The End of an Era

by Dave Schuler on August 30, 2014

I both agree and disagree with Henry Kissinger’s Wall Street Journal op-ed on the collapse of the post-war order among states:

The search for world order has long been defined almost exclusively by the concepts of Western societies. In the decades following World War II, the U.S.—strengthened in its economy and national confidence—began to take up the torch of international leadership and added a new dimension. A nation founded explicitly on an idea of free and representative governance, the U.S. identified its own rise with the spread of liberty and democracy and credited these forces with an ability to achieve just and lasting peace. The traditional European approach to order had viewed peoples and states as inherently competitive; to constrain the effects of their clashing ambitions, it relied on a balance of power and a concert of enlightened statesmen. The prevalent American view considered people inherently reasonable and inclined toward peaceful compromise and common sense; the spread of democracy was therefore the overarching goal for international order. Free markets would uplift individuals, enrich societies and substitute economic interdependence for traditional international rivalries.

This effort to establish world order has in many ways come to fruition. A plethora of independent sovereign states govern most of the world’s territory. The spread of democracy and participatory governance has become a shared aspiration if not a universal reality; global communications and financial networks operate in real time.

The years from perhaps 1948 to the turn of the century marked a brief moment in human history when one could speak of an incipient global world order composed of an amalgam of American idealism and traditional European concepts of statehood and balance of power. But vast regions of the world have never shared and only acquiesced in the Western concept of order. These reservations are now becoming explicit, for example, in the Ukraine crisis and the South China Sea. The order established and proclaimed by the West stands at a turning point.

I agree that a dramatic change is in progress. However rather than a crisis I think it more a revelation that the emperor has no clothes. I agree that the idea of sovereign states has been under assault and I think our tolerance and even furtherance of it has been a strategic error.

I think that the existence of the Ukraine is an example of the weakening of the idea of the state as any construction of an indefensible state is whether that state is Ukraine or Iraq or Pakistan (Pakistan has been called an example of a government without a country). Our use of drones is an example of the weakening of the state. Our treating NGOs as states and ignoring the transgressions of the states that harbor and finance them weakens the state. When we issue threats against another state for that state’s actions within its own borders it may be an expression of our human concern but it’s a violation of that state’s sovereignty and a weakening of the state even if we don’t intend to make our threats good.

I disagree with his assessment of the situation in the South China Sea. I think it’s bad for us and bad for our allies but it’s the inevitable consequence of a rising China and our insistence on weak allies. Perhaps it’s naive of me but I continue to be less concerned about China than Dr. Kissinger appears to be. I think its own internal contradictions which it has yet to be able to confront successfully will prevent it from threatening us to any greater extent than we’re willing to allow it to threaten us.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

steve August 30, 2014 at 6:45 pm

Uhhh, invading and occupying a country for many years under false pretenses probably went a lot further towards undermining sovereignty than anything else you mention. Anyway, as much I sort of wish this author was correct, he is wrong. From Vietnam to Grenada to Panama to Nicaragua we have ignored sovereignty. We ignored it in Iraq when we overthrew Mossadegh. Really, there are just way too many examples of the US pretty much ignoring sovereignty, and we are not alone. China still controls Tibet. Russia romps in th elite border countries that surround it at will.

What is different is that during the Cold War any action by a Great Power was opposed by the other, usually through proxies. Now, we act more directly.

Steve

Dave Schuler August 31, 2014 at 12:38 am

Uhhh, invading and occupying a country for many years under false pretenses probably went a lot further towards undermining sovereignty than anything else you mention.

Needless to say, I agree.

I think the case of Mossadegh in Iran is a closer call than you appear to and much smaller potatoes since I think the Iranian officers who actually conducted the putsch would have acted with or without foreign assistance. The available alternatives were to do as the Brits and we did or let Iran become a Soviet republic. It was already certain that Mossadegh’s regime would collapse. Iran’s sovereignty was already being violated (by the Soviets).

Andy August 31, 2014 at 2:56 am

“However rather than a crisis I think it more a revelation that the emperor has no clothes.”

I agree the emperor has no clothes, but I interpreted Kissinger’s point as being a crisis for US foreign policy.

Also, I’d like to hear why drones weaken the state. Would manned aircraft also weaken the state? It’s important to note that except in very rare instances, drone use is sanctioned by the governments whose airspace they operate in.

Steve,

“Anyway, as much I sort of wish this author was correct, he is wrong. From Vietnam to Grenada to Panama to Nicaragua we have ignored sovereignty. ”

If you’re talking about Kissinger, I think he makes a distinction between sovereignty and statehood. His essay is really about statehood and balance of power.

Dave Schuler August 31, 2014 at 3:01 am

Also, I’d like to hear why drones weaken the state. Would manned aircraft also weaken the state?

Yes, if we were bombing Pakistan on a daily basis using manned aircraft it would be a challenge to Pakistan’s sovereignty. As to how the drone strikes are a violation of Pakistani sovereignty you could look at any of the dozens of official protests the Pakistani government has filed. That’s certainly what they’ve argued.

The basic point is that a Westphalian state is sovereign within its borders. Remove that sovereignty and it’s no longer a Westphalian state.

BTW, “rare” is an interesting choice of words. By most accounts over the period of the last decade or so we have conducted on the order of 1,000 drone attacks about a third of which have been in Pakistan. I know of no evidence that Pakistan has officially supported or condoned the attacks there.

steve August 31, 2014 at 6:08 am

Dave- The rumor was that we were actually clearing drone attacks with the Pakistan govt in secret. They were protesting publicly to maintain credibility with their own people.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-24649840

Steve (Since you are in the UK had to use a Brit source)

Dave Schuler August 31, 2014 at 6:13 am

That’s actually stronger than a rumor, steve. It’s evidence.

However, it still makes me queasy. Compare it to stationing foreign troops on your soil. Would that constitute a loss of sovereignty? I think it would.

Andy August 31, 2014 at 8:19 am

” I know of no evidence that Pakistan has officially supported or condoned the attacks there.”

Well, the drones used to be stationed on Pakistani soil at a Pakistani airbase until a certain Senator leaked the location. Public complaints do not appear to be consistent with reality.

The fact that governments lie to the public about their level of cooperation with other governments is not a new development and I don’t think that says anything about sovereignty either. If the Pakistanis wanted to stop the drone program over their territory they could.

Secondly, I don’t see how operating or stationing military forces on another country’s soil or airspace with their consent violates their sovereignty. We have thousands of military personnel stationed in the UK on US airbases – are we violating UK sovereignty?

As for “rare” I only know of one instance, which was the UBL raid which WAS certainly a violation of Pakistani sovereignty because it was done without the consent or (initial) knowledge of the Pakistani government. I’m guessing there are probably others we don’t know about to include surveillance.

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