Why Unilateral Action is Going Out Of Style


The problems we are facing today demand global mechanisms and a unified global community. Take global warming, Iran, Syria or that little thing sizzling on the back burner: nuclear weapons.

Whether you believe we are still at the point where we are just realizing this, or that this is already common knowledge, many countries still hoard individualistic strategies, weighing the benefits of their actions while paying little-to-no attention to those of the international community.

On Oct. 1, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly that Israel would not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons and that "Israel will stand alone" if forced to do so. Nuclear weapons are not just Israel's problem. However, the international community is paying little attention to the threat of nuclear weapons and/or the potential backlash if Israel were to put words to action.

Unilateral action – particularly offensive action – should be discouraged. Multilateral alliances must form to address challenges or conflicts facing the global community.

In the case of Libya, U.S. involvement was a tactical shift from its previous step back from the Arab revolutions. In 2011, the missile strikes that knocked out Libyan air defense and prevented a massacre of rebels in Benghazi would have "stained the conscious of the world." Despite the country's slow initial reaction by acting months after the bloody clashes began, the Obama administration acted quickly enough so as not to diminish its influence on the outcome, leading to "deeply appreciative" sentiments in Libya.

Conversely, when Assad's opposition began in 2011, Saudi Arabia and Qatar took the lead in shaping the emerging opposition while Obama's administration largely stayed out of the game because it was uncertain that an opposition would support American values. However, allowing Saudi Arabia and Qatar to mold the opposition in exchange for its support must make the U.S. question if its lack of influence in this conflict is indirectly creating an opposition that doesn't support American values.

This inconsistency in models of global cooperation is turning the tables on this multilateral approach, bringing its efficacy into question when states can not agree, and when others feel they are forced to take action on their own - like Israel in the case of nuclear weapons, or Obama's elaboration on a foreign policy doctrine in which Washington appropriates itself the right to intervene in the Middle East in order to protect its "core interests."

Despite the unilateral approaches we can see in these few instances, multilateral alliances are the future. None of the threats plaguing the U.S. or MENA present isolated problems, but are threats to global stability and security. Strong international institutions are necessary; whether that be global organizations or multi-lateral alliances, we have yet to see them take hold on the international frontier.