Save yourself from hell

Publish date 19-01-2023

by Edoardo Greppi

The role of international law and diplomacy in the pursuit and maintenance of peace

In the first half of the twentieth century, two terrible world wars (which in reality centered on a single "European civil war") led the best statesmen of our continent to seek solutions that would allow them to overcome what Luigi Einaudi had called «the filthy myth of the sovereign state".

In the immediate post-war period, therefore, the process of European integration took its first steps. This, moreover, was placed within a broader framework: institutionalized multilateralism. The States, protagonists of the life of international relations, in the centuries of the modern age, have given themselves rules, international law. The international community is made up of just under 200 states. They qualify as "sovereigns", i.e. independent in the literal sense of the term: they do not recognize (and, therefore, do not "depend on") a superior authority. They themselves give themselves the rules for social life.

The first requirement that emerged, in history, was a consequence of the observation that a plurality of States meant that each of them is the bearer of interests, and that this can lead to conflicts between these different interests. Hence, the primary need to configure international law as a "law of coexistence", that is, made up of rules to settle disputes, to heal conflicts.

Since the second half of the 19th century, however, there has been an awareness that plurality of interests does not necessarily lead to conflicts. Many of these interests, that is, are clearly common to the states. Just think of postal services, radio and telecommunications, the fight against disease. In the second half of the 19th century, the States therefore gave birth to the first international organizations, whose constituent acts are multilateral international treaties. The phenomenon of the creation of international organizations as a tool for giving life to stable, permanent, organic forms of cooperation then developed enormously in the 20th century, with a significant acceleration after the Second World War. As a result, international law has come to take on a new connotation, that of a "law of cooperation".

After the First World War, the States established the League of Nations, to place the most important of the common interests at the top of this "law of cooperation": peace. The failure of the LoN and the subsequent terrible new world war led the States to create the United Nations, the United Nations, in 1945, in whose Statute the maintenance of international peace and security is placed in first place. Alongside the UN, dozens of other "sectoral" organizations have been set up, entrusting each one with a specific area of cooperation: food and agriculture (FAO), health (WHO), air navigation (ICAO), the maritime navigation (IMO), money (IMF), labor (ILO, since 1919), telecommunications (ITU) and so on.

It can therefore be said that the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st were characterized by the proliferation of large international organizations "with a universal vocation", that is, open to all the states of the world. Alongside these (by now very numerous) important "regional" organizations have been established, such as the Council of Europe (46 member States), the European Union (27), NATO (30), the Organization for Security and cooperation in Europe (57), the Organization of American States (35), the African Union (55), and many others.

Institutionalized multilateralism has become the method chosen by states to regulate their relationships, with shared principles and norms. The method is centered on forms of permanent, "organized" multilateral diplomacy. Every day, all day long, tens of thousands of international officials and diplomats work side by side in the huge buildings, headquarters of these organizations (in Geneva, New York, Vienna, Rome, Strasbourg, Brussels…). This is the most extraordinary step forward in the dynamics of relations between States, which have entrusted the pursuit of common interests and the solution of problems to the multilateral method, diplomacy, dialogue, negotiation, the search for common solutions and shared choices .

Today, multilateralism is under attack. During his presidency, vulgar and overbearing, Donald Trump harshly attacked international organizations, the UN in primis, decisively veering towards a return to bilateral diplomacy, more suited to a politician whose "cultural" references are certainly more in Las Vegas than at Harvard. But he's not the only one. On our continent, populist parties that declare themselves "sovereign" are growing. The so-called "sovereignty" substantially masks nationalist impulses. The specter of nationalism hovers and threatens international peace and the aspirations to found it on the primacy of law, on democracy, on the fundamental rights and freedoms of the human person.

With all its limitations and accompanying problems, multilateralism has no alternative. In the constitution of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, we read that: "Since wars have their origin in the spirit of men, it is in the spirit of men that the defenses of peace must be built », and the method chosen to do so is that of multilateral cooperation. As the great Dag Hammarskjöld, who fell into service as Secretary-General of the United Nations, said, "The United Nations was not created to take humanity to heaven, but to save it from hell."

Edoardo Greppi
NP Novembre 2022

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