Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter XIV Part III

A First Step towards International Unity

In the backdrop of World War I, it was difficult to postulate whether a limitation of arms and armaments could lead to an effective international control as such an alignment would collapse if a clash of war actually happened. The World War demonstrated that the exigencies of ground reality could turn a country into a huge arsenal and a nation of peaceful people could be converted into an army. The striking example was England who could raise millions of soldiers within a very short time. ‘This object-lesson is sufficient to show that the limitation of armies and armaments can only lighten the national burden in peace, leaving it by that very fact more resources for the conflict, but cannot prevent or even minimize the disastrous intensity and extension of war’(The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 390).

The next remedy for International Unity was sought in the construction of a strong international law equipped with an effective sanction for its implementation. Randal Lesaffer (in The Oxford Handbook of The History Of International Law, edited by Fassebender,B & Peters Anne, Oxford University Press, Uk,2012, pg 71-78) in an excellent overview traces the genesis of international law to the peace treaties which were of particular importance between 1500 and 1920. During this period war also began changing its character. The medieval war between princes was generally perceived as an instrument of justice, a forcible self-help of wronged party against the perpetrator. The modern war (especially after canon law and the jurisdiction of the pope and Church were mostly marginalized following the Reformation in Europe) became a conflict between territorial States, aimed at a monopolization of war itself and thus became legal and formal. Such a ‘legal’ war needed a formal declaration of war that spelled out measures like arrest or eviction of enemy subjects, confiscation of their property, prohibition of trade with enemy, eviction of diplomats etc. Consequently, peace treaties were also declarations to end state of war and restore peace and included measures like amnesty clause, withdrawal of troops, stipulations on free movement and trade, rights of people living in ceded territories, etc. Peace treaties thus laid the matrix from which international law evolved as a concept.

However in that nascent state of affairs towards the end of World War I, Sri Aurobindo had reservations about the efficacy of an international law in enforcing peace. He explained, ‘The metaphorical sword of justice can only act because there is a real sword behind it to enforce its decrees and its penalties against the rebel and the dissident’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 391-392). There must be an armed force to effectuate the law and such a force should have two essential characteristics:

(a) Such an armed force should belong exclusively to the State and not to any individual or constituent group of the community, and

(b) The armed forces must be sole and centralized and not balanced or have its sole effectivity diminished by parallel armed forces belonging to groups or individuals and free from central control (Ibid, pg 392). (Ibid, pg 390-391)

However, even with such safeguards, law has its inherent limitations:

(a) ‘Law has not been able to prevent strife of a kind between individuals and classes because it has not been able to remove the psychological, economic and other causes of strife’ (Ibid).

(b) ‘Crime with its penalties is always a kind of mutual violence, a kind of revolt and civil strife and even in the best-policed and most law-abiding communities crime is still rampant’ (Ibid). Moreover, the fact that organized crime cannot endure or fix its power is not because of Law but ‘because it has the whole vehement sentiment and effective organization of the community against it’ (Ibid).

(c) ‘Law has not been able to prevent, although it has minimized, the possibility of civil strife and violent or armed discord within the organized nation’ (Ibid).

(d) Any loose international formation desiring to impose international law would not have the loyalty of the armed forces of its constituents in times of actual crisis precipitating further chaos (Ibid, pg 392-393).

(e) ‘A composite armed force of control set over the nations and their separate military strength’(Ibid, pg 393) to enforce international law would similarly collapse in the event of strife to the advantage of powerful States in comparison to the comparatively weaker nations contributing to the composite army. Within a nation, a revolt by an individual, even that of a single soldier can be easily curbed. The situation is different when the constituent States and nations of a federation face a revolt because the advantage is always with the stronger constituents.

Sri Aurobindo felt that ‘pending the actual evolution an international State so constituted as to be something other than a mere loose conglomerate of nations or rather a palaver of the deputies of national governments, the reign of peace and unity dreamed of by the idealist could never be possible by these political or administrative means or, if possible, could never be secure’ (Ibid, Pg 394). Sri Aurobindo also gave a new warning that strife between States could take place in a more dangerous manner than war. ‘Even if war were eliminated, still as in the nation crime between individuals exists, or as other means such as disastrous general strikes are used in the war of classes, so here to other means of strife would be developed, much more disastrous perhaps than war.’ The world is now witnessing how global strife can be now fought with corporate and multinationals, economic embargoes and trade policies, vetoes and sanctions, political maneuverings and string-pulling in a more devastating way than frontal war. ‘The law is always the same, that wherever egoism is the root of action it must bear its own proper results and reactions and, however minimized and kept down they may be by an external machinery, their eventual outburst is sure and can be delayed but not prevented for ever’ (Ibid).

Sri Aurobindo concludes that any loose formation of nations without any central control could neither effectively enforce an international law nor usher global unity. ‘There must be in the nature of things a second step, a movement towards greater rigidity, constriction of national liberties and the erection of a unique central authority with a uniform control over the earth’s peoples’. This vision was actualized as an attempt much later when the time-spirit necessitated the formation of the United Nations Security Council with the primary purpose of maintaining international peace and security through imposing diplomatic or economic sanctions or authorizing the use of military force to prevent or halt aggressive strife between nations.

Date of Update: 22-Jul-13

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu