The CSS Blog

Laying the Groundwork: The Definition, Scope and Roles of Human Rights

The 30th Anniversary celebration of the International Day of Peace at UN Headquarters. photo: United Nations Photo/flickr

Last week, we looked at how international and regional-level entities created and designed to deal with 20th century problems are struggling to adapt to a changing global landscape – a landscape that now features social, economic and political problems that are more comprehensive, deeper in scope, and last longer in time than in the past. These challenges acknowledge no borders and defy traditional structures, regardless of their previously conceived national or international foundations.  But as we suggested last week, perhaps the best way to look at how macro-level politics are now being transacted, both regionally and internationally, is to look at them as you would a well-turned prism. In doing so, we come to see many causes AND effects at play in the international system today. We’ve covered some of them over the last two months, but we are hardly done. For example, both a cause and symptom of the structural changes currently occurring in the international system is the general concept of human rights and its practical application, a growing portion of international law. Indeed, because the ever-burgeoning and expanding concept of rights, coupled with attempts to make them “stick”, complicate how contemporary international relations are evolving, we need to explore their Janus-faced relationship over a two-week period. Well, let’s now do so.


Nationalism and the State – One More Look Back

Depiction of the Peace of Westphalia, 1649

The ISN Editorial Plan marches on. This week we are looking at the struggles transnational organizations and institutions are experiencing as they try to adapt themselves to 21st century realities. This topic follows hard on the heels of the two weeks we spent looking at the concept of nationalism and the status of the modern state in today’s world. That ten days of analysis constitutes a mere touch-and-go on either subject goes without saying here. The brevity of the analysis also justifies that we look back at these two subjects one more time in today’s blog before moving on. So be it.

The other consideration, of course, is who’s voice to feature here. One’s ego might, while screaming “me, me” and pushing and jostling the “great unwashed” aside, demand such an authorial privilege all to itself. But there is no humility in that, especially when in this case the proper thing to do is popularize the wise words of seasoned, widely respected professionals. So, instead of blah blah’ing about what precious me thinks about nationalism and the state, I would like today to defer to my betters. » More

Transnational Institutions and Organizations: Required Adjustments and New Opportunities for Change

Photo: Lily/flickr

As an unmatched treatise on “hard power,” Carl von Clausewitz’s On War has stood the test of time. A major reason for its longevity has been its prismatic approach towards its subject. To Clausewitz, hard power is never just one thing. Instead, it is, among other things, a dual, a form of commerce, a game of cards, an act of force designed to impose one’s will on another, a continuation of policy by other means, and a trinity or interplay of 1) primordial violence, hatred, enmity, and blind natural forces; 2) chance, probability, and the creative spirit; and 3) policy and reason. That Clausewitz used all these metaphors and characterizations was no accident. He knew that if he was going to describe an innately complex phenomenon such as war effectively, he needed to look at it in a prismatic way.

In our own humble way, we have adopted the same approach in our Editorial Plan. Thus far, we have explored our core theme – the structure of the international system is fundamentally changing – in prismatic ways. We have looked at how systemic change (not change at the margins) is impacting 1) how we forecast future political trends and developments, 2) just how “reality inclusive” geopolitical analyses remain today, 3) how on-going global interdependence and effective multilateralism are evolving, and 4) how nationalism and the Westphalian System are faring in a global environment that is both hostile and supportive towards them both. These various perspectives, however, have not exhausted the angles of analysis available to us in our prism-like investigation of a changing international system.

Therefore, this week’s focus is on the stresses and strains transnational institutions and organizations are experiencing in trying to adjust to a post-Cold War world. That many of these political and governmental mechanisms were created to address 20th century problems goes without saying, as does the truth that 21st century challenges are putting them under serious strain. What these strains look like represents the first of two passes we will take over this subject. Since we will discuss these institutions’ and organizations’ relationship to changing power dynamics in the international system later this spring, what we largely want to do this week is 1) look at the “huffing and puffing” IOs and transnational institutions are experiencing as a result of changing global dynamics, and 2) begin to analyze what adjustments they are trying to make in order to realign themselves with changing international relations paradigms.

Christmas at the ISN

The ISN is currently on its Christmas vacation. For the week commencing the 26th December we will be publishing an assortment of ISN Insights and partner content. The ISN’s Editorial Plan will return on the week commencing the 2nd January, when will consider “The State in a Globalizing World.”

Until then, the ISN wishes you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Evolving Ideas of Nationalism II

Travelling the world - but only with states

This week the ISN will examine the role of nationalism in an evolving and dynamic international system. We will also consider whether multiculturalism is a necessary and appropriate response to some of the more retrograde and unsettling aspects of nationalism. From the outset, however, it is important to mention that the social science literature on nationalism often emphasizes 1) the lack of a comprehensive definition for the term, or 2) that there is a multiplicity of nationalisms. Indeed, these nationalisms often get defined with catch-all terms such as New Nationalism, Liberal Nationalism, Small Nationalism and so on. This multiplicity, in turn, confirms that the very concept of the nation has developed across the course of history and refers to more than just to a group of people born in the same place.

Again, to chart our understanding of nationalism today, we begin by quickly outlining Ernst Renan’s conception of the nation-state, followed by a look at how some analysts are trying to transform this traditional view of it in order to respond more effectively to the stresses of globalization. (Yes, nationalism provides states with a cohesive identity, but often by playing upon the insecurity of societies to achieve desired outcomes.) Finally, we will quickly look at multiculturalism and see whether it offers an approach to addressing global challenges that is more user-friendly than nationalism. » More

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