International Relations

Perpetual War, Perpetual Peace

Kant's shadow looms large. image: erepublik

In another foray into the realm of theory, to complement our Editorial Plan’s discussion of international norms and laws, we turn to a giant in the history of thought, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Though known primarily as a moral philosopher, Kant also wrote on topics germane to international relations and international political theory, in works such as Idea for a Universal History (1784) and Perpetual Peace (1795). Today we look briefly at what Kant had to say about international law, through Amanda Perreau-Sassine’s interpretive essay in The Philosophy of International Law, edited by Samantha Besson and John Tasioulas. Kant’s view of international law, it turns out, has important implications for contemporary discussions.

Finance Economy

The International Economic and Financial Systems


Phase 1 of our Editorial Plan – a phase dedicated to tracing the structural changes occurring in the international system – has thus far mostly looked at intangibles. In other words, we at the ISN have explored, in a prism-like way, the roles of future forecasting; geopolitical thought; globalization, multiculturalism, and nationalism; evolving international norms and laws, etc., in shaping the international system. Indeed, these frameworks, processes and, yes, even ideologies may be to one degree or another ephemeral, but they have all contributed to the systemic changes we have seen in the last 20-30 years. (Even future forecasting can have a self-fulfilling prophecy component to it.) Influential as all these topics have been, however, a critic might ask when are we going to get “real” – i.e., when are we going to deal with the facts-on-the-ground reality of politics and its relationship to economics? The answer is “now.” Over the next several weeks, we will look at the past, present and future of the international economic and financial systems, we will then explore their relationship to global economic development, and we will close our enquiry by analyzing the current dynamics that exist between economics, politics and war. By looking at our three-part subject again in a prism-like way, we hope to highlight how economic and financial forces do indeed provide an impetus to wholesale change in the international system.

Conflict Justice

Peace Through ‘Good Enough’ Justice?

Celebration honoring the grand opening of a justice center in Nawa, Afghanistan. Photo: isafmedia/flickr

In his article ‘Why Developing Countries Prove so Resistant to the Rule of Law’, Barry Weingast notes that transplanting institutions and policies directly from developed societies into developing ones rarely helps to produce the long-term economic growth and rule of law that western donors want these countries to attain. As part of this week’s editorial plan focus on international public law in action, this blog will suggest that traditional justice systems can help build sustainable peace in post-conflict situations.

Weingast explains that the reason why western ideals of constructing fully fledged democracies under the rule of law fail to materialize lies in the fact that reform efforts do not understand the role of violence in structuring the ‘natural state’ (generally referred to as fragile state). In natural states – which most post conflict countries belong to – access to state privileges is limited to the elite, and the provision of services is limited to those that support the elite. Order and the absence of violence rest upon a system of rights and privileges that provides elites incentives to cooperate rather than fight. For those sections of society that do not belong to the elite, incentives like the provision of basic services are often used to quell unrest and maintain a semblance of stability. In such countries, the constitution is easily pushed aside for the sake of political leaders’ interests.


The Power and Politics of Transitional Justice

Justice statue, located at the US Courthouse in Lafayette. Photo: mjecker/flickr

One of the overarching ideas this blog explores is the emerging trend of appealing to international criminal justice in (and in the wake of) conflict situations. The fact that “we no longer consider whether to pursue justice, but how and when” is part of the proliferation of the practice and perhaps more importantly the idea of transitional justice. The speed of TJ’s expansion is striking. It cycled through its celebratory phase, was consolidated as a field of knowledge and practice, and developed a body of critical literature within a decade of its formation as a concept. The tensions that exist within the “field” are also striking; transitional justice often seeks to balance conflicting ideas such as peace and justice, the international and the local, retribution and restoration, law and politics. As a field of knowledge it draws upon competing and conflicting disciplines and as a field of practice it attempts to apply unified narratives to a range of local experiences.

Government Finance Economy

The Era of “Debt Capitalism” Has Come to an End

Private debt, public debt and inflation: the drivers of economic growth for the last 40 years. Image: Mikko Saari/flickr

After 40 years of economic growth based on debt, the era of  “debt capitalism” has come to an end, says Wolfgang Streeck. The Managing Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne gave a remarkable interview (in German) last week that I would like to share with you, in advance of the World Economic Forum‘s meeting in Davos starting today.

Economies must grow in order to increase welfare. This has been the basic requirement for capitalist societies since the industrial revolution. Yet the last time Western societies experienced real economic growth was in the decades following WWII, says Streeck, in his account of recent economic history. Since the 1970s, when this period ended and economic growth slowed, governments started to print money in order to create the illusion of increasing salaries and greater welfare. In reality, however, income stagnated.

When decision-makers realized that high inflation rates could no longer be sustained, they looked for new recipes to keep the economy growing. In the 1980s, they found a solution in increased government spending based on public debt. Ronald Reagan was the unlikely representative of this policy.

Streeck argues that when government debt reached unsustainable levels, the third and final phase of “debt capitalism” (he uses the term Pumpkapitalismus in German) began. From the 1990s on, economic welfare was no longer based on inflation or on public debt but on private debt. Financial markets were liberalized and consumers, especially in the US, were convinced to take out loans in order to pay for their expenses.