“Primeval Anarchy” … I Didn’t Write This
Via The Multilateralist, a speech by Shiv Shankar Menon, a former Indian foreign minister and senior security official:
“[W]hile domestic societies have evolved or are evolving towards rule of law, international society is still much closer to primeval anarchy…
…[W]e seem to be entering a phase of increasing militarization of international relations. Look at recent developments in the Middle East, where conventional air power, covert and Special Forces, and internet social media have been used in new tactical combinations with old fashioned propaganda and international institutions to change regimes and create political outcomes…
…We live in a time where international law remains underdeveloped, international governance is non-existent or weak, and international society is fundamentally anarchic. As a result the role of force in international relations has been magnified. But the age of weapons of mass destruction and newer technologies make it essential that we consider new ways of regulating the use of force in international relations.
As David Bosco notes:
The speech raises the question of how the major emerging powers perceive the existing global governance system. Menon, a former foreign minister, appears to view the current system as almost entirely ineffective, at least in terms of its core purpose of restraining violence. I don’t think many Western foreign-policy thinkers or senior government officials would share that grim view, although they would undoubtedly concede all sorts of problems and shortcomings.
Well, count me among those who look at the rise of the new great powers and multipolarity and see less liberal internationalism, defined as the subordination of international power politics to global institutions and international law, and more nation-state competition. It’s an exaggeration, but in the new-new world order, liberal internationalism is “stranded capital,” an explanation that continues a discourse within its own circles but explains the world of international security less and less. I don’t understand it, frankly; to my mind, there’s a weird complacency in international law scholarship about the inevitable path forward of global governance; of course I could just be wrong and it’s not weird because it’s true, but I would have thought that there was a need to grapple more directly with this kind of realism. Because in the most dynamic circles – the rising, jostling new powers – the discussion seems occasionally to take the liberal internationalist turn when strategically useful in conversation with the old powers, but in its actual implementation appears to be firmly rooted in hard realism.
Bosco offers a couple of hypotheses for why the language of the emerging new powers in Asia is so hard-realist, rather than liberal internationalist. My own view is that liberal internationalism sheltered under American hegemony; as that is perceived in retreat, then self-protective realism reasserts itself. It doesn’t matter especially in Europe, facing no territorial threats and in any case the final beneficiary of, the residual claimant upon, American hegemony via NATO. But it matters in Asia, where the possibility of disastrous interstate war can never be discounted, and where the retreat, or even perceived retreat, of American authority and hegemony can have enormous and bad consequences.