Back Channels | Maybe West needs its own Hezbollah
With United Nations signaling that nationhood is passÃ©, other countries will need proxy militias.
By Kevin Ferris
Inquirer Commentary Page Editor
It took about four years to craft the Peace of Westphalia, the package of treaties that began to move Europe from empires to nation-states. In a little more than four weeks, the United Nations showed it’s ready to undermine that principle of international relations.
Westphalia, signed on Oct. 24, 1648, in MÃ¼nster, Germany, ended the Thirty Years War that pitted Sweden and France against Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. Its provisions included the usual ceding of territory and an exchange of prisoners, but they also granted a certain amount of religious freedom. Most important, the treaty laid the groundwork for a system of nation-states that recognized one another’s borders, entered into and honored agreements, and acknowledged the solemn sovereignty of neighbors.
The treaty asked, in the words of a contemporary English translation, “that this Peace and Amity be observ’d and cultivated with such a Sincerity and Zeal, that each Party shall endeavour to procure the Benefit, Honour and Advantage of the other; that thus on all sides they may see this Peace and Friendship… flourish, by entertaining a good and faithful Neighborhood.”
Its drafters’ hopes for a “perpetual” peace certainly didn’t work out, but their contributions are still felt. There’s a direct line from their years of peacemaking, their hoped-for “sincerity and zeal,” to the thoughtful work of many – certainly not all – at today’s United Nations. How ironic, then, that the U.N. is chipping away at its own nation-state foundation.
U.N. Resolution 1701 calls for a cease-fire between a nation-state, Israel, that was responding to an attack, and a terrorist group, Hezbollah, that crossed an internationally recognized border to kill and kidnap Israeli soldiers.
There are good reasons for a cease-fire: the innocent lives lost, the destruction of towns and infrastructure, the fragility of the democratic experiment in Lebanon. And there’s a slight – believe it when you see it – possibility of a disarmed Hezbollah if the beefed-up U.N. presence in southern Lebanon materializes.
But here are the main messages to Israel from 1701:
Defend yourself against the terrorists of Hezbollah and the world will blame you for the violence.
Strike too hard – disproportionately – and the world will urge a cease-fire, expecting you to honor it although your enemy pledged in the 1980s, “Our struggle will end only when [Israel] is obliterated. We recognize no treaty with it, no cease-fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.”
Expect to be condemned if you threaten Hezbollah’s sponsors, Syria and Iran – that would be widening the war, after all – but don’t expect the world to rebuke them for arming and financing the militia-for-hire they use against the “Benefit, Honour and Advantage” of another nation-state. Neither nation is even mentioned in 1701.
Maybe the U.N. is right. Perhaps the nation-state is passÃ©, and non-state actors such as Hezbollah are on the rise. If so, don’t expect the West to remain unarmed. Soon, enough Western nations will understand that it is conventional militaries that draw the world’s scorn; you can win on the battlefield but still lose in the media and the Security Council. Western nations will cultivate their own militias. Quietly. After all, one must ensure the veneer of grassroots populism U.N. members find so endearing about the current crop.
These Western militias would have rules, of course. The U.N. may wink and nod at the slaughter of civilians and rhetoric of genocide, but that doesn’t mean others can stomach it. For example, maybe these Western militias would only target the leaders and financiers of international terror. Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute says as much in a recent piece arguing that the U.S. government should lift its ban on assassinations: “Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad might be far less willing to facilitate the supply of Hezbollah and other terrorist proxies if they knew that the cost of their actions might be their own lives.”
If a militia mission goes awry, the West can simply mouth pieties about “freedom fighters” and the “legitimate aspirations of a people.” If, however, a terrorist leader is actually killed, the West can tsk-tsk along with the rest of the world. But only briefly. For after the mourning period, expect swift U.N. action against Western non-state actors who are not “entertaining a good and faithful Neighborhood.”