What the World Needs Now
by George Soros
In These Times magazine, October 1999
The NATO intervention in Kosovo forced me to reconsider some
of my most cherished preconceptions.
We cannot go on reacting to crises as they arise, especially
as our actions can have unintended, adverse consequences. (And
I am more aware than most people that actions have unintended
consequences.) We must bring a positive, constructive vision to
bear, a vision like that which created the European Union, where
the state plays a less dominant role and the importance of borders
The way to peace and prosperity is to create what I call an
"open society"-a society that enables people with different
views, identities and interests to live together in peace. The
open society concept is based on the recognition that no one is
in possession of the ultimate truth and that people act on imperfect
knowledge. Perfection being unattainable, we must be satisfied
with the next best thing: a society that holds itself open to
improvement. An open society transcends national boundaries; it
allows intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign states
because people living under an oppressive regime often cannot
defend themselves. But the intervention must be confined to supporting
the people living in a country to attain their legitimate aspirations,
not imposing a particular ideology or subjugating one state to
the interests of another.
I have no doubts that the situation in Kosovo required outside
intervention. The case for intervention was clearer there than
in most other areas of ethnic conflict. My doubts center on the
ways in which international pressure can be successfully applied.
In our increasingly interdependent world, there are certain
kinds of behavior by sovereign states-aggression, terrorism, ethnic
cleansing-that cannot be tolerated by the international community.
At the same time, we must recognize that the current approach
does not work.
We need a new international authority that transcends the
sovereignty of states to promote an open society. We have the
United Nations, but it is an association of states-some democratic
and open, others not- each guided by its national interests. We
have an association of democratic states, NATO, that intervened
in defense of democratic values, but it is a military alliance
incapable of preventive action. NATO needs to be complemented
by a political alliance, capable of acting both within the United
Nations and outside it, that is dedicated to an open society.
Such an alliance would work more by providing rewards for
good behavior than punishment for bad behavior. This would encourage
voluntary compliance and defer any problems connected with the
infringement of national sovereignty. The first degree of punishment
would be exclusion; only if that fails would other measures be
The greatest rewards would be access to markets, access to
finance, better treatment by the international financial institutions
and, where appropriate, association with the European Union. There
are a thousand little ways that diplomatic pressure can be applied;
the important thing is to be clear about the objectives.
I am sure that the abolition of Kosovo's autonomy in 1989
could have been reversed if the international community had been
determined enough about it. Similarly in Croatia, the international
community did not do enough to assure the existence of independent
media. In Latvia, however, international pressure led to a reform
of a naturalization law that could have caused conflict in Russia.
Ironically, it is the United States that stands in the way
of a political alliance, with a membership much broader than NATO,
dedicated to the promotion of an open society. We are caught in
a trap of our own making. We used to be one of two superpowers
and the leader of the free world. We are now the sole remaining
superpower and we would like to think of ourselves as the world's
leader. But that is where we fail, because we do not observe one
of the basic principles of the open society. Nobody has a monopoly
of the truth.
We are willing to violate the sovereignty of other states
in the name of universal principles, but we are unwilling to accept
any infringement of our own sovereignty. We are willing to drop
bombs on others from high altitudes, but we are reluctant to expose
our own men to risk. We refuse to submit ourselves to any kind
of international governance. We were one of seven countries that
refused to subscribe to the International Criminal Court; the
others were China, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Qatar and Yemen. We do
not even pay our dues to the United Nations. This kind of behavior
does not lend much legitimacy to our claim to be the world's leader.
To reclaim that role we must radically alter our attitude
toward international cooperation. We cannot bomb the world into
submission, but we cannot withdraw into isolation either. We cannot
and should not be the policeman of the world; but the world needs
policemen. Therefore, we must co-operate with like minded countries,
and, abiding by the rules we seek to impose on others, work together
to build an open society.
George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management, is the founder
of the Open Society Institute (www.soros.org).