Dear Mrs. Brownstone, Dear Mrs. Pivnicka
Distinguished members of the Word Affairs Council,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I´m glad that I had the opportunity to accept your invitation to present a lecture in this distinguished institution.
I generally accept invitations like yours with pleasure, so as to present my own views regarding certain current trends on the international scene, their significance and their possible far-reaching implications to people involved in one way or another with developments on that scene. Namely, I believe that an active politician cannot and may not be satisfied with dealing only with daily issues, however important they might be.
I have never understood lectures as opportunities to teach lessons. As I experience them, such appearances are simply a good opportunity for thinking aloud, an opportunity to share my thoughts about a specific topic with an interested audience. Today this thinking will also be framed by an exercise in chance.
Did you invite me to present this lecture by chance?
I doubt it. You evidently wanted to hear my views on various themes in international relations. Having said ‘my views’, I have in mind myself as the president of a small European country which has been present as an independent entity on the world scene for less than two decades.
Have I accepted your invitation by chance?
Not at all. I wanted to use the opportunity to present my thoughts on a topic, the choice of which was kindly left to me, without any busybodies or people who might reinterpret my words in who knows what way.
Have I chosen by chance to speak on the place and role of small countries on the international scene of the twenty-first century?
Absolutely not. I am the president of a small country, elected by the will of the majority of its citizens, and I obviously feel strongly about the treatment of this country on the international scene. And since I am aware that the Republic of Croatia is not sufficiently interesting in any respect to enjoy a particular position on that scene, I have to consider the place and role of small countries in general because Croatia is simply one of them.
And, finally, is it by chance that I have selected this very topic for my appearance in the United States?
It is not, of course. The United States is not one of the major powers in the present-day world, it is the only super-power in it. Naturally, whatever anyone may think about it, such a power will view the rest of the world from its own perspective. And, almost inevitably, from such a perspective certain things will look distorted or will not be seen. Maybe even the small countries will not be seen, or at least will not be seen the way they would like to be seen . Therefore, it is perhaps proper to hear - right here, on American soil - the thinking of a president of a small country about the place and appropriate role of states like his own on the international scene in the twenty-first century.
Let me first explain what I mean when I say ‘small country’. For the purposes of this presentation, it means first of all a country which cannot have a decisive influence on international trends by virtue of either its economic or military potential.
I could even go as far as to say that I am actually talking, when speaking about small countries, about countries predestined - do not get me wrong - to be objects and not subjects during history. These are countries that cannot impose their views on others and that cannot efficiently defend themselves when others impose their views on them. Therefore, they are small in terms of their capability to influence the behavior and life of others; in other words, they are weak both economically and militarily. In the present-day world the basic prerequisites for being ‘strong’ are also a powerful expansive economy and a mighty armed force along with political will to conquer - whether directly and overtly, or somewhat more subtly and less obviously but no less efficiently.
Therefore, the point at issue is the relation between the strong and the weak. And my question reads: what is the place of the weak in today’s world and what role can they play in it? Having raised it, I clearly cannot accept a situation in which the small countries would be definitively condemned to having no role at all or, to repeat an expression I already used, to be mere objects.
Regarding the expressions I am using, just an incidental digression: in the past they spoke about conquests and the conquered. Today, in the best of cases, they speak about the establishment or expansion of zone of influence. But let us ask ourselves: to which extent is a country which finds itself in a specific zone of influence still really independent? To which extent can a country be independent if it does not control its finances, its economy, its banking system or even its armed forces, however large and well-equipped they may be? I am not a radical or an advocate of conspiracy theories. I am simply a realist, and it is as a realist that I ask myself: isn’t such a country embraced by someone’s sphere of influence actually a conquered country?
Or, in other words: can such a country still pretend to consider itself independent? I am making this point because whoever or whatever has covered it by its umbrella of influence certainly does not consider it independent.
Let me be quite clear: I do not belong to those people who are still slaves to the nineteenth century concept of national sovereignty. Its significance and importance belong to the past. Today nobody is or can be absolutely sovereign. The point is actually whether a state relinquishes part(s) of its sovereignty to an international integration or alliance through the democratically expressed will of its citizens, or is forced to cede elements of its sovereignty because it simply cannot prevent that.
The so-called eastern bloc of cold war times is a perfect example of the latter: the countries dominated by the Soviet Union were satellites in the real and full sense of the word; in their foreign and home policies they were bound by guidelines - not to say orders - issued from Moscow. In order to gain a better understanding of such developments, we should bear in mind that the power in those countries was controlled by authoritarian, single-party regimes which by their very nature disregarded the will of their citizens and could not care less about their citizens’ thoughts and feelings.
Only one European country which opted for socialism managed to extricate itself from the Soviet sphere of influence: that was Yugoslavia, in which Croatia was one of the federal units. Let me add: Yugoslavia was successful in doing so also because leading Western countries led by the United States recognized their own interest in helping a state to extricate itself from the eastern bloc, and supported it in its endeavors. Yugoslavia was also ruled by an authoritarian regime, which underwent significant liberalization in the years that followed, under the leadership of President Tito, and drew closer to the West in many elements. In separating from the Soviet Union the regime made a move which matched the mood of a sizable share of the citizens, although that mood was not tested by democratic methods.
Thus, the eastern bloc was a perfect example of countries forced to renounce essential elements of their sovereignty and accept a restriction of their own independence. That was additionally inaugurated during the Prague Spring, and confirmed by the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops under the so-called Brezhnev doctrine of limited sovereignty. At the other end, a counter-bloc was set up in the West, although based on entirely different assumptions. Western countries transferred, by will of their democratically elected governments, parts of their sovereignty first to NAT0, then to the Common Market and eventually to the present-day European Union in which my own country also seeks a place.
In addition to Eastern and Western countries there is also a Third World, which has grown particularly in the years of decolonization and which comprises, with some exceptions, mainly countries belonging to the small or weak category. Their weakness is the consequence of their former colonial status, that is, of the fact that there were for years and even centuries merely a source of raw materials and cheap labor. They won their independence by release from colonial bondage or by force of arms, and emerged as underdeveloped countries with no educational or health infrastructure, and actually no prospect of ever catching up with developed countries. They apparently had no full-fledged place on the world scene, nor could they have one.
Of course, in our world - at least in theory, and in the General Assembly of the United Nations - all the states are equal, entitled to decision making and to one vote. While risking to be called a cynic, I shall repeat: that is the way of the world in theory and in the General Assembly of the United Nations. In real life matters are rather different. We witness divisions into the big and the small, the mighty and the weak, and ultimately into to the controllers and the controlled. The scope to which one respects the form which tries to suggest something different than the substance is a matter, I should say, of political pragmatism or even cunning. Occasionally the illusion can be sustained quite well, in other cases we are brutally confronted by the unembellished and stark reality.
And the reality of the world at the start of the twenty-first century, of the post-cold-war and post-bipolar world is the following: along with the only super-power, capable of dominating the world and not infrequently willing to do so in both military and economic terms, there are several big powers, old and new alike, primarily economic powers, and a vast number of ‘others’ - including even some countries which are developed but truly small and hence disinterested in any role that would transcend the boundaries of their region. Quite a few underdeveloped or developing countries complete the list. The last are dependent on the big ones - directly and indirectly - and that dependence places them among the ‘small’, that is, ‘weak’ countries.
From the perspective of the big countries, such small countries are interesting when they can fit as numbers into a support group or scheme . They are interesting either as an ‘aye’ or a ‘no’ vote in international bodies. They are interesting, to calla spade a spade, in so far as they are not masters of their will and of their decisions, in so far as they can be instrumentalized or have to accept instrumentalization.
However, I sincerely believe that size and power are not and should not be attributes which exclusive determine the specific weight of a state on the global scale. Analogously, the fact that a country is small or weak need not and must not automatically imply that such a country has no business among the big or that its voice need not be heard. Before you conclude that I am talking pro domo sua I shall admit it: of course I am. In assuming the office of president I have also assumed the responsibility of co-creating the foreign policy of my country and participating in the concern for its national security and defense. To put it briefly: I have assumed the responsibility to speak and act in the best interest of my country, a small European country.
Therefore, if everything truly matches my indications, and I am sure it does, how should a small country behave in a world dominated by the big? A small country aware of the need of opening-up and involvement in globalization processes and yet trying to preserve at least a minimum of freedom in deciding its destiny without turning inward?
A small country cannot and need not try to act alone. It must first and foremost seek and find allies, natural allies, similar countries. This does not mean that I support any rallying based on weakness and powerlessness. Quite the contrary; small countries are and should remain in the company of the big countries, they are and should be members of integrations which always involve mixed company. However, wherever they may be, small countries should tend to act together. They have similar situations, similar interests and needs deriving from such situations, and should logically use similar methods in seeking answers to issues which give them a bad time.
Looking at what I have said so far, someone may have the impression that I am trying to reassert the nonaligned movement, the only thus far recorded movement involving the world’s weak, a movement that nevertheless demonstrated its power and influence on several occasions by giving its members an opportunity of action they had never had or could individually have before. Admittedly, Croatia is one of the successor countries to the former Yugoslavia. Under the leadership of President Tito Yugoslavia played a key role in creating and directing the nonaligned movement. However, Croatia has chosen membership in the European Union and NATO, and follows the activity of the nonaligned as an observer.
Therefore, I am not reasserting nonalignment nor am I indoctrinated by it. But at the same time I am very prepared to reassert one of the key principles on which the nonaligned movement is also based. Let me stress the ‘also’ because this is a principle which the nonaligned countries could have presented as their own because it had almost lost its universal significance not by any proclaimed policy but first of all because of the will and practices of the big countries. I am speaking, of course, of the principle of full and real equality among subjects in international relations.
By insisting on that principle the so-called Third World has won the right to discuss not only its own parochial problems but also global issues - from bloc confrontation through the arms race to the need to overcome the gap between the developed and the developing countries. By insisting on its right to participate in the shaping of the global scene by expressing its views, supporting its position and choosing specific options, the Third World has opened up a new chapter in international relations - a chapter within which I am also trying, here and today, to get an answer to the question of the place and role of small countries in today’s world. With its global activities the Third World has irreversibly established the small countries on the international scene and gave them an opportunity to be subjects rather than mere objects.
The world is changing. It undergoes occasional radical changes. We no longer live in a bipolar world. The cold war and bloc division are gone. But there are still many problems inherited from that time, along with new problems emerged from transition, a process with which we became familiar, inadequate definition notwithstanding, in the period following the global failure of the socialist model in its bolshevik variant. And there are still policies, regional and global alike, which seem unable to renounce submission, imposition, inhibition and restriction. Or, to be quite clear: there are policies which would still like to grant practically everything to some and nothing to others - apart from the right to be subservient.
In this gap, in this imperfect but only world, where do I see a way out for small countries? I see it first and foremost in the United Nations.
I argue for a comprehensive reform of the imperfect but irreplaceable global organization, a reform that will help it to accommodate to the current world. The UN was eived and formed sixty years ago. It was designed for the world at the end of World War Two. It is the reflection of that world and of the wish of their founders to prevent a new global conflict. Let us remember the words of the Charter: “We, the peoples of the United Nations, determined... to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war...”
As we have seen, over the sixty years of UN’s existence wars have not been the only scourge from which we have to save our children and the children of their children. Of course, there are still wars, local wars because a global war would destroy the attacker and the attacked alike... but there is also underdevelopment, poverty, inability to provide education and health care, global terrorism... I shall refrain from further enumeration.
The United Nations should have avoided the pitfall of inefficiency which brought about the downfall of its predecessor - the League of Nations. It is quite obvious that the UN is not perfect or ideal, or adequately efficient. Owing to the tragic wars in which the former Yugoslavia disintegrated Croatia also experienced the peacekeeping operation of the ‘blue helmets’ - on our ground and in the immediate neighborhood. There, I know quite well what I mean when I mention inadequate efficiency but, believe me, I also know what I mean when I say that the UN is irreplaceable.
I believe is not only the ideal but also the only body in which the small and the weak can fight for their interests precisely because the entire concept is based on the full equality of its members, on the principle of ‘one country - one vote’.
We need the UN, if not more than ever than at least as much as we needed it in the past decades, in the present world with only one super-power but also a number of old and potential new powers seeking their place in the sun, a world in which the balance of fear, the basis of peace, stability and global equilibrium in the second half of the last century, no longer plays the role it used to play. We know that the UN should undergo reform. But reform seems to be stuck. Reform is being blocked, let us not beat about the bush, because it does not suit the strong in today’s world.
And that brings me to the answer of my question about the place and role of the small countries on the international scene in the twenty-first century. Their place is in the United Nations, and their role is to push through the reform of the organization, a reform which will turn the UN not into a mere global debating society but into a place where decisions will be made and implemented in order to push the world forward - not in the interest of one country or a group of countries but in general interest. And what is general interest? A world of peace, security, stability, equality, development, tolerance and coexistence in diversity. I would like to place particular emphasis on the last point, coexistence in diversity. That is where I see one of the key tasks of the United Nations: to assert the idea of unity in diversity and to oppose any imposition of any model.
The United Nations must reassert the basic principles governing the arrangement of international relations and reassert the principles contained in its many declarations. It is the member countries that will be responsible for implementing these principles in accordance with their specific conditions. Without the UN, and particularly without an efficient UN, we are threatened by chaos in which a ‘strong arm’ policy might turn up as salvation. For small countries such a salvation would be equal to disaster.
This is why I see their place and role in the reformed United Nations.
This would conclude my vocal considerations. But let me just for a brief moment return to the chance game. Do you think I have chosen San Francisco as the venue of my argument for the United Nations by mere chance?
Thank you for your attention.