Thursday, Sep 19, 2002
Front Page |
Southern States |
Other States |
Advts: Classifieds | Employment | Obituary |
Leader Page Articles
By Muchkund Dubey
IN THE theory of international relations, it is argued that since the units of the international political system are sovereign states the system itself must be anarchic, because otherwise the units will lose their sovereignty. This characterisation, of course, is subject to an important qualification. Sovereign states themselves may decide to enter into treaties or associations involving a voluntary surrender of a part of their sovereignty.
In the post-Second World War international order, the United Nations was conceived as the quintessential form of such association. The signatories to the U.N.Charter established a system of collective security wherein member-states undertook to eschew unilateralism and act collectively in defence of international security. The decision to surrender a part of their sovereignty was also reflected in their resolve to make the United Nations "a centre for harmonising the actions of nations" and "to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems".
The conventional theory of international relations also stipulates that the international anarchy is shaped and dominated by hegemons and depends upon them for maintaining stability. The one-nation-one-vote principle enshrined in the U.N. Charter formally confers upon member-states equal status and gives them an equal voice in running the system. But, in reality, influence in the U.N. depends upon member-states' bargaining strength derived from their military and economic power. Besides, the veto power granted to the Permanent Members of the Security Council formalises their position as the hegemons in matters relating to international security.
It is also worth recalling that the U.N. is basically an inter-state system on the Westphalian model based on "the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members" and non-intervention in their internal affairs.
The collective security system remained paralysed throughout the Cold War period for want of unanimity among the Permanent Members of the Security Council. During the first three years after the end of the Cold War, big power unanimity on U.N. involvement in various security situations in the world was more readily forthcoming. As a result, the security provisions of the Charter at long last came alive and the U.N. got involved in a series of peacekeeping operations. The number of such operations during this period was more than those undertaken during the entire Cold War period. The expenditure incurred on peacekeeping during the peak year of this period was more than the total spending for this purpose during the Cold War.
However, this active phase proved very short-lived. Major powers, particularly the U.S. and its allies, had no intention of allowing their hegemony in the international security system to be substituted by an active multilateralism under the U.N. They, therefore, took action to cut the U.N. to size by withholding payment of their contributions to peacekeeping operations, by compelling the U.N. to withdraw from some of the operations and not to undertake many new ones. In all cases of major peacekeeping operations, they decided to act alone as a coalition or through NATO.
The Cold War period was marked by a pronounced asymmetry in the U.N.'s role in the economic and social field, on the one hand, and in the political and security field, on the other. Whereas the U.N. remained paralysed in the security field, in the economic field it started acting as though it was a world government. A plethora of norms and standards, several of them of a binding or a semi-binding character, were put in place. These included Principles Governing World Trade and Trade Policies, The Charter of Economic Rights, Code of Conduct for the Transfer of Technology, several commodity agreements and an overarching Integrated Commodity Policy. Besides, various benchmarks of international accountability were devised and adopted. Some of them got reflected in the national legislations of major developed countries. The International Development Strategies for the 1970s and 1980s adopted by the U.N. were the closest approximation to a full-fledged international development plan.
The global recession of the early 1980s and the ascendancy of neo-liberal thinking in economic policy-making in the form of Reaganism and Thatcherism triggered a rearguard action by major developed countries to go back on the commitments they made in the 1960s and 1970s, and to arrest and reverse U.N. activism in the economic field. The demolition squad completed its work by the end of the decade when the U.N. was converted into a forum for disseminating the virtues of free market forces and prescribing self-help kits for developing countries. It ceased to be a forum for harmonising the economic policies of the member-states, coordinating global macro-economic policies or making recommendations on issues of money, finance, trade, indebtedness and the general functioning of the world economy. The last-mentioned issues were transferred to the IMF, the World Bank and GATT (later WTO). The remnants of the U.N. Charter functions in the economic field were swept aside by the tide of globalisation.
Even the IMF and the World Bank were subjected to the inexorable logic of market forces. The exercise undertaken with such great fanfare for building a new international financial architecture seems to have ended up in getting reconciled to an international monetary and financial system stripped of all its regulatory functions and dependent, for any intervention in the world economy, on the discretion of major economic powers. Having lost its statutory role, the principal purpose of the revamped system is to smoothen the passage of globalisation in developing countries.
Thus the international system today is more anarchic than it was before the structure of a new international order underpinned by multilateralism under the U.N. was put in place following the devastations of the Second World War. The process of globalisation with its emphasis on the diminished role of the state and eulogisation of the initiatives and enterprise of non-state agents in the free market place has also put under severe strain the inter-state Westphalian model of the U.N. The U.N. is now increasingly seeing its role as a system devoted to protecting the individual against the vagaries of the state and for this purpose even interfering in the internal affairs of the member-states. It is also forging alliances with entities, including transnational corporations, institutions and movements which perceive their role as antagonistic to that of the state.
The notion of a hegemon as a stabilising factor in the international system is repugnant to the principle of democracy and objectionable on several other counts as well. In any case, a hegemon can be a stabilising factor only if it is truly benign, if it functions within the framework of commonly agreed norms, principles and objectives, and if it can restrain itself from actions which can cause widespread resentment and a sense of hurt and humiliation.
The U.S. has emerged not only as the only super-power, or a hyper-power as the French would like to call it, but as the ultimate hegemon in the current international anarchy. It has overwhelming superiority over all possible rivals in terms of military, economic, technological and market power. If it succeeds in developing its missile defence system, it would virtually nullify the nuclear armed forces of all major powers.
The issue today is whether the U.S. will be able to measure up to the notion of a benign hegemon. Its recent proneness to act unilaterally and its declared intention to bring about a regime change in Iraq through an armed attack has given rise to widespread apprehensions and has created a major dilemma not only for its allies but also its friends.
The Hindu Group: Home | About Us | Copyright | Archives | Contacts | Subscription
Group Sites: The Hindu | Business Line | The Sportstar | Frontline | Home |
Copyright © 2002, The
Hindu. Republication or redissemination of the contents of
this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of