People first, nations second.
That's the new global creed that began to jell this week at the United Nations General Assembly.
Both President Clinton and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan made historic claims that any country's sovereignty could be violated by other nations under certain conditions.
They disagree over the conditions. The UN chief wants the Security Council to approve any collective invasion. Mr. Clinton says that any collective of nations can act - without a UN mandate, as NATO did in Kosovo.
Mr. Annan says the trigger for action is "massive and systematic violations of human rights - wherever."
For Clinton, nations must act when there are "deliberate organized campaigns to murder whole peoples or expel them from their land." He also warned that a nation's capability to act - either militarilly or politically - will be a constraint.
Challenging the sanctity of the nation-state could well be the debate of the 21st century. For now, though, world leaders are winging it, crisis to crisis, until a wider consensus develops on exactly what is just intervention.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society