Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 05:47:07 AM EST
What is the basis of world order?
What are the fundamentals of the international system?
Are relations between states controlled primarily by a system of universal morality that exists outside of the power system imposed by the Anglo-America hegemony?
Or is morality relative so that the rules of the game result from the imposition of order by hegemons?
And is the current system of American hegemony such a grave danger to human life, that anarchy is preferable to order?
I stirred up some indignation this morning by declaring America world leader.
American world leadership is reality, like it or not.
The simple fact is that the moral understandings of the Anglo-American world are the basis of the current system of international power....
I guess the point that I'd make is that the existence of international "systems" is due either to brute power whether military or through constraining economic relationships. If there is no hegemon, there is no system.
Brought across by afew
Hegemony is a fact of life.
It's a common mistake to take emperical observations to be normative prescriptions. In other words, simply because I state that America created and controls the system through which states operate is not necessarily an endorsement.
Further, I would argue that in the absence of American world order, the alternative would be anarchy followed the rise of a new hegemon, globally, or regionally. In other words, nature abhors a vaccuum, so that the destruction of the internatiol system built by American power will not lead to utopia. Instead the destruction of that system will lead to another.
The current system of American hegemony was in fact transmitted almost in whole from the previous hegemon, Britain. The breakdown of British hegemony was precipitated by the rise of Germany as a "great power." British hegemony resulted in no small part from the maintenance of a balance of power on the Continent. Britain would suffer no equal rival, and was able to impose international order through economic and military power.
That raises the interesting question of whether economic power is a predicate to military power, or the other way around. That's a whole other diary, and I don't plan to go into detail on that. Suffice it to say that the basis of hegemony is law making. States know from previous experience what the results of actions will be.
Order creates certainty.
Laws create certainity because they provide a basis by which we can anticipate the actions of others. Because we are able to calculate risks, order emerges as actors are held to a common understanding of the consequences of their actions. In a state of anarchy what emerges is Knightian uncertainty where actors are unable to use previous experience to calculate risks.
Although the terms are used in various ways among the general public, many specialists in decision theory, statistics and other quantitative fields have defined uncertainty and risk more specifically. Doug Hubbard defines uncertainty and risk as:
- Uncertainty: The lack of certainty, A state of having limited knowledge where it is impossible to exactly describe existing state or future outcome, more than one possible outcome.
- Measurement of Uncertainty:A set of possible states or outcomes where probabilities are assigned to each possible state or outcome - this also includes the application of a probability density function to continuous variables
- Risk:A state of uncertainty where some possible outcomes have an undesired effect or significant loss.
- Measurement of Risk:A set of measured uncertainties where some possible outcomes are losses, and the magnitudes of those losses - this also includes loss functions over continuous variables.
States are paralyzed as they realize that their previous experience provides them no certainity of what they outcome of actions will be. In the absence of certainity, morality dissappears as states can essentially do whatever they want until consequences reemerge. Historical examples are very easy to come by.
The Japanese invasion of Manchuria (1931), the Italian invasion of Ethiopia(1935), and the German invasion of Czechoslovakia (1939) being foremost among them.
The value of international orders comes from their ability to provide states certainty. Even hegemons must comply with the basic rules of the game they establish or they imperil the foundations of their power. This has been the situation with the Bush administration and the "Global War on Terror (GWOT)." The invocation of the GWOT as carte blanche for reigning down death and destruction ultimately imperils the order is seeks to create. State's behavior is predicated on the basic belief that actions have consequences, and you can't just change the rules of the game for the hegemon.
After the introduction of the rhetoric of the GWOT, suddenly it became possible for India to justify blatant action against Pakistan, Israel against Lebanon, etcera. Actions that would previously have brought condemnation (even if no actual punishment would have been dealt) now are masked in the cloak of legitimacy. Thanks, George, you've managed to undermine the order imposed by American hegemony, thereby calling into question the long aquiscience (if not acceptance) of America as the West (and later world's) policeman.
Anarchy beckons, and the myriad horrors of the interwar period (1918-1939) hang like hungry ghosts in the shadows. By seperating arguments against American hegemony from the value of the order hegemony provides, it's clear that order is preferable to anarchy. And the established order is under attack. In order to avoid chaos, action has to be taken quickly to restore some modicum of legitimacy to the American system. Otherwise, the world descends into chaos as states act without fear of sanction.
A New World Order?
The Right realizes that the period of unilateral American hegemony is drawing to a close. The US based Heritage Foundation and Spain's FAES have presented what they would like to see come next. They propose an economic and military community of the West that is throughly rooted in neo-liberal economics and neo-conservative military policy.
Ideas provide certainty, and the Right has offered up a plausible (yet undesirable) set of principles with which to provide global order.
The question is not whether oncoming collapse of American hegemony will force the creation of a new world order. It's a matter of what form it will take.
I forsee three possibilities for the future.
1. Complete anarchy. Everything falls apart. The dollar collapses, the American military withdrawls from the world, and no nation is able to impose order. States do as they please, and interstate war remerges as method of foreign policy between industrialized states.
2. Mulipolarity. The absence of a hegemon means that no international order exists, rather regional powers create zones of stabiliy in which their satellite states operate. China competes for dominance against Japan and India in Asia, and expands its influence in Africa. The EU maintains peace and order on the Continent, but is unable to project power. The United States withdraws into isolationism.
3. A "Community of the West." In contrast to the first two scenarios which involve the destruction of the global economy, the creation of a "Community of the West" passes the role of hegemon from the United States to a community of the US and Europe as equal partners. Europe fills military and economic gaps created by the collapse of American hegemony. Rather than being a straigh forward passing on of American hegemony, the new community creates new rules. The creation of rules of the game is politically contested within national electorates and internationally.
I would argue that the third option is the most desirable, and I would make the point that unless the Left offers up ideas about how to create certainty via a new world order, the Right will win by default. And I would argue that the battle to create those rules of the game that govern the conduct of states is the foremost battle facing the Left at the dawn of the 21st century.
Simply saying that you want a revolution, and destroying American hegemony and the order it provides without creating a replacement invites death and destruction. Well brother, you can count me out. We all want to change the world, but not like that.