The crisis in Venezuela has escalated beyond the capacity of domestic actors to find a space for dialogue. Each party rejects the legitimacy of its rival. Human rights violations – and protester violence – are leaving deep wounds in Venezuelan society that will take years to heal. Not long ago, such an impasse would have prompted the immediate response of the international community and particularly of regional organisations such as the Organization of American States (OAS). But Latin America is dividing against itself, and Venezuelans are paying the price.
During and after democratic transitions in the hemisphere’s southern cone and the negotiated peace of armed conflicts in Central America (1983-1996), the region built a credible system to protect human rights. The Inter-American Commission and Court on Human Rights, whose competence and jurisdiction were recognised by almost all American nations (with the notable exceptions of Canada, Cuba, and the U.S.), established standards to sanction past and present human rights violations. In 2001, the OAS, at the culmination of this expansive process, adopted the Inter-American Democratic Charter to protect and promote democracy and the rule of law, understanding that these were vital components of free societies.
SEOUL – Has the world entered a new era of chaos? America’s vacillating policy toward Syria certainly suggests so. Indeed, the bitter legacy of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, followed by the 2008 financial crisis, has made the United States not only reluctant to use its military might, even when “red lines” are crossed, but also seemingly unwilling to bear any serious burden to maintain its global leadership position. But, if America is no longer willing to lead, who will take its place?
China’s leaders have demonstrated their lack of interest in active global leadership by openly rejecting calls to become a “responsible stakeholder” in the international political and economic systems. Meanwhile, though Russia may wish to maintain the illusion that it is a global power, it lately seems interested primarily in thwarting America whenever possible – even when doing so is not in its own long-term interests. And Europe faces too many internal problems to assume any significant leadership role in global affairs.
Unsurprisingly, this dearth of leadership has seriously undermined the effectiveness of international institutions, exemplified by the United Nations Security Council’s ineffectual response to the Syria crisis and the failure of the current round of World Trade Organization (WTO) trade negotiations. This situation resembles the 1930’s – a decade when, as the economic historian Charles P. Kindleberger argued, a leadership vacuum led to the under-production of global public goods, deepening the Great Depression.
As an unmatched treatise on “hard power,” Carl von Clausewitz’s On War has stood the test of time. A major reason for its longevity has been its prismatic approach towards its subject. To Clausewitz, hard power is never just one thing. Instead, it is, among other things, a dual, a form of commerce, a game of cards, an act of force designed to impose one’s will on another, a continuation of policy by other means, and a trinity or interplay of 1) primordial violence, hatred, enmity, and blind natural forces; 2) chance, probability, and the creative spirit; and 3) policy and reason. That Clausewitz used all these metaphors and characterizations was no accident. He knew that if he was going to describe an innately complex phenomenon such as war effectively, he needed to look at it in a prismatic way.
In our own humble way, we have adopted the same approach in our Editorial Plan. Thus far, we have explored our core theme – the structure of the international system is fundamentally changing – in prismatic ways. We have looked at how systemic change (not change at the margins) is impacting 1) how we forecast future political trends and developments, 2) just how “reality inclusive” geopolitical analyses remain today, 3) how on-going global interdependence and effective multilateralism are evolving, and 4) how nationalism and the Westphalian System are faring in a global environment that is both hostile and supportive towards them both. These various perspectives, however, have not exhausted the angles of analysis available to us in our prism-like investigation of a changing international system.
Therefore, this week’s focus is on the stresses and strains transnational institutions and organizations are experiencing in trying to adjust to a post-Cold War world. That many of these political and governmental mechanisms were created to address 20th century problems goes without saying, as does the truth that 21st century challenges are putting them under serious strain. What these strains look like represents the first of two passes we will take over this subject. Since we will discuss these institutions’ and organizations’ relationship to changing power dynamics in the international system later this spring, what we largely want to do this week is 1) look at the “huffing and puffing” IOs and transnational institutions are experiencing as a result of changing global dynamics, and 2) begin to analyze what adjustments they are trying to make in order to realign themselves with changing international relations paradigms.