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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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Effective Minilateralism for the EU: What, When and How

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Courtesy Don/flickr

This article was originally published by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) in June 2016.

Transnational challenges – including terrorism, instability stemming from regional conflicts and fragile states, nuclear proliferation, climate change, trade protectionism and pandemics – cannot be tackled without successful collaboration on a global level. But while the need for more effective cooperation between states remains acute, multilateral talks at the United Nations have often failed, stalled, under-achieved or lacked financing and commitment in recent years.

Large, bureaucratic institutions such as the UN, the EU, NATO and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) cannot be as innovative or responsive as they would always like. They are composed of diverse groups of countries with distinct world-views, resources, objectives and perspectives on threats to security. Frameworks created by such institutions risk becoming inflexible. Attempts to reach agreements between member states can be time-, resource- and energy-intensive. As a result, decision-making can prove cumbersome and slow-paced and lead to watered-down results, often requiring member states to cede control.

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The Global Crisis of Multilateralism

Labyrinth of Wall Street

Courtesy of Wally Gobetz/Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 3 December 2016.

Britain’s decision to leave the EU has been labelled an ‘exceptional act of self-harm’. But is it? In October South Africa became the first country to announce its formal withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC). This was soon followed by the exit of Burundi and Gambia and by Russia’s announcement that it intends to withdraw from the Rome Statute which establishes the ICC. Although the Court has been hampered since its inception by the refusal of major states such as the US, China and Russia to submit to its jurisdiction, these withdrawals represent an unprecedented challenge to its legitimacy. Things look no brighter in the area of international security cooperation, as illustrated by the slow acceptance of Additional Protocol safeguards under the NPT and the failure of Annex 2 countries to ratify the Comprehensive Treat Ban Treaty. Even longstanding alliances seem at risk of unravelling. In June Uzbekistan announced its (re-)exit from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and NATO leaders are growing increasingly nervous that the Trump Administration will turn its back on America’s allies. Meanwhile, there is a growing trend towards withdrawal from and denunciation of international human rights treaties, the G8 has shrunk to the G7, and the use of UNSC vetoes—which were at a historic low during the 1990s—is once again on the rise.

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President Trump and International Relations

The Stinker

Courtesy Maureen Barlin/Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

This article was originally published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) on 18 November 2016.

The election of Donald Trump raises justifiable concerns over how he will handle the crises and conflicts he inherits: war in Syria, conflict in Ukraine, tensions in the South China Sea, North Korean provocations and the fight against terrorism. Yet Germany and Europe – and policy-relevant research – must also examine the broader repercussions for international relations. The following five initial theses require deeper analysis.

A Defeat for Liberalism

Donald Trump’s victory represents a hard knock for the West’s normative bedrock of liberalism. Liberal values of the kind Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasised in her congratulatory message to the president-elect are on the defensive – first and foremost within the United States. Autocrats and supporters of various strands of illiberal democracy, like Putin, Erdogan or Orban, may feel vindicated and energised, while the EU will have to work harder to champion liberal democratic values. European states will inevitably see impacts on their external relations. Although Europe has shown little enthusiasm for talk of the “end of history”, both Europe and the United States have tacitly or explicitly assumed that the liberal democratic models will gradually win the day. Internationally, the EU member states must expect to hear increasing arguments that their form of liberal democracy is only one of several acceptable governance models. This could also have effects on international efforts to stabilise and rebuild fragile and failed states.

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The Multipolar Asian Century

Sepia Map centered on Asia

Grunge textured world map on vintage paper, courtesy of Nicholas Raymond/flickr

This article was originally published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy’s The Interpreter on 1 June 2016.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the global political and economic architecture has been undergirded largely by one superpower, which set the stage for an unprecedented period of globalisation managed through multilateral institutions and actors. Now that unipolar moment is giving way to an era of diffused powers, with countries like the US, China and Russia each bearing considerable disruptive capacities, and each struggling to stitch together new norms and rules for these rapidly changing times.

This phase, the beginning of which was marked by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and characterised by America’s two bruising wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has seen a vacuum emerge. Many are seeking to fill it, most determinedly China, but with a push back from countries such as Japan and India. Separately, ISIS and radical energies in the Middle East also seek to grab new space. Russia has chosen this very moment to signal its ability to muddy the Eurasian fields and intervene in the Middle East. The fact is, there is not enough room to accommodate all of these ambitions.

A median will have to be arrived at, but who will sacrifice what?

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