A `Condo' on the Gulf

Resistance to Saddam has spawned a historic consortium of great powers

NEARLY half a century ago there was a brief glimmer of what seems to now be emerging in the confrontation with Iraq. In October 1944, the Dumbarton Oaks Proposals, a prelude to the United Nations Charter, postulated an arrangement in which the United States and Soviet Union, along with other ``great powers,'' would work together to prevent or correct events like Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. This was, of course, rooted in the hope that the world's great powers, tied closely economically and with similar political systems, would define and enforce a new international system that worked to the advantage of its adherents and promised peace and prosperity to all. As we know, this was a fleeting vision, soon to flounder on the realities of a bipolar international system and the cold war. But it echoes strongly in the current Persian Gulf crisis and in the amazing degree of cooperation between the United States, other rich democracies, and the Soviet Union. It is the sight of collective political and economic action, and the possibility of combined military operations, that most distinguishes Operation Desert Shield from the last great-power use of military force in the Persian Gulf three years ago. Desert Shield, featuring multinational resistance to Iraq's military forces, will probably mark the beginning of a new great power condominium, reifying Franklin Roosevelt's vision of the post-World War II era, 45 years after it was first articulated.

A ``condominium'' connotes shared benefits from, payments for, and commitment to a particular international system. Today the notion includes more than the superpowers, encompassing Japan and the industrialized nations of Europe as well, and downplaying differences of economic and political systems among the members. The central concept of the new condominium is a shared interest in maintaining a global, interdependent political and economic system that provides mutual prosperity and peace.

Three years ago few would have argued that a threat to the flow of oil out of the Persian Gulf, rising oil prices, and the invasion of one of the world's smaller and less democratic countries would be followed by the United States and Soviet Union, (1) working together to push an embargo against Iraq through the UN Security Council, (2) along with Europeans and Japanese, working to make the embargo effective, (3) working together to free American and European hostages, and (4) discussing the deployment and potential employment of the largest multinational military force assembled since World War II. All this has taken place since Iraqi tanks rolled into Kuwait in early August.

True, the Soviet willingness to participate in these actions might reflect a subtle strategy to gain a new foothold in the Persian Gulf. (New diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union has been one result, so far.)

But a more straightforward explanation is that Gorbachev seized the opportunity to signal Soviet desire to join the Western community of nations and to integrate the Soviet economy with theirs. Moscow has demonstrated this by committing Soviet prestige and perhaps guns to defending the flow of cheap oil that fuels capitalist economies.

Soviet interest in keeping oil prices down - even though it's an oil producer - stems from two factors. One is the Soviet desire to tie into the West's economic system, something that will be harder to do if rising oil prices push the West and Japan into a global recession. The other is the fragility of the new Eastern European regimes. With the Soviets now economically unable to provide oil to them at cut-rate prices in rubles, rising oil costs - that Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland will have to pay in hard currencies - directly threaten the economic and political stability of East Europe. And instability in East Europe is what the Soviet leadership has argued to its generals could be avoided as Soviet military forces were brought home.

So Saddam Hussein's adventure has welded the Soviets into the Western democracies' response to his military threat to two non-democratic states, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and, in the process, has begun to forge a new security condominium. What are the potential benefits and costs of this nascent condominium as it emerges in the last decade of this century?

Membership in the new condominium will be a very good deal. As the cooperation develops, it will increasingly undercut the rationale for the large, deadly, and expensive military arsenals built by the United States, Soviet Union, and West Europeans; for, just as the United States does not now build its military forces to fight allies like Great Britain or Japan, the members of the new condominium would not build forces to fight each other. This does not mean, of course, that it is now time to dismantle the US military, for the suspicions of four decades won't go away quickly. But it does mean that, over the next several years, the rationales for the size and structure of today's forces will evaporate, that the annual price of security in the United States should drop by at least 70 percent and probably by about the same percentage in the USSR and Western Europe, and that Japan will not become a significant military power.

As long as the condominium holds together, other threats to the security of its members will diminish, not only because the new condominium will restrict the flow of military technology to non-members, but because no non-member or coalition of non-members could ever seriously threaten the combined power of the condominium. Moreover, because the condominium will have a near monopoly on military power, it will redefine diplomacy. The leverage small powers could get by aligning with one or the other superpower, or of threatening to become the focus of a superpower confrontation, is a product of a bygone bipolar world. In short, the new condominium will direct the affairs of the world to the condominium's and, one hopes, the world's benefit.

There will be, of course, security costs to membership in the new condominium. Among these will be a new security dilemma, namely, how to hedge against a breakdown of the condominium and a reversion to a more dangerous international system without building or using military forces that break the condominium. There will be new inhibitions on the unilateral use of military force. Forces that pose deadly threats to other condominium members, like counterforce, first-strike strategic nuclear weapons, would have to be forgone. And ultimately, the condominium posits a kind of great power military specialization in which none of the great powers possesses the entire spectrum of combined ground, sea, air, and space forces, making it necessary for the members to stay together if they wish to avoid hanging separately.

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