Rawls and International Law

The sun setting on justice. Image: mindgutter/flickr

With our Editorial Plan discussing changing international norms and laws over the next two weeks, it is worth remembering that this discussion serves the wider purpose of helping to illustrate the elusive character of structural change in our world today.  One consequence of this approach, at least for this particular discussion, is that we ultimately treat norms and laws as effects of underlying causes – as symptoms, so to speak, of the underlying condition we are trying to diagnose.  A different but complementary approach is that of international political theory, which, as a variety of ‘ideal’ or ‘normative’ theory, often operates (if sometimes only implicitly) on the opposite assumption: that changes in ideas, norms and laws are themselves causes of structural change instead of vice versa. Today we consider an example of this other approach to international norms and laws, by way of a short introduction to the international thought of John Rawls.

Conference: Transformation of the Arab World: Where Is It Heading To?

Transformation of the Arab World: Where are We Heading to?
A conference hosted by the NCCR Democracy and the CIS at ETH Zurich

On 27 and 28 October, the NCCR Democracy project managed by the University of Zurich, together with the Center for Comparative and International Studies at ETH, hosted a conference on the topic: “Transformation of the Arab World: Where is it heading to?” Adam Dempsey, Eveline Hoepli, Chantal Chastonay and I covered the event for the ISN.

The conference kicked off on Thursday morning with Roland Popp’s unscheduled presentation, “The Past as Prologue? Regional Dynamics and Revolutionary Trajectories in the Middle East.”  Popp, a senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies (CSS) at ETH and an expert in the international history of the Middle East, stressed the importance of looking beyond the unit-level to understand transformation.  Citing the example of Egypt’s 1952 revolution, the fear of Arab nationalism it provoked in the other monarchies of the region, and Nasser’s subsequent isolation (which, as we know, ended up driving him closer politically to the United States), he argued that regional dynamics are essential to understanding many developments whose logic at first appears confined to individual countries.  Wise counsel, no doubt, and of obvious significance for the remarks that would follow.

Keyword in Focus: Geopolitics & Afghanistan

Greater Persia and Afghanistan at the beginning of the original 'Great Game'
Greater Persia and Afghanistan at the beginning of the original ‘Great Game,’ in 1814 Image: Wikimedia Commons

With the death of Muammar Gaddafi last Thursday and President Barack Obama’s announcement the following day that all troops would be leaving Iraq by the end of the year, Americans might have been forgiven for waking up this week with withdrawal symptoms.  By the end of the year, America’s ‘three wars’ will be down to just one (unless you count Uganda).  According to the latest schedules, the last war standing — the ongoing conflict that began with the invasion of Afghanistan in October, 2001 — will not be over until 2014.

As Americans were told from the beginning, Afghanistan had long been an important battleground of great powers and civilizations.

Keyword in Focus Humanitarian Issues

Keyword in Focus: Uganda & Conflict

A view of Kampala.  Photo: hamoid/flickr

On Friday, the 14th of October, the State Department announced that the US was sending 100 military advisers to Uganda.  Their purpose: to help African troops pursue the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and its leader, Joseph Kony, whom the ICC accuses of 21 counts of war crimes and 12 counts of crimes against humanity.  The deployment follows the unanimous passage and signing into law last year of legislation which makes it American policy to kill or capture Joseph Kony and defeat his army.

Thucydides, or Plato?

Statue of Thucydides in Vienna
A statue of Thucydides in Vienna. Photo: ChrisJL/flickr

The first important contributor to ‘international’ thought is usually considered to be Thucydides.   Though Herodotus is the “father of history” and it was Socrates that first brought philosophy ‘down from the heavens’ and into the agora, Thucydides was the first to deal with the relations among and between political communities in a theoretical manner.