Chicago Journal of International Law Symposium on Great Power Politics

by Kenneth Anderson

Ordinarily I wouldn’t post the table of contents for a symposium in an international law review, but let me herewith make an exception:

10 Chicago Journal of International Law 1 (Summer 2009)
Symposium: GREAT POWER POLITICS

The Language of Law and the Practice of Politics: Great Powers and the Rhetoric of Self-Determination in the Cases of Kosovo and South Ossetia
Christopher J. Borgen
10 Chi J Intl L 1 (2009)

Great Power Security
Robert J. Delahunty and John Yoo
10 Chi J Intl L 35 (2009)

United Nations Collective Security and the United States Security Guarantee in an Age of Rising Multipolarity: The Security Council as the Talking Shop of the Nations
Kenneth Anderson
10 Chi J Intl L 55 (2009)

Symmetry and Selectivity: What Happens in International Law When the World Changes
Paul B. Stephan
10 Chi J Intl L 91 (2009)

International Common Law: The Soft Law of International Tribunals
Andrew T. Guzman and Timothy L. Meyer
10 Chi J Intl L 91 (2009)

Great Power Politics and the Structure of Foreign Relations Law
Daniel Abebe
10 Chi J Intl L 125 (2009)

Note that our very own Chris Borgen has a piece on a subject in which he has established himself as a leading expert – self-determination in such cases as Kosovo and South Ossetia – and, very broadly, issues related to Russia and its so-called “near abroad.”  I’ll let Chris post up the link to SSRN and talk about it.  It’s an impressive group of authors – well worth checking out; most of the pieces appear to be up at SSRN, and I hope CJIL will put up direct links soon.
I also have a piece in the symposium, on the “parallel” security regimes of UN collective security and the US security guarantee.  Here is the SSRN link and abstract:
This essay considers the respective roles of the United Nations and the United States in a world of rising multipolarity and rising new (or old) Great Powers. It asks why UN collective security as a concept persists, despite the well-known failures, both practical and theoretical, and why it remains anchored to the UN Security Council. The persistence is owed, according to the essay, to the fact of a parallel US security guarantee that offers much of the world (in descending degrees starting with NATO and close US allies such as Japan, but even extending to non-allies and even enemies who benefit from a loose US hegemony in the global commons such as freedom of the seas (leaving aside pirates)) important security benefits not otherwise easily obtained.

Much of the world can afford to pay lip service to UN collective security as an ideal, and to nourish it as a Platonic form, precisely because they do not have to depend upon it in fact. Not all the world falls within even the broadest conception of the US security umbrella, however, and these places include such locales as Darfur and other conflict zones in Africa. In those places, according to the paper, the US should engage with UN collective security to offer what the US will not, or cannot, offer directly.

The paper also argues that the Security Council should be understood, in a world of rising multipolarity especially, not as the “management committee of our fledgling collective security system,” as Kofi Annan put it, or even as a concert of the Great Powers, but as simply the security talking shop of the Great Powers. Sometimes the Security Council can act as a collective security device, and sometimes as a concert of the Great Powers (e.g., the first Gulf War), but the condition of multipolarity argues that Great Powers are competitive and that the Security Council will find its limits, but also its role, mostly as the place for debate and argument, diplomacy successful or not – but not management of global security.

The essay also argues that those who want to see an end to loose US hegemony in favor of the supposed freedoms and sovereign equality of a multipolar world should think carefully about what they wish for. The dreams of global governance by international institutions turn out to have their greatest possibilities precisely in a world that, to a large extent, relies upon a parallel hegemon rather than collective institutions for its underlying order. In a multipolar, more competitive world, the winner is unlikely to be liberal internationalist global governance or UN Platonism or collective security, but instead the narrow, often directly commercial, interests of rising new powers such as China. The paper closes with policy advice to the United States on what it means and how it should – and should not – engage with the UN on security and the Security Council.

(The paper runs some 15,000 words and is part of a special symposium issue on a multipolar world.)

I was interested to see, when I posted the abstract up over at Volokh, that a couple of commenters shrugged and said, so what else is new?  Since when was the Security Council anything other than a talking shop of the Great Powers?  I should probably amend the abstract to make that point clearer.
First, although that is the reality over the long term, and although, as the article discusses, that was one half of the historical conception under the Charter, the other half was the typical “gradual progression” argument by which the power politics of the Security Council were gradually supposed to evolve, in the received narrative of global governance, into what Kofi Annan often described as the “Security Council as management committee of our fledgling system of collective security.”  The article argues that, particularly in a world of emerging new and newly competitive Great Powers, this progression is ever less likely to be underway.
Second, multilateralism, collective security, and such terms participate in the grand elision of the diplomacy of international institutions – having one meaning for one audience and a quite different meaning for another one.  We all appear to live happily with one another, but actually we mean different things. Thus, multilateralism can be offered to irredentist sovereigntists such as myself as “merely” cooperation and coordination among sovereignts; it can be offered to liberal internationalists as a step along the path to genuine global governance.  Is strategic ambiguity in these kinds of terms a bug or is it a feature?  Strategic ambiguity can, it seems to me, come back to bite when the elision won’t do any more – and the condition of Great Power politics, competitive politics, at the Security Council is likely to be one of them.
The ‘invisible college of international law’ tends, of course, to embrace the idealist half of the historical narrative of the Charter, and so the claim that the Council will merely be a talking shop particularly if Great Power politics becomes more pronounced is more of a challenge to its favored political paradigm and its favored heroic narrative of ‘progress’.
But even for hard-bitten IR realist types, for whom the talking shop role is taken by definition – well, that is itself something of a problem.  Taking the talking shop as the definition of what the Security Council is goes much too far; it rules discussion of the ideological, superstructural, idealist effects of the liberal internationalist paradigm out of bounds merely by methodological fiat, and that hardly seems defensible, either.  The argument has to be more granular than that, and so the breakdown in the article of a Security Council that acts as the “management committee,” a Security Council that acts as a “concert of the Great Powers,” and a Security Council that is simply the “talking shop.”
There are occasional instances of the first and second, but, so the article contends, in a competitive multipolar world, the third will predominate – not by definitional fiat, but for structural political reasons.
http://opiniojuris.org/2009/06/30/chicago-journal-of-international-law-symposium-on-great-power-politics/

4 Responses

  1. PS.  I’m unable to fathom why I can’t get paragraph breaks to format.  Apologies!

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