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Detente From Below

The end of the Cold War promised a remapping of European security. The Warsaw Pact disbanded officially in 1991, though it had functionally ceased to exist at the end of 1989. NATO, without its longstanding opponent, no longer had a raison d'être.

The logical structure to replace the two-bloc system was the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). This structure grew out of what was known as the Helsinki process: an attempt in the mid-1970s by countries in the East and the West to address security issues, human rights questions, and technical cooperation across the Cold War divide. The Helsinki process provided much of the inspiration for the dissidents raising the banner of human rights in the Communist world as well as those in the West who supported them. Governments negotiated détente from above; activists pushed for a transformation of the Cold War system from below.

The CSCE still does exist. It became an actual organization (OSCE) in 1995, with a secretariat, a parliamentary assembly, and all the trappings of a proper institution. But the dominant security organization in Europe remains NATO. It was NATO that developed new missions and a new purpose as Yugoslavia unraveled. Later, after September 11, it would go much further beyond its original mandate to become involved in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and North Africa.

Mary Kaldor has been one of the most important thinkers and practitioners in the realm of human security, which addresses security questions from a human rights and grassroots perspective. She has written numerous books on the issue. But perhaps more importantly, she has worked to create new institutions that embody these principles. One of these was the Helsinki Citizens Assembly (HCA), which emerged in 1989 as an effort to bring civil society activists from all over Europe and the disintegrating Soviet Union into the security debate. For a few bright years, it looked as though the HCA, alongside inter-governmental bodies like the CSCE, could translate "détente from below" into "the post-Cold War from below."

But the momentum in favor of continuing NATO was powerful, particularly with the support of the former dissidents in East-Central Europe, like Vaclav Havel. In a conversation in her office in London in January, Mary Kaldor talked about reading Havel's memoir and coming across his take on NATO.

"One of the issues that comes up in the book is the answer to the question we asked Havel at the time -- 'Why did you favor the expansion of NATO rather than Helsinki?'" Kaldor told me. "And Havel actually says, 'I didn't see the difference.' That made me realize that we never really had a serious argument with Havel and others about the military issue. We supported them on human rights. But when we said things like, 'There's unemployment in the West,' or 'We're fighting against the arms race,' we felt rather stupid in comparison with what they were doing. So we kind of shut up about those things, and maybe we shouldn't have shut up about this."

Even though NATO emerged from its existential crisis of the early 1990s not only intact but enlarged, Kaldor remains optimistic about the continued influence of the Helsinki principles. "I've been running this study group for Javier Solana, and the third report we did, which hardly anybody has read, is called Helsinki Plus," she told me. "It was a response to Medvedev's call for a new European security architecture. So on one side, I'm ever hopeful. For a while I thought that even though it was very disappointing that the OSCE turned out as it did, that NATO expanded instead of dissolving, that at least the European Union could play that kind of role. Certainly if you look at the design of the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), it was really around the Helsinki ideas. So in that sense, I went on being optimistic."

That optimism, however, has been tempered by the continued war on terrorism, the growth of Euroskepticism, and the thorough cynicism among young people about politics in general. We talked about what happened to the early promise of the HCA, the double-edged role of NGOs, and the vital importance of having big arguments.

The Interview

In your book with Shannon Beebe -- The Ultimate Weapons Is No Weapon -- you have a number of chapters about your experiences in Yugoslavia and Iraq, and the conception of human security and humanitarian intervention coming out of that experience. I was particularly interested in how your thinking changed going from Bosnia to Iraq, whether there was any significant shift when you talked to people on the ground in Iraq and saw the reactions people had to military intervention, and how it might have been different in Iraq.

I always argued from Kosovo onwards that humanitarian intervention is different from military intervention. Kosovo was very troubling for me, because on the one hand, I was in favor of intervention, but on the other hand I was against bombing. My argument was that for something to be humanitarian intervention--I have a course on human security, so I'm discussing this day after day after day--it has to be about directly protecting people. You have very tight rules of engagement. You don't try to defeat enemies. So I was very much against the Iraq War. I went on all the marches, wrote articles, made speeches. But once the war began, I felt we needed to do something to protect people. I wasn't in favor of what the Americans were doing, but I do think that what Petraeus did in Baghdad had some similarities to human security approach.

But two pages later you say, "Even though Petraeus equals human security, there are some significant differences between the two."

I agree. And funny enough, when we started writing the book, it was at the height of the counter-insurgency debate, and the editor said to me: "How is your position different from Petraeus'?" And I thought, "I'll wait and see what Shannon says." And Shannon was really strong on the difference. Probably stronger than me, actually.

Under counter-insurgency you still have the same objectives, which are those U.S. military objectives.

The huge mistake that Petraeus made was his idea of hitting hard what he called the irreconcilables.

Have you consciously seen this emerging position as a reconciliation between these two positions -- the peace movement perspective and the emphasis on human rights -- that existed with HCA East and West from the very beginning?

Absolutely. For me it comes out of all those arguments that we had. And what I feel about the War on Terror is that it's destroyed that position. The human rights enforcement position has been pulled apart. People have become either totally against all forms of intervention, like David Rieff, or they became liberal interventionists, like the late Christopher Hitchens. My position is almost nowhere. Over Christmas, I was reading all the critiques of human security. It's quite depressing to see the Left using Michel Foucault and Carl Schmitt to show that human security is really about increasing global power.

To read the rest of the interview, click here.