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The Beginning(s) and End(s) of the International Order

Courtesy of caratello/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 22 May 2017.

These days, the pulse of the world’s political health is running fast. The general prognosis is terminal, the end of the international world order, as we know it. But determining what order we are on the verge of losing could do with more diagnosis, including tracking the symptoms of the disorder (and order) back to their beginnings. One of the useful roles that historians can play in this regard is to offer a longer view of what we have lost, or, at least, the international order that seems to be disappearing from view.  So bear with me as I offer a “Cook’s tour” of two centuries in search of the point where the end possibly began, in order to understand better the history of the aims—or “ends”—of international order itself.

1814?

European historians have long assumed that the early nineteenth century made “international” politics possible: In 1814, after decades of continental wars against French hegemony, a coalition led by Russia, including Sweden, Prussia, Austria, and Britain (as well as some smaller now non-existent sovereignties) emerged victorious and established what became known as the “Congress system.” At its most basic, this comprised negotiations through discussion—famously identified with the Congress of Vienna—and transnational cooperation in the interests of permanent peace. In the years that followed, ambassadorial conferences in London, and occasional conferences around the smaller towns of the European continent, became a method for managing territorial and ideological flashpoints.  Within a few years, the British foreign minister Lord Castlereagh confidently reported to his Prime Minister the practical value of this transformation of European politics:

how much solid good grows out of these Reunions, which sound so terrible at a distance. It realy [sic] appears to me to be a new discovery in the Science of European Government at once extinguishing the Cobwebs, with which Diplomacy obscures the Horizon – bringing the Whole bearing of the system into its true light, and giving to the Counsels of the great Powers the Efficiency and almost the simplicity of a Single State.[1]

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Wanted: A New Ideology

Courtesy of Renaud Camus/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by SAGE International Australia (S.I.A) on 28 February 2017.

At present, it is very difficult to avoid examples and discussion of terms such as ‘truthiness’, ‘post-fact’, and ‘alternative fact’. We appear to have entered an era in which immediate, subjective, and emotional perception has the power to steamroll clear thinking and rational analysis, reducing public debate to ‘us versus them’ polemics. Pronouncements by many of our political leaders are emotive rather than instructive, ephemeral rather than incremental or iterative, and unanchored from shared experience and intersubjective understanding. And then there is President Trump: a distilled product of decades of corrosive and inflammatory processes.

Enough is enough. For at least 2,500 years philosophers have argued that we are, or should at least aspire to be, rational beings. No matter how much effort it takes to carefully think things through, and how much time it takes to develop effective thinking tools, surrendering rational effort in favour of gut instinct, “it feels true,” can only end badly. As David Eagleman has argued in his book, Incognito, our unconscious mind will happily get on with running our day without our conscious input, and our limbic system will immediately colour our experience with primal emotions, if we do not choose to think our way to deeper awareness and understanding. While the problems we are facing are becoming larger and more dangerous, our collective unwillingness to do more than legitimise unconscious responses is leading to progressively worse circumstances.

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Nuclear Weapons in a Post-Christian World

Courtesy of Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by YaleGlobal on 18 April 2017.

Debate about a nuclear arms race may be missing a moral dimension, and these debates should include all nuclear powers

The second nuclear age takes place in a post-Christian world. New atomic missiles come from North Korea, Pakistan, India, China – with diverse religious and nonreligious traditions. The United States, set to start its own nuclear modernization, now too is a post-Christian nation.

“Post-Christian” here means the decline in primacy of a Christian worldview in politics, especially in the United States and Europe. During the first nuclear age and Cold War, both were Christian societies by this definition. And while Christianity still has many adherents, it lacks the authority it had during the years of the Cold War. This decline of authority means that calculations of self-interest in international politics bear almost all of the weight for restraint and shaping world order. Questions that drove debate about the Cold War arms race are no longer asked with the same passion. Yet these questions haven’t vanished. Who, for example, determines the national interest? Who does the calculations on which self-interest is founded and that determine nuclear armaments buildup?

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Interview – Ivan Krastev

Merged Europe and Russia flag


This interview was originally published by E-International Relations on 16 December, 2015.

Ivan Krastev is chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, Bulgaria and Permanent Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna (IWM), Austria. A founding board member of the European Council on Foreign Relations, he is also a member of the global advisory board of Open Society Foundations, and of the advisory council of the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) and the European Cultural Foundation (ECF). Mr. Krastev is also associate editor of Europe’s World and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Democracy and Transit – Europäische Revue. He has written extensively on democracy, Eastern Europe, the politics of his native Bulgaria and relations between Russia and the West.

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The CIA Battled the Kremlin With Books and Movies

Seal of the Central Intelligence Agency. Image: Truthout.org/Flickr

This article was originally published by War is Boring on 2 May, 2015.

During the Cold War, Moscow’s Ministry of Culture was a master of censorship. The Kremlin’s cultural bulwark screened non-Russian films, suppressed literature and shaped the lives of Soviet artists.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency also dabbled in the dark arts of cultural influence. Except it preferred the carrot to the stick.

Words matter. A society’s books and movies impact the world. Books, in particular were often internationally influential during the Cold War. Both the ministry and the agency understood this.

The CIA funded the production and distribution of individual literary projects. It made sure Russian-language copies of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago flooded into the Soviet Union. Further, the agency directed more comprehensive operations. » More

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