The post‑World War II “hub-and-spoke” alliance structure has served the United States and its allies well for the past six decades. Yet the transnational nature of current Asia-Pacific security challenges highlights the limitations of bilateral US‑ally relationships to handle regional security threats, traditional or not. Success demands that the US and its allies work with each other in a networked manner. This is not to suggest “NATO for Asia,” but it is time for an informal Alliance Caucus.
A Caucus of the US and its regional allies (Australia, Japan, the Philippines, the ROK, and Thailand) could provide – initially as informal knowledge-sharing gatherings alongside international forums – an opportunity to creatively address concerns relevant not just to the US and its allies, but to the region as a whole.
This proposal is not without precedent. The UN has a multitude of caucuses, informal and formal, where likeminded countries coalesce around shared visions of specific interests. East Asian governments for years have sought a caucus in APEC; they now seek a similar group in the G-20.
As expressed over the first four weeks of our Editorial Plan, we at the ISN believe that increased global interconnectivity – on the social, economic, political and technological levels – has resulted in fundamental structural changes to the international system. In turn, the problems that arise from this interdependence now often transcend the geopolitical and strategic capabilities of nation-states and demand from us new forms of cooperation and governance. But with no one ultimately and officially in charge, how do we regulate the global commons or manage our financial flows to maximum effect? How should we combat transnational crime and international terrorism, or even ‘fight’ pandemics and climate change? “Leaving things primarily to state sovereignty, anarchy and chance is not a wise response to our new global reality,” Knight et al rightfully observe. But while everyone agrees that we can only address these kinds of problems through cooperation and collective management at a global level, there is a significant debate over just how we should politically organize ourselves to deal with the structural changes we are collectively experiencing.
There are those who believe that normative or rights-based global interdependence and citizenship is a superior organizing principle to political collectivization, which can lead to anti-democratic forms of “outsourced responsibility.” They argue that instead of building transnational political structures and practices, which can potentially be opaque and self-interested, it is better to create a more flexible ‘world society’ of common values. Not surprisingly, opponents of this approach argue that respecting, protecting and building cosmopolitan diversity is all well and good but it is not enough to overcome structural inequality. Only developing and implementing more formal global governance architectures will do that, which means pressing ahead with the “transnationalization” of the world – of its political behaviors and practices, of its economic practices, and of its norms and laws. Their suggestions range from the modest (sovereignty-yielding neoliberal cooperation) to a more comprehensive post-Great Sheriff global system. This week we will mull over the debate between these two types of global interdependence advocates, starting with those who believe global governance is both unavoidable and good. Those who disagree will be our focus later in the week, as will an anticipatory look at global multilateralism, which will be our focus next week.
In a recent article on Foreign Policy, Jeffrey Herbst pointed out that the United Nations is not living up to its basic values: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear. He also criticized the lack of democracy in the organization and particularly among its member states. He also mentioned that the UN provides international legitimacy to dictators that have no legitimacy at home.
But Jeffrey Herbst also forgets to point out the following: The UN cannot function on its own. It needs its member states to act. Even though the UN publicized and tried to address the atrocities in Darfur, its member states failed to act.
The real question is: Why do member states not act? And the answer is simple: Democracy.
Democracy does not only mean having a democratic political system, it also means accepting that the international system is democratic, for better or worse, following the “one country one vote” principle.
Some western countries wish they still had the same power as they had when the UN was created after of the Second World War, at a time when their former colonies followed their lead on almost every issue. Now this time is over and the ‘neo-colonialist’ approach no longer works.
As an example of democracy in action at the international level, African countries are now able to elect a country like Libya to the Human Rights Council, because the continent has a comfortable amount of votes in almost every body of the UN.
Now that the organization applies the “democratic” rules so praised by the founders of the United Nations, it is normal that every member state gets the same power and can have more or less the same impact on the UN, regardless of whether it is governed by a dictator like Mugabe or by a social democrat like Tarja Halonen.
Indeed the presence of Libya in the Human Rights Council is representative of the willingness of a part of the world to have its word on Human Rights and some western leaders need to accept that not everyone is pursuing the same objectives or the same values as Europe and North America. They will certainly not simply acquiesce to those values or related demands without a fight.
The time when the UN was a mere tool of US foreign policy, as its former UN Ambassador John Bolton saw it, is now well and truly over.
On 16 April, the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) will meet in Brasilia. The group has managed to develop a presence on the geopolitical stage in the past years and is increasingly able and willing to counter the influence of western power on various fronts. They share many characteristics and interest- primarily in the economic realm- and account for more than 40 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its land area.
The four are also pushing for a more multilateral world and use BRIC as a vehicle to pursue this end. The international community and media have enthusiastically embraced this concept and often view or treat the group as a coherent political actor, granting it clout and weight on the international stage.
But has the BRIC concept graduated from mere theory (and labeling) to real, actionable practice? Beyond the push for a more “multilateral world”, do the BRIC countries have much in common? Do they share anything beyond their inclusion in the 22 “emerging markets” index and perhaps most importantly, does the bloc have political relevance?