“Primeval Anarchy” … I Didn’t Write This

by Kenneth Anderson

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.


14 Responses

  1. Why do they call it “realism”? It is Machiavellism. U.S. just wants to use its military power to rob the world of its natural resources, to transform world’s citizens in sweatshop slaves and submit them to its will. If needed, because U.S. has a ten times bigger ecological footprint, resulting from its lavishly knavishly and irrational consumerism, that leads to total extinction, U.S. will try to exterminate as many of its fellow human beings as necessary to save the planet an create lebensraum for itself.

    If there is anybody creating primeval anarchy is the U.S. U.S. starts illegal wars, tortures, kills, abducts, imprisons without due process, and vetoes everything that might restrain the crimes of its client states.

    But I have bad news for U.S. It is scientifically proven that the rule of law increased in the last 100 years. There were no U.N. in 1900, no noticeable international courts, no ICJ, no European, Inter-American, and African courts for human rights, no Nuremberg, no tribunals for ex-Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Libanon, Charles Taylor, Sierra Leone, ITLOS, WTO. ICC has just got its 119th member.

    Treaties are signed every second.

    Just this summer the ECtHR has put U.K., the wannabe resurrected colonial don, into its deserved leash, in Al-Skeini case.

    It was just a couple of years ago unthinkable that anyone would venture whisper that any U.S. official should stand trial, now U.S. and its client states officials plan their trips abroad carefully in advance, to avoid being arrested. And Amnesty International just reminded Canada of its legal obligation to arrest Bush, try or extradite him.

    So it’s time for the ‘realists’ to wake up and smell the coffee. Or otherwise the Bin Ladens of this world will keep parking fully tanked airliners in their skyscrapers until there is no one left. Because technology empowers the individual in unpredicted ways, making them equal to traditional hyperpowers. It’s time to submit to law, better voluntarily than humiliated and hurt.

  2. By the way the last sentence is crucial: “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.
    Regulation = liberal internationalism
    Realism = use of force
    He rather pleads for more regulation than more force in his message regulation means more liberal internationalism than realism.

  3. Oh look! There’s a UNicorn.

  4. Don’t be silly, childish and paranoid.
    No one in the US wants to enslave the world, except maybe the Obama administration.
    And they are too busy trying to enslave us by abridging our Constitution to get around to the rest of the world just yet, your own governments are doing the job just fine.

  5. Mr. Ticu,

    These are common misconceptions, but the US, while a dominant power in many respects, is hardly the overarching one you describe, and East-Asia has a long and brutal history which is barely contained by the liberal system which the US promotes.

    Even a beginner’s understanding of Asian geography, combined with Realism brings potential flashpoints into sharp relief.  Two of the easiest examples being the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca.  Were the Pax Americana to be withdrawn, it is difficult to conceive of any plausible near-term future which did not involve the specter of a massively-destructive multiparty war, one which would be easily comparable to WWI.

    And that’s simply geography.  Shall we go on?

  6. > Or otherwise the Bin Ladens of this world will keep parking fully tanked airliners in their skyscrapers until there is no one left. Because technology empowers the individual in unpredicted ways, making them equal to traditional hyperpowers. It’s time to submit to law, better voluntarily than humiliated and hurt.

    How is submitting to “international law”, going to stop the Bin Ladens from doing as they will?  Is it going to do so via some international police force?

    If you prefer, submitting to which “international law” will accomplish that goal?

    Bin Laden answered the second question with “Sharia”.  Which other law would satisfy him?

  7. And better yet, Mr. Freeman, “whose Sharia?”

  8. Russ Mitchell said: “And better yet, Mr. Freeman, “whose Sharia?” ”

    And as Mark Steyn said, “what do you do with a problem like Sharia?”

  9. Hmmmm.
    “Mihai Martoiu Ticu” peel me a grape!
    What?  You are unwilling to peel me a grape and there is no way I can force you to do so?  What kind of lame American Hegemony is this?
    I shall complain to the Management!

  10. The defining decrease in “international law” was the fall of the Soviet Union.  The UN was nothing but a political forum for the East and West to jockey for position.  

    The Cold War created a sharp bilateral divide in the world and suppressed  hundreds of years of ethnic and sectarian rivalries.  The two overarching poles of East and West suppressed expansionist and predatory ambitions of nations large and small throughout the world.  
    The artificial alliances formed by the conflict led to the creation of the UN, which was then merely another battlefront on the proxy war between east and west.  Treaties and ‘international law’ were merely other weapons in the long fight. 

    Nations act in their self interest.  For 60 years, their interest was to cozy up to one side or the other in the long, cold war.  Now, the metaphorical leashes are off and nations are continuing to act in their own self-interest, but without the discipline imposed by both sides of the Cold War, who did not allow unsanctioned conflict due to the danger of a small, uncontrolled war turning into an existential war between East and West.

    None of this should be surprising.

  11. One thing Mr. Ticu has correct, “technology empowers the individual in unpredicted ways”. The political candidate who submitted a bill, twice, to empower letters of Marque and Reprisal is currently polling between 10-15% in the Republican primary. Were Mr. Ticu’s prescriptions followed, Ron Paul would win the office outright.

    There is a mistaken idea that state powers are incapable of harnessing their own super-empowered individuals. This is not correct. The US legal system is set and ready to roll in doing this. All that is required is a change in the political class to bring different factions to power, a trivial thing. Among the populations of the 1st world, the people of the US are unusually well prepared sociologically for this new world we are entering.

  12. @Andy
    Here some Bin Laden Quotes:

    “I tell you that security is an important element in human life. And free people don’t give up their freedom (security). This is contrary to Bush’s claims. He says that we hate freedom.. He should tell us why we didn’t attack Sweden, for example. It is well known that those who hate freedom don’t have great spirits like the 19 who died, God bless their souls. But we fought you because we are free people. We don’t want oppression. We want to regain the freedom of our Muslim nation. As you spoil our security, we will spoil your security.”

    And he offered peace as well:

    “We do not mind establishing a long-term truce between us and you.”
    “In response to the substance of the polls in the US, which indicate that Americans do not want to fight Muslims on Muslim land, nor do they want Muslims to fight them on their land, we do not mind offering a long-term truce based on just conditions that we will stick to.”

    “If your desire for peace, stability and reconciliation was true, here we have given you the answer to your call.”
    In short, the burden of proof is on your side. You have to prove Bin Laden would attack U.S. also if U.S. would respect International Law and would not put and keep tyrants in power.

  13. Response…If a government cannot find a way to respect the sovereignty of individuals within its own borders, how can one expect it to respect the sovereignty of other nations?

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