DOCTRINES OF IMPERIAL RESPONSIBILITY
The years between 1956 and 1966 have been the most fateful in the history of the relationship between the developed and the underdeveloped world. 1956 was the year of Suez, Hungary and Poland; 1966 is the year of Vietnam, Rhodesia, Guyana and the running sore of Santo Domingo. Between these two terminal dates no one in the underdeveloped “Third World” had been naive enough to believe that Big Power aspirations to arbitrate the affairs of the world had been surrendered. But neither was anyone willing to concede, nor, it seems, were the Big Powers willing to assert, an inalienable right of arbitration. To some extent, even the arrogance that usually characterized the assumption of Big Power responsibility had disappeared, though of course America’s continued insistence on excluding China from the United Nations and on bringing Cuba to book were indications to the contrary. But such aberrations notwithstanding, it was generally true that, in an age of worldwide de-colonization and increased Big Power rivalry, the demands of strategy and of tactics had called forth a more sophisticated approach.
For one thing, the proliferation of newborn states adorned by all the paraphernalia of twentieth century nationalism — flags, national anthems, diplomatic representatives, seats in the United Nations, and a bristling hypersensitivity to offence, real or imagined — had thrown the Big Powers into great confusion. Accustomed to dealing with small nations as satellites, they were now being expected to treat them as equals. Constantly striving to out do each other in asserting their respect, admiration and esteem for the new fledglings, when necessity forced them to call the tune, they did so apologetically.
To be sure, it did not take long for the new nations to discover that the various forms of aid proffered by the Big Powers were so many means of securing support for their manifold objectives, and that, in fact, the sometimes lavish bridal showers were intended to dispense with the ceremony in the haste to consummate a more perfect union. Gradually, it was appreciated that such tactics, as suave and as polished as they have been on occasion, merely disguised, but did not dispense with, Big Power determination to establish a series of international hegemonies over the small nations of the world. Vietnam, Rhodesia. Santo Domingo and Guyana merely furnish the most recent evidence of this determination and bid fair to return us to the conditions of international terrorism that obtained up to the Suez, Hungarian and Polish crises of late 1956.
The nature of the relationship between the developed and the underdeveloped world is today one of the crucial problems in international affairs. In its essence this relationship transcends and sharpens the ideological controversies with which we are so much more familiar. What it involves, basically, is the use of power, not power viewed objectively but power which, historically, has always been used in a certain way. The powerful have always lorded it over the less powerful, and have tended to use their power to protect their own interest and to usurp those of the weak. As a consequence, until our time, independence was reserved for the strong. Those who were too weak to win their independence were denied it. If they had it and could not maintain it, they lost it. Might was in fact right. The strong were fortunate, the weak merely unfortunate. No morals were involved.
Our own age, the twentieth century, has been the first to witness, through the League of Nations and the United Nations, some attempts at rationalizing the international use of power for protecting the interests of the weak. Before that, the only concept of international control, the principle of the “balance of power”, was intended solely for the strong. It primarily regulated the relations existing between the “Powers” and the “non-Powers”, and then only in so far as the interest of one or other of the former were tied to those of the latter. It was a bad concept. Far from promoting international peace it encouraged strife since not only could equilibrium be miscalculated, but because the only way to tell whether a “balance” existed was to test it. But more than that it was bad because it did little for the weak. Nothing save convenience, self-denial, and the sometime risk of offending another great Power, existed to check the depredations of large nations against small ones. The relations between large and small nations have more often than not been, as Hobbes conceived them to be between people before the institution of civil government, “nasty and brutish.”
The fact is that conquest has been part of the natural relationship between large and small states. It has been one aspect of the doctrine of imperial responsibility. It has not been the only aspect for the simple reason that there is not one single doctrine of imperial responsibility, but several. Historically, conquest has been the first of several doctrines of imperialism, and when conquest was neither popular nor practical it was replaced by the notion of intervention. Intervention merely provided the means whereby a large state could, short of outright conquest, exercise timely strategic control over the affairs of a smaller one. To this end intervention, strange as it may seem, actually represented an advance in the relationship between states.