The Endless Fantasy of American Power
Neither Trump Nor Biden Aims to Demilitarize Foreign Policy
AT THE close of his career Talleyrand observed to his friends in London that he had finally reached the conclusion that "intervention" and "nonintervention" were "practically synonymous."
There is more than a superficial similarity between the state of affairs existing in the year 1833, when Talleyrand startled his English admirers, and that prevailing in this year of grace 1947. The major Powers loudly protest their respect for the sovereignty of weaker nations and vehemently decry any measures that seem to infringe their rights. Yet now, as then, it is notorious that in practice the lesser states are being subjected to every variety of intervention in their sovereign concerns whenever a major Power believes it can thereby serve its own interests.
Confusion worse confounded is enshrouding the thinking of an increasing number of people in the western democracies. Here in the United States there seems no longer to be any general regard for the moral values upon which the doctrine of nonintervention has been based. We seem to be oblivious of the fact that the Atlantic Charter, the Charter of the United Nations, the treaties upon which the inter-American system rests, and the official pronouncements of the objectives sought by the United States in the Second World War, obligate this Government and other governments to respect the sovereignty and independence of all nations great or small, as well as the inherent right of all free peoples to self-determination, and that intervention in the national concerns of any other state is a violation of those basic obligations. "Intervention" seems again to be becoming almost synonymous with "nonintervention."
Hall gives a precise definition of the term "intervention" in his "International Law:"
Intervention takes place when a state intervenes in the relations of two other states without the consent of both or either of them, or when it intervenes in the domestic affairs of another state, irrespective of the will of the latter, for the purpose of either maintaining or altering the actual conditions of things within it. Prima facie intervention is a hostile act because it constitutes an attack upon the independence of the state subjected to it.
The fundamental issue which is at stake is the right of sovereign peoples to preserve their freedom even though their countries may be small and weak. Are peoples who have achieved independence freely to enjoy the liberties legitimately derived from independence? In the case of a strong nation that right is not likely to be jeopardized. It is only in the case of the smaller and weaker countries that an infringement of that right is to be feared. It is, therefore, equally patent that intervention must likewise be an act inspired by the assumption that "might makes right."
However plausible may be the motives alleged in justification, intervention is inherently an act in violation of rights which, under every precept of the public law that civilization has evolved, should be inviolable, an act of hostility, and an act rendered possible only because of the superior force of the intervening state.
In a study of the causes and effects of intervention, no better illustrations can be found than those afforded in the record of this country's relations with the other American Republics.
The history of our hemispheric policy may readily be divided into five chapters.
Before the proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, while the American people had watched with sympathy the efforts of the Latin American colonies to win their independence, the immaturity of the United States together with the lack of communications with the rest of the hemisphere prevented the development of more than nominal relations.
After 1823 came a period of some 40 years when our policy was primarily one of expansion. The concept of "manifest destiny" was uppermost. The first phase of manifest destiny brought under United States jurisdiction all territory lying between the Atlantic and the Pacific. The war with Mexico was frankly a war of conquest. Had it not been for the contest between the North and the South which at length flamed into the Civil War, the impulse of manifest destiny might well have pushed the frontiers of the United States far south of where they eventually were drawn.
Yet during those decades -- decades when the doctrine that might makes right was undeniably predominant in our national policy -- the United States refrained from overt intervention in the domestic affairs of her American neighbors. This Government's policy generally followed the lines indicated by Martin Van Buren in his instruction of June 9, 1829, to the United States Minister in Colombia:
It is the ancient and well settled policy of this Government not to interfere with the internal concerns of any foreign country. However deeply the President might regret changes in the government of the neighboring American states which he might deem inconsistent with the free and liberal principles which lie at the foundation of our own, he would not on that account advise or countenance a departure from this policy.
After the Civil War even this "ancient and well settled policy" was scrapped. From then until the close of the century this Government, in its dealings with the other peoples of the hemisphere, pursued a high-handed course which flagrantly disregarded their sovereign rights, which manifested itself by persistent interference in their domestic affairs, and which brooked no question of its right under the Monroe Doctrine to exercise hegemony over all the Americas and to deal with the other American Republics as though they were protectorates. The note sent by Secretary Olney to Great Britain at the time of the Venezuela boundary controversy announced this asserted right in categorical terms.
Following the Spanish-American War, this country, for a brief period, dabbled in imperialism. Those were the days when politicians like Albert J. Beveridge proclaimed in the United States Senate that "God has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns. . . . He has made us adept in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples. . . . This is the definite mission of America. . . . Pray God the time may never come when mammon and the life of ease will so debase our blood that we will fear to shed it for the flag and its imperial destiny."
The imagination of a large number of Americans was captivated by the idea that it was their moral obligation to "clean up" those countries that seemed amenable, and particularly some of those in the western hemisphere. The Anglo-Saxon race is often prone to find a convenient moral justification for whatever it chooses to do in its own self-interest.
The logical result was the so-called (Theodore) Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which maintained that in order to safeguard the Doctrine the United States should, by force if necessary, prevent the growth of any condition in another American Republic which could conceivably give rise to European interference. The Corollary's scope was obviously as broad as this Government chose to make it. It frankly sanctioned a continuing policy of intervention.
This innovation bore its first fruits in the establishment by the United States of customs receivers and financial and military advisers in many of the smaller American Republics, solely responsible to Washington, and all of them exercising a measure of control sufficient to determine the internal policies of the sovereign countries to which they were sent. This alien interference inevitably paved the way before long for the military occupation of such countries as Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, and the obliteration of every vestige of self-government in those countries. It naturally aroused bitter popular hostility toward the United States in every nation south of the Rio Grande.
The fifth and final stage in our hemispheric policy began when Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed the policy of the Good Neighbor early in 1933. That concept of hemispheric policy was implemented in the autumn of the same year when the United States signed, and later ratified, the Inter-American Convention prohibiting the intervention by any American state "directly or indirectly" in the internal or external affairs of any other American state.
It was that solemn commitment on the part of the United States, and the practical application immediately given to it through our abrogation of all treaties granting us rights of intervention -- such as the treaty with Cuba which contained the Platt Amendment and the treaty of 1903 with Panama -- which constituted the foundation upon which the inter-American system has been built.
That system represents the most enlightened as well as the most effective regional association of sovereign nations that the world has yet seen. It is enlightened because by the pacts and understandings upon which it is based all of the 21 countries composing it, great or small, enjoy a status of complete equality. It is effective because the coöperative measures -- whether political, economic or military -- to which they are all pledged are undertaken voluntarily. They are not undertaken under coercion for the selfish advantage of the most powerful member of the group.
Because the United States pledged itself in 1933 to respect the sovereign rights of its American neighbors, because it followed this pledge with a policy of friendly coöperation, it secured on December 7, 1941, a measure of genuine support from the 20 other American Republics which it never could have won by any form of domination. The inter-American system represents, during these crucial years in world affairs, a mighty bulwark of security for the people of the United States. It also represents an assurance of safety for every other American Republic. But it could never have been created, nor could it today survive, had it not been built up upon the foundation of nonintervention.
There can be no enduring international order that is not based upon voluntary coöperation between peoples. No such coöperation can exist if the smaller members of the family of nations are exposed to the continuing threat that their liberties may be restricted or that their destinies may be determined for them whenever their more powerful neighbors see fit. The very ability of smaller countries to survive as independent states is contingent upon the willingness of the major Powers to abide by the principles of the doctrine of nonintervention.
Emphasis upon these truths seems all the more necessary because of the change which has taken place during recent years in the point of view of many here in the United States. During the earlier years of the present century that element in American public opinion represented by the anti-imperialists waged a persistent campaign against the acts of intervention perpetrated by the United States in the other American Republics. They were against the invasion of Mexico, and against the military occupation of Haiti and of the Dominican Republic undertaken during the Wilson Administration. They were against the policies of the Coolidge Administration in Central America. They protested on the ground that such acts and such policies were immoral, in flagrant disregard of the liberties of independent peoples, and that they made our repeated professions of respect for international law nothing more than rank hypocrisy. Those protests undoubtedly influenced public opinion. They played no small part in bringing about a salutary change in the inter-American policy of the United States.
It is a strange anomaly that many of those responsible for this change in our hemispheric policy should today constitute the spearhead of interventionist sentiment. Before the Second World War, and during the war itself, these same individuals were demanding that this Government overthrow the régimes then in power in such great South American states as Brazil and Peru, as well as in several Central American countries. They complained that these and other Latin American governments were not "democratic;" they said that the United States possessed a moral obligation to see to it that no governments should hold office within the Americas save those that in their eyes were sufficiently "democratic;" they insisted that Nazism and Fascism would otherwise rule triumphantly over the New World.
It apparently made no difference that the United States was specifically precluded from any form of intervention in the Americas by the Montevideo Convention of 1933, and that had these demands been granted this Government would have been guilty of a flagrant violation of its most solemn pledges. It apparently made equally little difference that if the history of our hemispheric relations proved anything at all it proved that the surest means of disrupting Pan American solidarity was for the United States to revert to those interventionist policies that were the nightmare of Latin America. Nor did these "noninterventionists," now turned "interventionists," seem to be able to grasp that at the very moment when the United States was menaced by powerful enemies in Europe and in Asia nothing could have better served the interests of the Axis Powers than to have the United States resort to a policy which must inevitably wreck Pan American unity.
An attempt to analyze the causes of this change of attitude on the part of so many anti-imperialists and liberals may be useful.
It was certainly due in part to the question of "whose ox is gored." Much of the earlier interference by the United States in the Caribbean and Central America had been instigated by powerful financial and commercial interests that wished this Government to bolster "safe" governments with which these special interests could "do business." To many American liberals, consequently, a policy of nonintervention formerly implied that the political parties in Latin America with which they sympathized would be more likely eventually to gain the upper hand. It was less the doctrine of nonintervention that they upheld than a policy which they thought would promote the ideologies upon which they themselves were bent.
It must also be remembered that in the 1930's a number of prominent political exiles from Latin America had come to the United States. Many of these, in an attempt to bring about the downfall of the governments they opposed, lost no opportunity of insisting that the American people must in the sacred name of democracy overthrow every government in the Americas which failed to measure up to perfectionist standards. It is perhaps scarcely necessary to add that had the United States undertaken to oppose governments in Latin America which these same political refugees supported, the heavens would have resounded with their outcry against Yankee imperialism.
Finally, there is much evidence that this clamor for United States intervention in Latin America was assiduously stimulated by certain Europeans who had only recently reached these shores. Some of them obtained influential positions in a number of left-wing periodicals. They preached the need for United States intervention "in a righteous cause" week in and week out. Their outpourings had no little impact upon the thinking of many liberals in this country. It is perhaps wrong to question the sincerity of all of these propagandists. But few of them had any knowledge of the political evolution of the Latin American peoples, and little realization of the fundamental distinction that should justly be drawn between the traditional dictatorships that have appeared from time to time on the Latin American scene and the totalitarian régimes which sprang up in Europe during the past 30 years. In any event, they had no individual interest in the preservation of inter-American solidarity, nor in the prevention of a renewal of the antagonism and suspicion toward the United States which had for so many generations poisoned this country's relations with its southern neighbors. It is equally certain that even before the close of the war some of these European propagandists were deliberately pursuing tactics which in their belief would undermine the influence of the United States in the western hemisphere, weaken the position of this Government at the moment when the peace settlements came up for negotiation, and make it far less likely that a united western hemisphere could play any decisive part in determining the nature of the future international order.
The American Republic with which the United States has traditionally had the least cordial relationship has been Argentina. This has been due to several causes. While Argentina buys a large volume of our manufactured goods, we buy relatively little from her. Many of her chief exports, such as meat, are excluded from our market by quarantine and quota restrictions. Until recently there has been little communication between the two countries. Argentina's commercial and financial interests have for more than a century been closely linked with those of Great Britain. The Argentine people, by reason of their racial origins, their cultural affinities and their history, have peculiarly close ties with Europe.
As one of the greatest South American states Argentina has long sought to exercise an influence in inter-American affairs equivalent to that of the United States. A nation of vast natural resources, with a rapidly-growing population, and of great geographical extension, Argentina is proudly confident of her future destiny as a Great Power. There is no country of Latin America where the nation's sovereignty is more jealously upheld by the masses of the people. The Argentines are strong individualists. They have inherited the traditional Spanish passion for individual freedom even though they have at times tolerated national governments which have been dictatorial or corrupt, so long as these refrained from undue interference in their daily lives. Their constitution is closely modeled upon that of the United States. They have enjoyed stable government during the better part of a century. As the years have passed, national, provincial and municipal government has gradually become more truly representative.
Nevertheless a more equitable form of democracy has for many years been the aspiration of a majority of the Argentine people. It was for that reason that when President Roosevelt visited Buenos Aires in 1936 he was accorded an ovation by the masses of the Argentine people. He symbolized to them a system of liberal democracy under which the common man was not forgotten, and under which every citizen might obtain economic as well as political security. The policies he had inaugurated here made them realize, for the first time, that the United States stood for something other than that gross materialism which anti-American agitators had so often told them was the dominating force in American life.
The year 1936 should have marked the commencement of a new era in the relations between Argentina and the United States. The Good Neighbor Policy had already eradicated much of the extreme hostility toward this country which had long been prevalent in Argentina. The value to all of the American peoples of a more closely integrated regional system was becoming increasingly evident as the war clouds loomed in Europe and in the Far East. Public opinion in both countries was receptive to the idea that a closer understanding was needed in the interest of both nations.
The election as President of Argentina of Dr. Roberto Ortiz seemed to make such a development more likely. For Dr. Ortiz saw eye to eye with President Roosevelt in his recognition of the dangers which European totalitarianism represented to the western hemisphere. He was also imbued with a sincere desire to liberalize Argentine democracy and to remedy the social inequities resulting from a system under which a small minority controlled nine-tenths of the land, the natural resources, and the wealth of the nation, and the majority of the Argentine people -- the tenant farmers and the agricultural workers, industrial labor and the white collar employees -- shared but little, if at all, in the profits which they helped to produce.
These prospects for a better understanding between Argentina and the United States had scant chance to materialize. President Ortiz became seriously ill soon after his inauguration, and was stricken with blindness. He was forced to resign. He was succeeded by a vice president who was narrowly nationalistic, reactionary to an extreme degree, and controlled by influences notoriously opposed to any form of coöperation with the United States. So long as Dr. Ortiz held the reins of government, Argentina and the United States coöperated effectively. At the first conference of the American Foreign Ministers, held in Panama immediately after the outbreak of the Second World War, the Argentine and United States delegations acted in entire harmony. At the following conference, held in Havana in 1940, the Argentine delegation signed all of the far-reaching commitments contained in the inter-American agreements there negotiated.
But after Vice-President Castillo replaced President Ortiz, a change in Argentina's policy became at once apparent. At the next conference of Foreign Ministers held in Rio de Janeiro in 1942, after Pearl Harbor, the Argentine Government at first attempted to persuade several neighboring nations to pursue a course of strict neutrality. When these efforts failed, the Argentine delegation was compelled, in view of pressure from the other Latin American Republics, to join with them in a resolution providing for the severance of all relations between the New World and the Axis Powers. The Argentine Government later, however, postponed carrying out the commitments set forth in the resolution which it had signed.
The Castillo Government thereby ran counter to the trend of popular opinion throughout the Americas. It sacrificed the hemispheric influence which Argentina had long possessed because of her position and because of the exceptional capacity which so many of her leading statesmen had displayed. The Government became highly unpopular at home. The increasing corruption and inefficiency of the Executive, and the steps which it took to muzzle the Argentine Congress, helped to bring on a political crisis.
In June 1943, the Government was overthrown in a revolution headed by officers of the Argentine Army and Navy. A military dictatorship was installed under the Presidency of General Ramirez. It was at first thought that the revolution would bring with it that break with the Axis Powers to which Argentina was committed, and a return to that policy of coöperation in the defense of the western hemisphere which President Ortiz had favored. But the move was opposed by a powerful clique among the Army officers. Among these the dominating personality was Colonel Domingo Perón. In January 1944, Colonel Perón manœuvred the enforced resignation of General Ramirez as President of the Provisional Government, and his replacement by the Vice-President, General Farrell.
Until that moment the policy of the United States had been governed by the same principles as those which had been scrupulously observed from the time the Good Neighbor Policy was first proclaimed. As soon as it became apparent that the Provisional Government established in Argentina under General Ramirez was in control of the Republic, the United States, ascertaining by consultation that all of the other American Republics believed that official relations should be maintained with the provisional régime, accorded official recognition to that Government. The 19 other American nations likewise recognized the Government of General Ramirez. The act of recognition carried with it no implication that either the United States or the other American Republics favored the assumption of executive authority in Argentina by a military and naval junta. Recognition was accorded because the other American states believed the interests of the hemisphere would be better served if all of the American nations were on speaking terms, and because of their common conviction that the influence of the other American Governments, and the effect of public opinion in the other American democracies, could be more effectively exercised in the preservation of inter-American solidarity, and in behalf of a prompt return by the Argentine people to democratic and constitutional government, if official relations were maintained between the authorities who were in control of Argentina and the Governments of the other American Republics.
When the figurehead Ramirez was replaced by the figurehead Farrell, the nature and even the composition of the Argentine Provisional Goverment had undergone scarcely any other change. But the policy of the United States was suddenly transformed. The Department of State decided unilaterally, and without resort to that form of consultation with its American neighbors envisaged in every inter-American agreement concluded during the preceding ten years, to deny recognition to the Farrell Government. It demanded similar action on the part of the other American Republics. The adoption of such a course could obviously be interpreted in only one way in Latin America. It meant that the United States desired the overthrow of the Farrell Government. When, after a few months, mere non-recognition failed to bring about such a result, the United States, again unilaterally, resorted to a series of coercive measures equivalent to economic and financial sanctions. The pretext advanced by the State Department as justification for its attitude was that the Argentine Government had interfered in Bolivia and had sponsored Bolivian revolutionaries believed to be acting under Nazi influence. This argument carried little weight in Latin America since it was notorious that these intrigues had been carried on while General Ramirez was still President and that General Farrell had had no part in them. Later the justification given was changed to the charge that the Argentine Government had not complied with the letter of its inter-American commitments.
The refusal of the United States to recognize the Farrell Government, its querulous insistence that the other American Republics meekly follow suit, and its subsequent efforts to bring about the elimination of the Government by financial and economic sanctions, represented undeniable intervention in the internal concerns of the Argentine people.
As might have been anticipated by any one possessing even a rudimentary grasp of Latin American psychology, these acts ot intervention produced the precise reverse of the desired results. Argentina, which had been an exceedingly unpopular member of the family of American nations since the Rio Conference of 1942, quickly began to receive evidences of sympathy from her Spanish-American neighbors. Within the Republic, the régime, which because of its military and unconstitutional character was genuinely distasteful to the rank and file of the Argentines, steadily gained popular backing. The attempt of the United States to coerce his government caused the average Argentine almost automatically to rally to its support.
Changes in the personnel of the State Department temporarily eased the situation. The Inter-American Conference at Mexico City in 1945 brought about a renewal of relations between the United States and Argentina, and the subsequent admission of Argentina to the United Nations.
The Provisional Government later that year announced that national elections would be held in February 1946. Colonel Perón became a candidate for the Presidency. His opponent, Dr. Tamborini, a highly respected member of the Radical Party, was backed by a number of other liberal groups. Because the Radical Party had for a generation been undoubtedly supported by a majority of the Argentine voters, and because Colonel Perón had no political organization, it was generally taken for granted that in any honest election Dr. Tamborini would be the winner. These estimates failed, however, to take into account several important considerations.
For the first time since the days of the great leader of the Radicals, Hipólito Irigoyen, a presidential candidate was not only proclaiming his intention of improving the lot of the underprivileged, but had already taken practical steps to improve their lot. For Colonel Perón, when he held office in the Ramirez and Farrell Governments, had brought about the adoption of social security legislation, of wage increases, and of bonus payments which had directly benefited every working man and woman in the Argentine Republic. He had consequently become the idol of the poorer classes -- the descamisados, or shirtless, as the Argentines call them.
In addition, the Radical Party, powerful as it had once been, was now torn with dissension. A wing of the party came out in support of Perón. While most of the conservatives refused to take any open part in the campaign, their hatred of Communism, and their fear that the popular-front government which Dr. Tamborini must head if he were elected would be subject to Communist influence, made many of them quietly work for the election of Colonel Perón.
It remains, however, an open question whether Colonel Perón could have been elected under normal circumstances in view of the popular detestation of the military dictatorships in which he had played so considerable a part during the preceding two years, and in view of the desire of the average citizen for internal peace, political stability and liberal democracy. What decided the outcome of the elections was the further attempt of the Department of State to intervene in Argentina.
The Department had for some time, through the then American Ambassador in Buenos Aires, and through repeated official admonitions, been exhorting the Argentine people to get rid of their government and replace it with one which was "democratic." Colonel Perón emerged as the chief devil in the picture painted by Washington. In Latin America generally, and especially in Argentina, he consequently seemed to be undergoing individual persecution by the Colossus of the North. This issue was not destined to make for his unpopularity. Nor did his political henchmen fail to take full advantage of the opportunity so afforded. But a far greater opportunity was to come.
Less than two weeks before the national elections the Department of State, with much publicity, issued a so-called Blue Book which contained a voluminous series of charges against Colonel Perón and many of his former associates in the Provisional Government, purporting to prove their connivance with Axis agents. Had these charges been submitted to the other American Governments for their consideration before the commencement of the Presidential campaign, and had the American Republics then jointly vouched for the authenticity of the charges, the Argentine electorate might have put an end to the presidential aspirations of Colonel Perón. But published as they were at the turning point of the campaign, they were necessarily regarded by every Argentine as an attempt of the United States to defeat Colonel Perón and to elect his opponent. As a leading statesman in another Latin American country said shortly afterward, "Colonel Perón owes his election to the United States."
In elections which were undoubtedly as fair as any elections ever held in Argentina, and free from any evidence of coercion or of corruption, Colonel Perón was elected President by a substantial popular majority and by an overwhelming majority in the electoral college. The intervention of the United States ended in an abject failure to achieve its objectives. It diminished the moral standing and the great prestige which this country had derived from the Good Neighbor Policy. It undermined the confidence of the other American peoples in the good faith of this Government.
Similar results have attended every attempt of this Government to intervene in the sovereign concerns of the other American states. Intervention has never been of any political or social benefit to the countries in which we have intervened, and of no lasting material benefit. To the people of the United States it has brought only the hatred and suspicion of their neighbors. It must inevitably destroy that reciprocal and friendly confidence without which regional unity and regional coöperation cannot exist.
But the factor perhaps most responsible for the recent growth of interventionist sentiment in the United States had no connection with the western hemisphere. It had its origin in the events which culminated in the establishment of the Franco Government in Spain.
The Spanish Civil War was more than a military rebellion against a Republican Government. It was far more than one of those social upheavals with which the Spanish people have been scourged for a century and a half. It was fundamentally a war of rival ideologies. In such a war the extremes of fanaticism are bound to show themselves.
From the outset it was well known that Franco was backed by the Italian Fascists and that the Republican Government was being helped by the Soviet Union. Had the British Government pursued its traditional policy it would have accorded belligerent rights to both of the contending factions. On the ground, however, that General Franco possessed a greater command of the seas than his Republican opponents, and that a free flow of arms to both sides would have increased the danger of a general conflagration in a Europe already at the brink of war, Britain accepted the French proposal of "nonintervention" ostensibly designed to prevent all foreign interference. How shoddy a façade this policy of nonintervention proved to be needs no present elaboration. Before the end of the Civil War, Italian and German troops were openly fighting at the side of Franco, and the Nazis and Fascists were using Spanish civilians as guinea pigs upon whom to try out their new weapons of destruction; in the Mediterranean, Italian submarines were sinking Russian ships carrying munitions to the Spanish Republicans; and the French Government was at times sealing its frontiers, and at others secretly shipping airplanes and munitions to the Republican forces.
The nauseating hypocrisy of the so-called "nonintervention policy" of the European Powers, which our own Government unfortunately supported, sickened many Americans, as well as many Europeans. The doctrine of nonintervention became a stench in the nostrils, just as the intrinsically righteous word "appeasement" became a term of reproach after the use made of it in 1938. It lost its moral significance. The belief has grown that a policy of nonintervention need by no means necessarily be determined by any question of law or of morals, but that its application depends rather upon considerations of sheer expediency.
The extent to which the doctrine of "nonintervention" has now been prostituted could not be more clearly demonstrated than by the events of the summer of 1947. The reason officially given by the Soviet Government for its rejection of the Marshall plan was that it implied interference by a major Power -- namely, the United States -- in the internal concerns of other sovereign nations. The issue of nonintervention has been used ad nauseam by Soviet propagandists to arouse anti-American feeling in Europe. Yet at the very moment that the Soviet Government was thus publicly upholding the rights of small nations, the Kremlin was secretly threatening the supposedly independent countries of eastern Europe with dire consequences if they dared participate in a reconstruction program in which they were vitally interested. To such an extreme was the intervention of the Soviet Union carried that Czechoslovakia, whose prosperity depends upon her ability to trade with the west as well as with the east, was actually forced to cancel her official acceptance of the invitation to attend the Marshall Plan Conference.
These most recent evidences of Soviet policy have been vehemently denounced in the western democracies. Yet public opinion in this country seems to be blandly unaware that a parallel might be drawn between the policy pursued by the United States in the past three years toward some of its neighbors, and the policy of the Soviet Union toward the smaller states of eastern Europe. In their violation of a basic moral principle the two policies are precisely the same. They differ only in degree. In each case a major Power has undertaken to dictate to smaller countries in its neighborhood how to run their own affairs. Such domination of its neighbors by the preponderant Power in any region can lead only to the establishment of a sphere of influence, and the relegation of all of the lesser states within that region to the rôle of protectorates.
One salient truth must emerge from any objective analysis of recent international relations, and of the evils to which the abandonment of the doctrine of nonintervention has given rise. That truth is that if in the world of the future the intermediate and the lesser nations are to survive as independent states -- and many of them have contributed far more to the progress of mankind, to the growth of international morality, and to the construction of a decent world order than their more powerful neighbors -- the unilateral intervention of any major Power in the sovereign concerns of a weaker country must be permanently outlawed.
The chief argument, and the only argument worthy of serious consideration, advanced by those who claim that the doctrine of nonintervention is no longer applicable in the modern world, is the argument that peace is jeopardized whenever the people of any country permit the establishment of a Fascist régime within their boundaries. The claim is made that since the four major Powers have announced their determination to eradicate Fascism it is their obligation to assure themselves that no government shall remain in power if in their judgment it shows signs of Fascist tendencies.
The interventionists cite the rise of Fascism in Italy and of Nazism in the Third Reich as instances which prove their contention that intervention in a sovereign country is justified in order to prevent the establishment of militaristic and totalitarian dictatorships which, if they can obtain a strangle hold upon their own people, can then embark upon aggressive policies abroad and inflict further wars upon mankind.
No one would deny that if the United Nations is to maintain world peace the future rise in any country of a régime similar to that of Hitler, of Mussolini or of the Japanese warlords must be prevented. It is equally plain that any government which deprives its nationals of their essential individual liberties, or which adopts policies that threaten the security or the legitimate rights of neighboring peoples, is a potential menace to world peace, and should not be permitted by the community of nations to continue to jeopardize the welfare of the rest of humanity. The issue here is whether actual or potential lawbreakers should be dealt with by the law enforcement agencies established by the entire community of nations, or whether they can equally safely be repressed by any individual state that possesses sufficient force for the purpose.
The community depends upon its police agencies to keep the peace within that locality, and to prevent the infringement of the legal rights of any individual member of that community. In any community where a police force exists, a citizen assuming the right to dominate his neighbor by force, save in self-defense, would himself be guilty of a breach of the peace. Any other system would spell anarchy.
The same principle must surely apply in the relations between the members of the family of nations. The United Nations exists. It is functioning. The Charter lays down with detailed precision the obligations and responsibilities of each member state. If the Security Council or the Assembly reaches the conclusion that the internal or external policies of any state, whether a member of the United Nations or not, represent a threat to world peace, or a menace to the legitimate welfare of other sovereign peoples, the United Nations is obligated to undertake such preventive measures, or such remedial measures, as circumstances may warrant.
Such action has already been taken in the case of the Franco Government in Spain. The specific measures adopted in this case were, of course, both stupid and ineffective. But the precedent was clearly established. The United Nations asserted its authority to condemn the nature and the policies of the government of a sovereign country and to take steps calculated to bring about its replacement, on the ground that that government constituted a menace to world peace and to the highest interests of the community of nations.
The United Nations has therefore already shown itself prepared to deal with the dangers specified by those who have been insisting upon the need for the abandonment of the doctrine of nonintervention. If the United Nations retains the exclusive right to interpose the necessary safeguards against such dangers it can also protect the family of nations from the equally grave danger that intervention may be undertaken to further the policies of aggrandizement and of domination of some one major Power. We would thereby likewise make certain that any demand for intervention would be publicly debated by the United Nations and that the salutary influence of world public opinion would be brought to bear before such a step was taken.
We pay much lip service here in the United States to the cause of international democracy. We complacently reiterate our official approval of "the principle of the sovereign equality of all states, large and small." Yet until the American people realize that the principles of democracy consecrated within their own Constitution, which grant to each citizen the fullest measure of individual liberty compatible with the welfare of the majority of his fellows, are equally essential to a democratic international order, we will continue to witness a continuing disintegration of the moral standards on which international law is founded.
Canning termed public opinion "a power more tremendous than was perhaps ever yet brought into action in the history of mankind." If we are to create a democratic world order in which the just rights of the weak are to be respected, American public opinion must awaken to the realities of this most urgent moment. It must make certain that this tremendous power now be exercised so that international morality may have a rebirth.
The conscience of the western world was first awakened to the moral issues underlying the doctrine of nonintervention by such great leaders of the British Liberal Party as John Bright. America needs a similar inspired moral leadership today. American public opinion must insist that this Government's policies further in practice, by the examples which they set, the creation of an order under which even the smallest nation will be secure from Great Power intervention, direct or indirect. There can be no free or peaceful world so long as any major Power can dominate its weaker neighbors.