The global order in the 21st century

Prospect Magazine

The global order in the 21st century

/ / Leave a comment

Francis Fukuyama, Eric Hobsbawm, Edward Luttwak, Timothy Garton Ash, Pierre Hassner and Robert Cooper discuss global order in the 21st century

Robert Cooper: Our subject is the global order at the end of the 20th century. But let’s begin with the concrete rather than the abstract. What are the lessons of the Kosovo conflict? Should we see Kosovo as the last act of the 20th century or the first of the 21st century?

Eric Hobsbawm: I would say that it is the first act of the 21st century. It is the first war fought in the absence of a global state system-for the first time since the 18th century, large parts of the world are outside the international system. Moreover, it is the first war waged with high-tech weapons (allowing for a couple of practice runs against Iraq). This makes it possible to be more precise, but it also makes it easier to be more frivolous in the use of extremely powerful weapons. And, of course, the war also demonstrated the limitations of this technology. Finally, it is the first war fought under conditions of, you might say, consumer sovereignty. We are back to the situation which Thomas Hobbes assumed to be normal: that whatever the Leviathan can do, he cannot force people to run the risk of death. For several centuries politics was based on the opposite assumption. This return to Hobbes may only be true of America, but the Kosovo war was waged by politicians who believed that their people would not stand casualties.

Edward Luttwak: I agree. This is the first post-heroic war. But it is not just the Americans who think like this. The Brits might have taken 300 casualties, the French 150. But nobody, not even the Russians, is willing to stand the thousands of casualties needed to fight a war on the ground. This was also an information war, with the deliberate use of the mass media. If you are using force to intimidate, why not amplify that force through the mass media? Case in point: the total number of cruise missiles used in Kosovo was less than the 425 used in the Desert Fox action against Iraq in December 1998. While the world had the impression that there was a massive bombardment going on, the Serbs were shrugging their shoulders.

Pierre Hassner: I agree that there was an information war. But it failed miserably-Jamie Shea was a laughing stock throughout the west. In the first phase we were aware that there were very few sorties and that Nato was making little impact. In the second phase there was a broadening of the war and the reaction in many Nato countries was negative-we were destroying the power plants or the bridges on the Danube, but the Serb army seemed unscathed. Most commentators, including myself, thought things were going wrong. It was only in the final couple of weeks, with the KLA pressing and a more credible threat of a ground war, that things began to change. But I am still not sure why Milosevic gave in to the extent that he did. The whole picture is very unclear.

Timothy Garton Ash: This was the first European war of the 21st century because the 20th century in Europe ended in 1989-or at the latest in 1991. But we are in danger of over-interpreting this war: it did not start out as a new model war, or a humanitarian war. It started out as an exercise in coercive diplomacy which went wrong. Our leaders took Clausewitz too literally; they really thought that war would simply be the continuation of politics. They did not appreciate the old truth that war changes everything, that it has its own dynamic. My second point is that despite all the blunders and failings, the war in Kosovo is part of a fumbling towards a new model of liberal order in Europe. I’m less sure about the rest of the world. The war arose out of a new understanding of the relations between states in a Europe where the notion of shared or limited sovereignty has become familiar through the EU, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and so on.

Cooper: Surely one of the reasons that this was a war of the 21st century is that it was not fought for “national interest” as normally defined?

Francis Fukuyama: That is right, but I want to go back and disagree somewhat with what Eric Hobsbawm said about the war being fought in the absence of a global state system. The difference is that there was no competitive state system. Under such a system, a local conflict like the Anglo-French confrontation at Fashoda, always ran the risk of escalating by drawing in the other great powers. But in this case the strategic stakes were much smaller. Suppose this had happened in Yugoslavia 20 years ago-we would have been on the brink of the third world war. This conflict was a form of humanitarian intervention; the broader strategic rationale that Clinton and Blair tried to give was simply wrong. There was little danger of widening the conflict, at least beyond the Balkans itself.

Hobsbawm: But surely that is not so. Kosovo was a classical international problem and a classical problem of Balkan diplomacy. Ten years ago, when the US still had a foreign policy worthy of the name, it recognised that Kosovo was going to be a big crisis, bigger than Bosnia. Under President Bush, the US sent troops to Macedonia to stand around and show that this was a matter of significant interest, according to classical state system diplomacy.

Luttwak: The classical non-humanitarian, strategic, rationale for Kosovo was very weak because it depended on the intervention of Turkey, which has a habit of not turning up. But surely the revolutionary element in this war is the sovereignty issue. This was a post-Westphalian war in which the old rule of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state no longer applied. But the Russians have made it clear that they do not accept our sudden revocation of the old rule. The Russians have several Kosovos, and the Chinese have at least three Kosovos of their own. Even Italy has the Sud Tyrol. So suddenly to revoke the old rule upsets a lot of people. And although none of us in the west have really accepted the old rule for some time now, perhaps somebody should have made a little speech explaining why we are now changing the rules. Failure to do so has weakened the position of the western alliance.

Hassner: We certainly have to think through the effects of changing the rule, and why we are doing so. Is it to help minorities create independent states? Everywhere, from the Czech Republic to the Ukraine, people interpret it that way, fearing that they now can be bombed into giving away Transylvania or the Crimea. But the irony is that nobody really wanted the independence of Kosovo except the Kosovars. So long as Ibrahim Rugova, the former Kosovo leader, was peacefully visiting western chancelleries, we condemned the Serb human rights record but were happy to do nothing else. Nobody wanted to intervene to create new states. But combined with this old wisdom was the new “never again” mood about ethnic cleansing-the fact that Milosevic was the last threatening dictator in the Balkans, that he was responsible for Vukovar, Srebrenica and so on, and that he had to be stopped. This is something relatively new, but valid. Coming back to the question of means, I think Tim is right; it was a case of coercive diplomacy, but without ground troops or the will to escalate the war. And if you start by saying that you are not prepared to use ground troops, how are you going to exercise this imperial humanitarian function? There is a problem here: if you are dependent on the approval of your own public opinion and if that public opinion won’t stand casualties, how can you protect human rights all over the world? As American officials see it, there are now three kinds of war. There are wars which directly affect our national interest and where anything can be used, even nuclear weapons. Then there are humanitarian wars, where we intervene, but without spilling too much of our own soldiers’ blood. The other wars involve soft means such as economic sanctions. The crucial question is: what is the status of these intermediary wars where you intervene, but only so much?

Cooper: There is nothing strange about the idea of a limited war with a limited objective: in this case, return of refugees. The scale was greater but the Kosovo conflict resembles the old tradition of sending a gunboat. It is not inconsistent with limited war to apply limited means.

Garton Ash: But the means have to be proportionate and effective to the ends.

Cooper: The means have to be effective. As it turns out, in this case they were.

Garton Ash: But the negative consequences are great. In Kosovo itself we will be paying the price for years to come, not to mention the alienation of opinion in Russia and China, and so on. One of the lessons of Kosovo is that if you start a war, you should be sure that you know how to finish it. This leads to the question of whether that consumer sovereignty over war, of which Eric spoke, is purely an American phenomenon or whether it is true for all consumer democracies. My own feeling is that it is a specifically American phenomenon. The fact is that the British are prepared to take casualties abroad, the French are prepared to take casualties abroad. Even the Germans maybe-a staggering evolution of opinion. Another question is whether Kosovo has set a precedent for liberal interventions which will now be followed elsewhere in the world, as Tony Blair would have us believe with his doctrine of international community. Or is there a perception that this has been a bungled operation which will actually deter the western powers from any such intervention for some time to come?

Hobsbawm: Can I challenge this notion that the war was waged for humanitarian reasons? It was a war with a strong humanitarian component, which was legitimised by humanitarian rhetoric, but this applies to a lot of other wars. It applies to the second world war, it applies to the Gulf war, neither of which were actually undertaken for humanitarian reasons.

Cooper: So why was the war undertaken?

Hobsbawm: We’ve just discussed this. It was a mess, it was a mess-up by everyone concerned, and we bombed to maintain the credibility of Nato. But in fact we didn’t maintain its credibility, because it was the most bungled war since the Russians invaded Finland in 1939.

Fukuyama: Yet the Serbs capitulated. This may come back to the debate about casualties-even a small embattled state like Serbia seems far more sensitive to casualties than it was 50 years ago. So I want to side with those who think that reluctance to accept casualties is a general phenomenon, not just an American one. It was, for example, one reason for the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Having said this, I think that with better leadership you could have prepared the American public to take more casualties.

Hassner: But maybe you do not need to, because you can now fight successful wars without casualties. The British military historian, John Keegan, said after Kosovo that the sceptics (including himself) had been wrong to say that you cannot win with air power alone. Perhaps technology can be a substitute for heroism.

Luttwak: I would go further. The US has ten army and three marine divisions. These divisions will never fight seriously for the national interest (given that invasion is not a credible scenario) or for any other interest. Societies reach a point when, for whatever reason, they are not prepared to sacrifice lives. Traditionally they resorted to mercenaries. Today we can resort to technology. But the consequence of this, for Nato’s defensive function, is huge. If Poland is invaded by the Russians we will punish Russia to the extent that we can, but not with nuclear warheads or ground troops because Russia can retaliate. So, basically, we will not defend Poland. If the Poles have read the Kosovo war right, they will see this.

Cooper: I want to go back to the question of sovereignty. If we now live in a world in which many of the most powerful states believe that intervention in liberal humanitarian causes is justified, perhaps legal, then this is the 21st century, not the 20th century. And this is a world in which it is not just the consumer who is sovereign, but the people are sovereign or the victim is sovereign; it is a world in which the objective of international relations is not to protect state sovereignty, but to protect people.

Hobsbawm: What is the evidence that states believe this? Blair has said it, but that does not make it true.

Luttwak: You believe it. We all believe it. None of us accept that the King of France has the right to do whatever he wants in France. We used to believe this. We don’t any longer.

Hobsbawm: But the world still consists of states.

Luttwak: Quite so.

Hobsbawm: It happens that a lot of the states don’t count, and a number are inoperative or have even ceased to exist. But decisions are still taken by states. And I have yet to see an example of an important intervention on grounds other than state interest.

Hassner: Eric is right in a way. There is a crisis of traditional state sovereignty and yet the main rivals to the state-collective bodies such as the EU or the UN-are even weaker. But I think what has really changed is that society and the individual now play a much bigger role on the international stage.

Cooper: Yes. David Rieff made this point in the July issue of Prospect. There is a convergence between domestic policy and international policy. For example, when you indict Pinochet or Milosevic you treat them as criminals rather than as heads of bad states.

Fukuyama: It is worth recalling here why the Westphalian system of non-interference arose in the first place. Every country in 17th century Europe had mixed populations of protestants and catholics and, following the bloody religious wars in which every state was vulnerable to interference by its neighbour, they all agreed that everyone can do what they like inside their own borders. Our world is different. There is now much more consensus on norms and principles of governance, at least among the powerful states in the world; and so this erosion of state sovereignty reflects something rather positive.

Cooper: But the crucial question is whether this new liberal consensus-democracy, the rule of law and cooperative international behaviour-is going to apply everywhere or whether it will remain mainly a western thing. Certainly in Europe there is a great rush of states seeking to limit their own sovereignty by joining the EU. But the rest of the world is still ambivalent about these new values. Samuel Huntington has argued that instead of converging around liberal norms, we have “clashing” value blocs.

Luttwak: I think the liberal premises now extend a surprisingly long way-perhaps not to the Islamic world but to almost all of Latin America with the possible exceptions of Colombia and Haiti. At least the governments there feel the need to claim to be subscribing to these principles.

Cooper: We must make a distinction here. Liberal ideas are not uncontested, but they are widely accepted; on the other hand, the idea that states can intervene in the affairs of other states when they don’t like what’s going on is not accepted outside a few core western states.

Garton Ash: Yes, this is a key point. For now, Europe is the only continent in which states routinely accept interference by other states in their internal affairs. But Robert is right to ask whether this is a trend which others will follow, or whether the liberal, post-modern state will remain a feature of the west alone. In other words, are we living in a Huntingtonian world of separate and competing value blocs, or a Fukuyama-esque world of convergence around liberal norms? Huntington would, of course, claim that Kosovo is a conflict between Orthodox and Islamic “civilisations.”

Fukuyama: Military intervention in another country is such a serious step that it is not a fair test of the liberal convergence thesis. But there are certain norms which can now be enforced trans-nationally-not necessarily by states using bombs, but by NGOs and by international bodies of all kinds. In Indonesia, for example, you couldn’t criticise the Suharto government, but the press could publish criticisms of the government by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and that becomes a kind of international norm. Even the most authoritarian states have to open themselves up to things like international accounting practices because otherwise nobody will invest.

Cooper: I want to move on to these economic questions. One of the conclusions I have drawn from the Asian crisis is that economic globalisation implies a degree of “value” globalisation, because people won’t invest in a country unless they see something like the rule of law there, unless there are international accounting standards, and so on.

Fukuyama: I think that’s right. One of the challenges to the “end of history” thesis came from the success of non-liberal market regimes in Asia. East Asia still has many culturally distinctive institutions: Japanese lifetime employment, the chaebols in South Korea, and all the famous “crony” business arrangements. But one of the effects of the Asian crisis is that all that is slowly being eroded. To put it at its simplest, the Korean accounting firms which used unique Korean accounting methods are now being replaced by Arthur Andersen and by KPMG.

Cooper: So, just as Microsoft or IBM set the standards for the way in which computers work all over the world, the US will set the standards for the way in which economies work.

Luttwak: Perhaps-but it won’t be as simple as that. Take Microsoft. In the US, we have a powerful, dynamic, “turbo” capitalism, but it works well for two reasons which don’t translate to many other places. One is the existence of a tough anti-trust tradition. In Britain, Bill Gates would have been Lord Gates by now, and he would be able to do anything he wants. In Italy he would have become senator for life. If Microsoft was French, every French embassy would be at the service of Microsoft. But in the US, the Department of Justice grips the throat of Microsoft and doesn’t let go; and in the meantime it is doing its best to destroy Microsoft’s image so that talented young people don’t go and work there. The second point is that outside the US there is no Calvinist spirit which makes the losers feel guilty in the Darwinian competitive system. In other countries, the losers feel angry, not guilty, and that can at the very least screw up your fiscal policy. The losers won’t destroy the system but they can certainly cause dislocations.

Fukuyama: But that’s not what’s happening in Asia. The Thais are writing new banking regulation laws; the South Koreans are embracing transparency, and so on.

Luttwak: That is true, and something analogous to Calvinism is at work there. But in Argentina, for example, when people get thrown out of work they don’t put on weight like Americans do, or blame themselves; they hit the streets. So the model will work quite differently in different places.

Hobsbawm: Well, talking of models, it seems to me that what’s happened in the 20th century is that two models have been eliminated. One is the model of total planning without the market. The other is the opposite model of total laissez-faire. Both models have trampled over the bodies of the Russian people, although at least the second took less time to eliminate than the first. I think the 21st century will be one in which neither of these models will operate. But while a mixed economy of some kind is likely to prevail everywhere, the question of the values on which the economy, society and politics operate, is much less clear. We have an unquestioned tendency towards globalisation of the economy and even culture, but there is no equivalent trend towards the globalisation of political or other institutions. This means that, for the foreseeable future, we still live in an era in which the forces of globalisation have to coexist with and negotiate with nation states which remain the only real centres of political authority, even if the number of nation states which matter in this global negotiation is rather small.

Hassner: I agree with you that the European model of welfare capitalism is the most attractive model. But I fear that the Americans are right to argue that a higher level of flexibility is required to make the system work, and that Germany is in a big crisis, and so on. So I don’t see this sort of middle-of-the-road Butskellism as the answer, but neither can I envisage the harmonious spread of the US model. Instead, we will have a range of market models, some of which will be distorted and mafia-like. I agree with Eric that the state is still central, but I also believe that the state is in crisis and that there is a lack of institutions on both the global level and the national level to mediate between the forces of economic globalisation and the specifics of individual countries.

Cooper: Eric and Pierre see a world in which everything is globalised except politics. But I am not so sure. If you look at the world now, you see a mass of international institutions which are more important and more powerful than anything before. And if you ask me to define sovereignty now, I wouldn’t use Max Weber’s definition about monopoly on the use of force, I would say almost that it has become the monopoly on cooperation. For example, the right to sit at the WTO, or the security council of the UN or the myriad other institutions, such as those which set global standards for telephones.

Luttwak: The global system has become what British public life was supposed to be, governed by committees and club membership.

Fukuyama: But it is not only the global committees which constrain state sovereignty. Remember Brent Spar or the Ogoni lands in Nigeria? Shell Oil did not face a global environmental protection agency, but something just as powerful-public opinion. So far, the WTO has not really taken up labour and environmental issues, but public opinion may force it to. If you have capital which is globally mobile and labour which is not, you need to protect those labour interests through politics.

Hobsbawm: I agree. But this contradicts the general theory of globalisation which insists that all factors of production should be fully mobile. Why is labour much less mobile than it was before 1914? For political reasons. In democratic nations voters will not stand for it. Even the US, which tried for a while to have free immigration, found that it got into trouble. Don’t underestimate the sheer resistant force of politics.

Cooper: Sure, the state is still there. But it is more permeable and more transparent.

Garton Ash: One of the ironies of contemporary Europe is that there are more states on the map of Europe than ever before. If you compare the map in 1999 with 1899, there must be at least 15 more states now. They may be less effective states, but they are there, and their existence is an antidote to the more simplistic assertions of globalisation theory about the disappearance of the state.

Cooper: I am not sure that states are that much less effective than they were. I think states have always been pretty ineffective. I wonder if, in the future, people will want to belong to NGOs rather than states.

Hobsbawm: No.

Luttwak: I doubt it.

Cooper: Well, people used to belong to political parties and they don’t very much, any longer. I think people would rather belong to NGOs than political parties. The next stage may come when Greenpeace becomes so international that a Greenpeace membership card serves as a passport.

Luttwak: Of course you are right: all states are less effective than they were and some states are dramatically less effective. Anyone who talks to decision-makers in Moscow will come away impressed by the powerlessness of the Russian state. And look at China. About 40 per cent of British GNP is spent by the state, about 2 per cent of Chinese GNP goes to the Beijing government. Beijing can ask for things, can start campaigns, but Beijing does not control China in the way that the British government controls Britain. But even Britain is bound by all the international organisations of which it is a member, all the international laws to which it is subject, not to mention the domestic political pressures to which it must respond. If I try to think of a really powerful state, a state with a high degree of unqualified power within its own borders, I think of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, before it got into trouble. He had some resources and he decided whether they should be spent on weapons, on monuments, on healthcare, and so on.

Hobsbawm: From the mid-18th century to the late 1960s, states of all kinds, irrespective of ideology, became more powerful in the sense of being able better to know what was going on in their own country, to administer it better, right down to the bottom, to be able to organise growing aspects of social life and mobilise people for all sorts of tasks, including wars. This happened irrespective of politics. The British liberal state in the mid-19th century was far more powerful than the French absolute monarchy in the 18th century. It is only since 1970 that this trend has reversed.

Luttwak: Why is that? Because the fuel of this wonderful entity was conflict. In 1914 the British government could not have told millions of people to dress in funny clothes and cross the English channel to dig trenches unless it had a powerful enemy.

Cooper: But it is not just the end of war which has compromised the authority of the state. There is also the factor Francis describes in his new book, which is a kind of falling-apart of society. States have become less powerful because society is less coherent.

Fukuyama: Yes, that is important. But first of all, if you are talking about the declining effectiveness of states, you should not forget the basic point about economic globalisation. France is no longer completely free to determine the nature of its welfare state because if it lowers the working week to 35 hours, then companies simply move their investment abroad. The country may be able to live with that, but it has to pay a price. That didn’t exist before. To return to Robert’s point about society becoming less coherent: the issue here is the erosion of hierarchy. When you have a highly technological and very complex society and economy, in which the citizens and workers are highly educated, you cannot organise them by dictat. Microsoft programmers know more about what they do than their managers, and that requires a flatter, more decentralised form of management. Hayek wrote a classic article in the 1940s about the economics of information, which explained how the bulk of information generated in any economy is overwhelmingly local in nature. Information societies are inimical to authoritarian rulers or an authoritarian boss sitting at the top of a hierarchical organisation. Intelligence must be distributed much more broadly throughout the whole of society, and that is, usually, profoundly democratising.

Cooper: And as a society becomes better educated, the identities of people become more complex too. You lose the simple, one-dimensional, national identity.

Garton Ash: This does not mean that people will identify themselves as citizens of Greenpeace. It’s a nice idea, but I see no evidence of it in the post-cold war world. It may not be a rational choice for the Slovakians or Kosovars or Ruthenians to opt for their own state, but they have done so. It remains obstinately the case that people see their main locus of identity and their prospect of democratic self-government in the state. If we are to find political structures to control or complement a globalised economy, then we have to address the questions of identity and democracy either internationally or at the state level. I am not at all convinced that either NGOs or regions can do this. I am half convinced by Europe. It may be that the EU is the closest we have come so far to the construction of a partial identity and a partial democracy of a significant and durable kind, at a level different from the nation state.

Luttwak: I was born in Transylvania so I think of the Slovaks and Kosovar Albanians and Ruthenians as classical peasant populations. They do not participate in the world of NGOs, multiple identities, and so on. It makes sense for them to protect their identity in the only way they can understand: through a state. If you move on to Catalonians or Scots, they are participating in other bodies which moderate the intensity of their desire for a separate entity. Equally, an Englishman might say, “Yes, there are moments when I feel very English,” but he also has a complex layering of identities. The better-off people are, the more educated they are, the less they depend on a single decisive identity.

Garton Ash: It would be wrong to suggest that only peasants want their own state.

Luttwak: Of course. But a Slovak can only be a Slovak, whereas a Czech can be a Czech and/or a member of Greenpeace.

Hobsbawm: Well, I don’t know. I regard identity as a sort of second-order problem. Of course we all have problems of identity. When people in my family first came to England, they regarded themselves as English. Nowadays it’s impossible for me to regard myself as English because English has been redefined in a different way, not as a political definition of somebody who belongs to this country. I have to choose, or my children have to choose. Suppose they have a Jewish father and a Welsh mother. Are they Jewish? Are they Welsh? Are they English? But more important than identity is the problem of democracy. It has become one of these cotton wool words which is bandied around; nobody knows what it means. So let me put forward a thesis. Civil citizenship is thriving in the sense of human rights, shared values, international conventions and so on. Social citizenship has also proved resilient. Thatcher and Reagan found it hard to roll back completely the redistributive function of wealthy states. But the real problem lies with political citizenship. What does it now mean for the citizen to have an effect on his or her government? It means increasingly little. This is where globalisation and the substitution of consumer sovereignty for citizen sovereignty become a problem. Just living in a country which has multi-party elections does not automatically produce political citizenship. Look at the declining levels of participation in the US. Participation in the market has substituted for participation in politics, so we need to re-think the whole problem of democracy.

Fukuyama: But doesn’t that reflect a democratic choice that populations make? They want consumer sovereignty. And it is not a negligible or even non-political thing. People can choose to close down the Wal-Mart and, perhaps, have a more thriving local community in return for higher prices.

Hobsbawm: I am not denying that this is what people want, but is it compatible with what in the past has been regarded as a democratic political system?

Hassner: I think both democracy and identity are in crisis. Identity is not a second-order problem; it is the basic problem for all of us, whether individually or collectively-the relationship between change and continuity, between the global and the particular. We are torn between competing loyalties. For me, as a wandering Jew who is also French, Romanian and so on, that is fine, but I don’t think you can base societies on such multiple identities. This is why the totalitarian temptation is the other face of liberal democracy; people want a more coherent and stable identity. The trouble is that identities are supposed to be believed or felt as natural, but now everybody knows, in our post-modern age, that they are artificial. As for democracy, I do not see it in the same way as Eric. The big ideologies are now dead, and so we are left with a

Leave a comment

Share this

Most Read

Prospect Buzz

  • Prospect's masterful crossword setter Didymus gets a shout-out in the Guardian
  • The Telegraph reports on Nigel Farage's article on Lords reform
  • Prospect writer Mark Kitto is profiled in the New York Times

Prospect Reads

  • Do China’s youth care about politics? asks Alec Ash
  • Joanna Biggs on Facebook and feminism
  • Boris Berezosky was a brilliant man, says Keith Gessen—but he nearly destroyed Russia