Conditions Required for an Effective Free Association of Nations

A recurrent thought for those seeking to bring about the unity of the human race is that there should be a way to prevent war through the joining together of nations into some form of federation or league of nations, or in what might be called the United Nations.  After the horrendous experience of two global conflagrations and numerous local or regional wars during the 20th century, people were actively seeking a solution that would reduce or eliminate the possibility of warfare.

Sri Aurobindo explores this issue and points out the inherent weakness, under current circumstances, in such a program.  “One of these was the elimination of war by a stricter international law administered by an international Court and supported by the sanction of the nations which shall be enforced by all of them against any offender.  Such a solution is chimerical unless it is immediately followed up by farther and far-reaching developments.  For the law given by the Court must be enforced either by an alliance of some of the stronger Powers as, for instance, the coalition of the victorious allies dominating the rest of Europe, or by a concert of all the European Powers or else by a United States of Europe or some other form of European federation.  A dominating alliance of great Powers would be simply a repetition in principle of the system of Metternich and would inevitably break down after some lapse of time, while a Concert of Europe must mean, as experience has shown, the uneasy attempt of rival groupings to maintain a precarious understanding which may postpone but cannot eventually prevent fresh struggles and collisions.  In such imperfect systems the law would only be obeyed so long as it was expedient, so long only as the Powers who desired new changes and readjustments not admitted by the others did not consider the moment opportune for resistance.”

The rearmament of Germany between the First and Second World Wars, in contravention to the signed treaty between Germany and the victorious European powers, is a good example of the breakdown predicted by Sri Aurobindo.

“The Law within a nation is only secure because there is a recognised authority empowered to determine it and to make the necessary changes and possessed of a sufficient force to punish all violation of its statutes.  An international or an inter-European law must have the same advantages if it is to exercise anything more than a merely moral force which can be set at nought by those who are strong enough to defy it and who find an advantage in the violation.  Some form of European federation, however loose, is therefore essential if the idea behind these suggestions of a new order is to be made practically effective, and once commenced, such a federation must necessarily be tightened and draw more and more towards the form of a United States of Europe.”

The limitations we note in the power of the United Nations to prevent warfare are mainly due to this type of weakness.  The existence of a veto power in the hands of a number of adverse and ambitious powers, combined with the development of power blocs, and the lack of an independent control and enforcement regimen, make the current formation of the United Nations at best such a “moral force” as Sri Aurobindo has described.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 10, The United States of Europe, pp. 80-81

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