary for the big four, either in war or in peace. The Moscow Declaration itself pledges a "general international organization, based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all peace-loving states and open to membership by all such states."
Careful thought will be necessary, in so far as such an organization is concerned with the use of force, not to repeat the mistakes of structure of the League', of Nations, and not to make others equally serious.
While a mere alliance for military defense may be a proper form for the Big Four, it could scarcely be extended to include the whole world. In an alliance of the traditional type, each partner is bound by the acts of all the others. Of course they usually consult before acting, but the possibility remains that a rash provocation by one may commit the arms of all. With a relatively small number of stable allies, it is easier to keep joint policy unified and under control. But extending the alliance indefinitely would result in a dilemma. Either the alliance would be at the mercy of the separate decisions of a large number of states, any one of which might plunge it into difficulties, or a requirement of unanimous consent would prevent prompt action and might inhibit any action at all
An alternative to such an alliance is a union which takes action as a result of majority vote—or a vote by some larger fraction. But here difficulties also arise. Are the several nations ready to delegate to a general international government enough of their power to remain bound, in matters of war and peace, by a vote that had gone against them? That may ultimately be possible, but at least for a transitional period it hardly seems likely. The big nations would not want to be bound by the decisions of the small. Small ones close to an aggressor, like Belgium, Holland and the Scandinavian countries, in this war, might wish for prudential reasons to remain neutral until the last possible moment; and indeed it might be in the interest of the anti-aggressor coalition to have them do so.
It would therefore seem to be in the interest both of the large nations and the small that the function of forestalling aggression by the threat of force be tacitly delegated, for the present at least, to a managable concert of the relatively few great military powers. One of the main lessons of the last peace is that political forms in which those who participate are not ready to play their full parts will not work and may become dangerous by creating a false sense of security. Another is that you cannot create a true international government merely by devising political machinery; a solid community of interests has to exist as a cement for a government. Therefore it is well to begin by building up these interests, without giving the world organization too heavy a load to carry at the outset. And it is absurd to think of a police force that is not the instrument of a government—a government at least potentially more powerful than any of its constituent parts. This is as true internationally as on a smaller scale.
The Big Four would of course, as individual states, be members of the world organization. It would be, their privilege, if proceeding against aggressors, to ask for the support of the organization as a whole. This support might be voted, and all members might comply with the majority vote. In this case there would come into being the equivalent of a truly international government and police force. It would also be possible, if support were requested and the organization as a whole did not wish to bind its members, for the nuclear alliance to ask and obtain its moral approval for action against aggression, plus adherence to the alliance by as many individual states as found it advisable to join the hostilities. That would be roughly parallel to the situation in the present war. Another possibility would be that the world organization would by majority vote call for action by the nuclear alliance, if the latter were not formally bound to obey a majority composed of the smaller states. Finally, in case the consensus of the world organization disapproved any use of force by the nuclear alliance in a specific instance, it could so vote, and the vote might have far-reaching effects, even though not legally binding on the Big Four. The way would always be open for a closer approach to a sovereign, international state with full military powers, and as time went on this ambition might be realized. Even at the beginning, however, much could be done without depriving the major military powers as a group either of the initiative or of the freedom of action which is theirs in practical fact, and which their peoples are probably not yet ready formally to surrender to a world state.
How can the small nations be sure that one or more thembers of the nuclear alliance itself will not become imperialistic aggressors? They cannot be completely sure. But the chance of this might be greater if there were no nuclear alliance. Certainly they have not fared well under the old "balance of power." They can rely to some degree on the changing climate of world opinion, on the fact that after a successful settlement of this war none of the great powers will be driven by fear to seek new "strategic frontiers", and on the fact that as industrialism spreads over the world, imperialism becomes a less feasible course, even for the short tun. Russia and the United States now have a settled anti-imperialist policy, while the British Empire is moving slowly toward converting its colonies into dominions, if not granting them complete freedom, rather than seeking to extend the colonial system. It is extremely unlikely that any of these nations or China would embark on a career of armed conquest.
It must be remembered that indispensable as the 'ultimate threat of force is in the process of government and the maintenance of the rule of law, it is far from the sole function of government, and is indeed esentially of no avail unless the parts of a state are held together by common interests of other kinds. Thre is no provision in the Constitution of the United States for coercion of the several states, and for many years the federal army was actually of less importance the military forces of the states. What led to the strengthening; of the federal government was the necesity for many common activities having to do with commerce, monetary and fiscal policies and the like. The United Nations will have much to do other than ordering armies and navies into action, if it is to amount to anything. It may at once do everything that the League of Nations did successfully—and that comprised a wide variety of activities, from arbitration of disputes and administration of mandates to the control of drugs and the work of the International Labor Organization and Office. It may do many other things of even more importance. If the nuclear alliance as a backlog of security successfully performs only its function of preventing the outbreak of major aggression, it will seldom or never be called into play, and the main international action can be of a more constructive nature, adapted to a truly representative international government.
Every time international organization is mentioned, extreme nationalists raise the issue of national "sovereignty." Is it conceivable that the United States would surrender any of its sovereign rights to a world government, or to some group of other nations? Sovereignty is one of those vague abstractions useful as fighting words but without much precision of meaning. The United States has in the past, made many treaties with other powers, and some military alliances, agreeing to various limitations on its day-to-day right to act with complete independence. It is now bound by tariff agreements, agreements to arbitrate disputes and agreements to cooperate in various other ways. No nation would possess sovereignty unless it had the right to make such agreements. There is no chance that this nation will completely merge its government with that of any future larger unit, at least for decades to come. But there is nothing either in our tradition or in our present interests that could prevent us from entering into a large number of agreements with other nations for a highly varied list of special purposes. It is in this way that valid and enduring international institutions are likely to be built up. Yet even at the start, there may be—and ought to be—an international judiciary before which disputes among members may be brought, an international assembly, constituted on some fair representative principle, for legislative purposes, and a council or cabinet to supervise such executive functions as may be delegated to the federation. We are not unfamiliar with the operation of such institutions even in the international field. They are the rudiments of government, and through their operation international constitutionalism would have its chance to grow. There might also be an international bill of rights—or, perhaps more fruitfully, of duties and privileges—to safeguard against anything like fascist oppression in the future. The Charter of the. United Nations already adopted is a good beginning at such a declaration.